Ms. Carol Williams
One of the most valuable experiences a graduate student can acquire as an emerging professional is a sense of connection and belonging. While APGAGS provides students with the necessary and vital link to the larger world of psychology, State and Provincial Psychological Associations (SPPAs) can offer opportunities for more individualized and focused professional embellishment within a smaller community of psychologists. Membership in both associations optimizes leadership development through complimentary objectives. In fact, joint membership may be key in a student’s evolving sense of professional identity. Finding a comfortable home within SPPAs bridges the gap between the individual and the global professional affiliation that students gain through APAGS. I would like to highlight some barriers and benefits students may encounter in SPPAs that impact professional development. Hopefully this will prompt students to think about how career progression incorporates both SPPA and APAGS involvement.
SPPAs are fundamental to a psychologist’s professional and student participation in state activities builds longstanding, collaborative and rewarding alliances. In talking with and surveying students, I learned that the level of student involvement in SPPAs is dichotomously split between complete uninvolvement and extensive involvement. Reasons provided for uninvolvement include: a lack of student-specific opportunities, marginal inclusion, lacking knowledge about the advantages and need to link with the SPPAs, feeling unwelcome, feeling ambivalent about how receptive SPPAs will be to student ideas and requests, and perceiving that the SPPA is not invested in being helpful or open to students. Conversely, reasons offered for high levels of involvement include: feeling warmly welcomed and valued as a member, being treated respectfully as a colleague, availability of mentoring programs, providing legislative fellowships for students, including a student/new professionals track of programming at committees. Thus, the involved versus uninvolved distinctions seem to be traceable to SPPAs that give students a voice and those that do not. Learning how to effectively promote a constituency voice is one rudimentary step toward professional and leadership skill development.
Students who are visible and participatory in SPPA functions are demonstrating interest in having their professional growth supported and in offering important student perspectives. In return, they are usually highly regarded and their involvement is encouraged and nurtured. This interdependent pattern of activity constitutes professional development within the context of SPPAs. I have formulated some fundamental premises about successful professional development, admittedly based on my beliefs and values. I offer this conceptualization, which infers an on-going and every-changing progression:
WHO is it for? Professional development is a continuous process for both novice and accomplished psychologists.
WHAT is it? Professional development has two crucial pieces. First, it is the process by which we are socialized into the culture of psychology. As with any culture, there are unique group characteristics that include formal and informal rules, rituals, expected behaviors, a common or unified purpose, and shared values beliefs and goals. Second, it is any activity that presents the opportunity to refine or expand present skills.
WHERE does it occur? Professional development can take place in a variety of contexts and settings. But some environments such as SPPAs and APAGS, provide greater accessibility to the types of experiences that foster professional growth.
WHEN does it happen? It happens when we are interacting with others, when we have the opportunity to discuss our ideas, to learn more about the musings of others, and to contemplate the meanings and effects of what we do and how well we do it.
WHY is it important? Personally, this answer is simple. If we stop believing that we have something more to learn or understand, we become stagnant and ineffective.
HOW do we do it? For students, we begin to develop professionally as we build our confidence. In order to build our confidence, it is helpful to practice behaving "as if" professional status has already been attained, but in a supervised setting. After all, this is the philosophy of practicum and internship experiences. This principle can also apply to the guided practice opportunities students receive in SPPAs.
There are several activities, or guided practice opportunities, that can benefit students and SPPAs. Some of these activities and opportunities can be jointly organized. These may include membership drives, SPPA and university co-sponsored workshops, convention volunteering in exchange for free admission, permitting students to chair and present convention programs, including student representation on SPPA subcommittees, sponsoring employment and networking fairs, writing for newsletters, assisting with research, spearheading or assisting with legislative advocacy efforts, attending board meetings, retreats and socials, and providing recognition through awards and scholarships. This list of suggestions is certainly not comprehensive, but it can be used as a launching point for conversations between students and SPPAs.
Students in SPPAs can profit from the learned wisdom of senior members and create tailored experiences to address specific professional development needs. APAGS is a strong, unique and influential force in psychology, and students enjoy innumerable membership benefits. This far-reaching impact is crucial and necessary. At the same time, SPPA membership compliments what APAGS offers by fostering a sense of local community and serving as a training ground for future leaders in psychology.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2000 Edition of the APAGS Newsletter, Vol, 12 (2)