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Early career words of wisdom: APA attendance

This article relates the APA convention experience of one early career professional and identifies insightful conclusions.

By Jaqueline Miller, PhD

Clinical experience has taught me that clinical work can drive research by generating hypotheses about what might be behind clients' thoughts and behaviors and, in turn, inspire questions regarding approaches and interventions to be investigated through research. Research allows us as mental health professionals to make informed decisions in the therapy room and to know that the interventions we provide are solidly supported. Research enables us to expand clinical skills and clinical competence, which in turn makes for better mental health providers.

When I arrived in Washington, D.C., where the Annual American Psychological Association Convention was held, I was nervous. I found comfort in being able to pick out psychologists (usually by the red and navy messenger bags that were given out at registration) everywhere I went. They were at restaurants, walking on the sidewalks or in the parks or walking to and from the convention center with large cardboard tubes containing their posters. It made me happy to be surrounded by colleagues and peers. Once inside the convention, I relaxed. I could hear laughter and loud chatter throughout the building; the rooms were not silent or filled with tension or awkwardness. People were friendly and interested. When it was my turn to present my poster, I felt ready for the spotlight and confident in explaining my results. In the end, I felt successful and accomplished. I learned that it is not necessary to get to every paper or poster, but rather pick out the topics that are most appealing. I recommend sitting and relaxing periodically and enjoying good food and getting to know the city that you're in. It was fun to do a little sightseeing and to sample the local cuisine while I was in D.C. The added bonus is having a room full of other people who can help show your family or friends (or whomever you have attend the convention with you) just what psychologists do. I do not get as many questions from my parents now that they have seen and spoken to psychologists in many different areas of study.

Attending the convention as an early career psychologist led me to several conclusions. First, it became apparent to me that with a psychology degree, I can combine my many clinical interests and experiences into an ever-changing career path. The number of divisions of APA alone illustrated to me just how many contexts in which psychology can be found: forensics, health, neurology, public service and many more. Second, many psychologists are approachable and welcome the opportunity to network. Many seasoned psychologists are supportive of early career psychologists. They offer suggestions of where to find resources, a perspective-changing book they have read, recommendations of colleagues to get in touch with or just a pat on the back to show you that you presented well. Third, the diverse interests of psychologists are what strengthen our field. Being surrounded by passionate, driven and innovative people was inspiring. I enjoyed walking around the booths and seeing the various books and products, as well as the different poster topics and paper presentations. All psychologists benefit from the various research topics presented at APA because it highlights and represents the heterogeneity of the mental health field.