Feature Column

From the President's Desk

The president reviews division accomplishments: new website, early career psychologists initiative, membership, and convention

By Mark Greenwald

Tempus fugit (time flies.) This expression summarizes my feelings about the limitations, but also the many blessings, of a yearlong presidential term. There is a lot to do and certainly a lot one could do; yet, it is important to restrict focus to what can be accomplished. So, while I’m honored to have received your trust to handle division matters, I’m also very humbled by the sense that perhaps more could have been done.

Time spent profitably – working with my gifted colleagues on the Executive Committee, dedicated to pressing issues of concern to our division and its members – is what I’ll recall most as my term of office concludes. Much effort goes on “behind the scenes” and, as indicated below, there has been considerable progress. We can be happy that the division is in good hands as we prepare for 2012. In addition to others whom I’ll mention below, we have excellent stewardship: My thanks go out to our Secretary Bill kSetoeoppinsg f omr e on track, Jane Acri for keeping division finances on track, Members-at-Large (Tony Liguori, Wendy Lynch and Ellen Walker) for assuming divisional tasks, and to Mark Smith, Ken Sher, Bob Balster and Marlyne Kilbey for keeping a close eye on APA governance, science and educational affairs. I’m confident that President-Elect Rick Bevins, with whom I’ve shared my experiences, will lead us forward successfully this coming cycle.

For me, this year’s highlights can be summarized as follows:

First, a major accomplishment has been our new website. I think we should be very pleased with its appearance, content and functionality. The birth of this product – and we ought to think of the web site as a key vehicle for marketing our division and consuming information – is due to the considerable technical expertise and effort that was invested by Dana Wakefield of APA, Vic Laties and Ron Wood (Ron tried his best to educate me – a fledgling student – in the brave new world of media). The website has links to social media; electronic publications; division leadership, demographics, history, and bylaws; membership information; news and events; awards; and more. Maintaining this site is no small feat, and we can thank our newsletter editor Kelly Dunn for her efforts in feeding novel content to the site. Check it out!

Second, thanks to the initiative of Past President Hendree Jones, we benefited from the momentum she created around the issue of Early Career Psychologists (ECPs). Her focused and enthusiastic effort was well-placed and well-timed, given that this issue has been gaining increasing traction at the APA level. We were able to capture and capitalize on this momentum during 2011. I give special credit to Kelly Dunn and Sarah Tragesser, who have done a fantastic job at spearheading progress on ECP issues. Our website also has links to specific ECP-related content, including the monthly Scientist Spotlight.

Third, we expanded the ECP initiative to include minority/under-represented ECPs. Yukiko Washio exemplifies the energy and focus we need from our ECP members: She really stepped in to develop this theme, and communicated/cooperated with other APA divisions to generate greater awareness of these issues. I again thank Kelly and Sarah, who were also involved, for mentoring Yukiko in this regard. This speaks to the importance of continuity of division leadership and peer mentorship, which are alive and well in the division. Thanks also to Diomaris Jurecska for serving as Student Representative.

Fourth, membership. A number of Executive Committee members – most notably, our Membership Chair Ryan Vandrey – have spent precious time and effort conceptualizing and implementing procedures to promote (1) joining, (2) engagement, and (3) retention in the division. More work lies ahead, but the data suggest we have at least temporarily stalled the decline in membership from its prior downward trend. Several elements of our approach may be responsible for this outcome: free first-year membership, methods to attract ECPs and get them involved; sponsoring a member recruitment-focused social mixer, featuring a prize lottery, at CPDD; and our electronic (web) communication presence, which has general utility but special appeal to ECPs.

Fifth, the convention. We’re all greatly indebted to Larry Carter, who did a superb job of working diligently for many months behind the scenes with APA, other divisions, and NIDA/NIAAA staff to assemble a wonderful convention program in Washington, DC. Of course, I’m also thankful to all who attended and presented at the conference. We had great presentations by winners of the dissertation award (Cassandra Gipson and Kevin Murname), Young Psychopharmacologist award (Matt Johnson), MED Associates Brady/Schuster award (Steve Higgins), and new fellows (Chana Akins, Scott Bowen and David Festinger). I’m grateful to Chana Akins (Awards officer) and Steve Heishman (Fellows officer) for organizing these events. We had presentations from ECPs, a number of interesting symposia, and a poster session. I was also personally pleased to host a special symposium in honor of Bob Schuster, at which Warren Bickel, Ken Silverman and Jack Henningfield gave inspired talks. [see pages 10, 16-18 for convention highlights.]

Finally, advocacy. This has been year of economic uncertainty for our country as a whole, but particularly for academia and science funding in our field of work. We have witnessed federal budget decreases, congressional continuing resolutions and the prospect of further cuts. Now that the U.S. presidential election campaign has begun, the political environment could make this bad situation worse. In my last newsletter I expressed the concern that the NIH budgetary squeeze places extraordinary pressure on NIDA and NIAAA program officials to manage their portfolios, and that grant applications may not be funded in order of scientific priority scores (as traditionally judged by our peers). This is a worrisome state of affairs because it introduces greater discretionary bias and, if the problem persists without careful communication, the potential for erosion of trust in the process. At times such as these, there is no substitute for open dialogue among scientists, and for scientists to have frank discussions with their program officers (who, it must be acknowledged, are also under duress). As a general rule, federal grant awards are being subjected to across-the-board cuts. Thus, at a broader level, we need to express consistent and intense support for science funding to our representatives. We have persuasive evidence that the return-on-investment for substance abuse research is highly favorable. As I write elsewhere in this newsletter [see page 11], last weekend several members of our division attended the APA Science Leadership Conference in Washington, DC, where this year’s theme was “Call to Advocacy: Psychological Science and Substance Abuse”. Finally, although the date for deciding on possible reorganization of NIDA and NIAAA has been delayed, we will need to keep our voices heard as things take shape.

In conclusion, I feel optimistic that Division 28 will continue to thrive and be an important voice within APA and beyond. We have extremely talented members who are dedicated and creative scientists working on important societal problems. We have shared values and a community that is supportive. We should be mindful that these values must be translated into action: Please engage in division activities and advocacy throughout the year using our electronic resources. Thank you for the fleeting but cherished opportunity to serve Division 28 as your president. I wish you well!