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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2011

On the Consequences of Inaction
Michael D. Hall, PhD, Psi Chi President, James Madison University (VA)

In my experience at several state universities, I am surprised how often students who do the best academically also shy away from additional challenges and opportunities, and may be the most poorly informed for it. This tendency is captured in a story of a colleague who was carefully designing a class to include a hands-on laboratory component. The laboratory segment would constitute a semester-long project that would ultimately result in one or more publishable products for which all participating students would gain authorship. Yet, several students vehemently complained about the project, and when given the opportunity, instead opted for a traditional set of lab exercises without any chance of authorship. Upon completion of the term, it became clear that those who insisted on a simpler course approach were not the students struggling with the material, but rather the strongest academic performers. Ultimately, they avoided the chance at an early authorship because of the amount of work that might be involved and fear of what poor performance in such new activities might do to their overall GPA. As a result, they said goodbye to a rare opportunity to get direct experiential knowledge in their chosen discipline.

It would be a mistake to think that Psi Chi students are immune to making these types of choices. For instance, a chapter officer delayed inquiring about the broad focus of the home institution’s graduate programs until after the faculty discussed it at a chapter meeting. Unfortunately, it was too late in the student’s senior undergraduate year to impact the submission decisions about other graduate schools. Likewise, the Psi Chi Awards Committee has frequently recommended to the Board of Directors that some portion of the money earmarked for a particular regional or Society program go unawarded for lack of appropriate student submissions. (I had the unfortunate position of being on one of those committees). In the past, even my own chapter has failed to apply for many Society research awards, despite the fact that more students are actively involved in research than any school where I have previously attended or worked.

Such lack of initiative may be due to a common misconception held by new members of Psi Chi—that membership alone will distinguish themselves from other colleagues competing for similar positions in graduate programs (or optimal psychology-related jobs in industry). Probabilities indicate that this is a false assumption. Membership is reserved for the top 35 percent of psychology students (who make the required GPA cut-off s and other requirements) at each active chapter’s school. Given the relatively small percentage of those students seeking graduate training in psychology, it is quite possible that the vast majority of applicants will already be members of Psi Chi. Thus, those Psi Chi members who are not active serving as an officer or on committees for chapter activities, or seeking any of Psi Chi’s numerous awards for research or leadership, are potentially doing themselves a disservice.

Another long-term consequence of inaction is a slowed progression of growth in psychology. Students of Psi Chi represent many of the brightest of the future generation of clinicians, theorists, and (both basic and applied) researchers. Yet, if these students choose to pursue the path of least resistance, they will delay involvement in research and know less about their chosen sub-discipline(s) when entering graduate training or joining the workplace. Should they continue not to seek out additional training experiences and become the next generation of educators, they will have less experience to draw upon and share with their students. A colleague even claimed that my field (auditory perception) would soon die if standards were relaxed for even one generation of students.

So how can we best address these potential problems? The answer is simple—get informed and get involved. Seek out as much information as possible from your department, your chapter, and published resources to find out in advance about career options that potentially interest you. Share with chapter officers your ideas and interests so that you can potentially talk with people who are already active in those careers. Take repeated advantage of Psi Chi’s expanding list of award opportunities. Additionally (and this is probably my most important recommendation), seek out an array of extra-curricular experiences such as acting as a research assistant, interning or volunteering in the community, or even serving on a department committee. Such experiences will make you more knowledgeable in your targeted sub-discipline(s) and discover if you are sufficiently motivated to pursue it as a career for years to come. By making well-informed choices for your future and maximizing the chances of acquiring desired positions, you will also serve psychology by putting yourself in a position to make more meaningful contributions. Therefore, my challenge to you is that you continually challenge yourself throughout your academic career. Do that, and we will all be rewarded.

Michael D. Hall, PhD, is an associate professor at James Madison University. He earned his PhD in experimental psychology from Binghamton University SUNY. His psychoacoustic research on speech and music perception has appeared in top-tier journals. He has chaired conference sessions for APA, WPA, and the Acoustical Society of America, and has organized international meetings of the Society for Music Perception and Cognition. While teaching at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), he received Psi Chi’s Regional Faculty Advisor Award, in addition to UNLV’s highest teaching distinction. HE currently serves on the Southeastern Regional Steering Committee, which plans Psi Chi events and student awards at the meeting of SEPA, and Western Region. Dr. Hall joined the Psi Chi national council as the Western Regional Vice-President from 2003-05, serving on Internal and External Affairs committees, as well as on the Diversity Task Force.

Copyright 2011 (Volume 15, Issue 2) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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