Exploring opportunities beyond graduate school: APA divisions, networking, workshops and skill development
By Nelson Roque
When focused on research and other work, it is sometimes difficult to find time and motivation to seek out other opportunities for career and personal development. Although these opportunities may seem like an extra time commitment, what you should really look forward to are the experiences and friendships that will follow.
Picking the right division
With 54 divisions, APA has interest groups for most major subfields within psychology. That means there is probably something for you. Don't worry about sticking to your primary area of research though, as many members are a part of two or more divisions, giving you the chance to explore other research areas that may be of interest to you. Membership in a division is especially valuable for graduate students just starting out their careers, with service and award opportunities for all levels of study. As an added bonus, you have the opportunity to network with the top researchers in the field who are members of your division.
Network and stay connected
Have you ever come home from a conference with a luggage pocket full of business cards? Conferences and other events are a great place to create connections, but it is just as important to maintain these connections over time. After a conference, take a bit of time to contact some (if not all) of the people you interacted with. Do not be afraid to ask questions about their research or foster the opportunity for collaborations. For the digitally inclined, you may prefer to connect on LinkedIn. Whatever option you choose, maintaining this connection can be quite valuable .
What was the last workshop you attended?
Workshops at this year's APA conference in Toronto covered many valuable topics including balancing family life and a career as an early career psychologist and tips for successful grant writing. A lot of the information in these workshops is not necessarily covered in graduate coursework, so it is important to attend these events, in addition to all the exciting and new research being presented at the conferences you attend.
A nudge in the direction of knowledge
When was the last time you have asked your colleagues about the things they do to stay involved in their fields (e.g., continuing education, learning new skills)? If you have not recently, maybe break the ice with a colleague by asking what APA division(s) they are a part of; you may make a conference buddy. Interacting across many disciplines of psychology on a consistent basis is also an excellent way to propose and grow ideas. Does your department offer the opportunity to share ideas and projects in an open format? If not, why not set this up formally (or informally)? You could be the initiator of a tradition for years to come.
Strengthen your tools
Do you find that you have a hard time beginning to write or that you binge write? Do you have a weakness with another skill? Why not schedule time to practice your skill, the same way you would block off time for a meeting? This will help you take your skill more seriously and allow you uninterrupted time to focus on that one task. For example, if you knew that you had your data collected and processed, but had not started writing, start off by making an outline for your manuscript. Then budget an amount of time that fits into your schedule consistently to fill in a set number of sections of the outline. Before you know it, your manuscript will be complete, and you have spent time practicing a valuable skill.
Learn a new skill
Learning a new skill can be rewarding, and more so when it can apply to the work you do on a daily basis. For some, learning to program experiments in Python or MATLAB or to use the R statistical language can be a daunting task. It definitely will be at first as with any other skill, but over time, and with plenty of practice, you will be proud of your proficiency. Programming skills can prove to be useful for streamlining your workflow and automating monotonous tasks, such as bulk renaming of files or parsing text. Once you become proficient in one language, you will be surprised by the ease in transferring this knowledge to another language; your only hurdle would be translating the syntax you are familiar with to the new language.
Many issues are facing an aging population and for that matter APA. Having a neuropsychologist (who has worked with these kinds of patients for years) for APA president will only help bring these kinds of issues to the forefront of concerns to be addressed by APA and psychology.
Having summarized my “original” platform, I have to be honest. This is seriously aspirational. We have to place our personal agendas to the side right now. A much more critical, timely and challenging concern is the rebuilding of APA. For example, with a significant percentage of the Board of Directors and APA's Executive Management fired, resigned or recused, our organization appears to be a boat without a rudder. As much I want to infuse psychology into all of health care, we need to infuse integrity, transparency, efficiency and no drama into APA. It is time for a rebirth of APA and to reestablish as a preeminent pedagogic, professional and scientific society.