On Repairing the Pipeline

By William C. Howell, PhD, Executive Director for Science
Attracting the best young minds to graduate programs in fundamental research consistently makes my top-10 list of major concerns. I've voiced it at every opportunity, including this column, and it's at the core of several important Science Directorate activities that I've written about, too.

The most recent of these activities grew out of the special $500,000 science initiative funded at the request of Council last August. Basically, we will be sending promising undergraduates to a week-long 'science institute' where they will be immersed in psychological science through close interaction with some of our leading researchers. This program, which will target premajors, will involve about 60 students per year and, we believe, will become highly competitive and prestigious. It should yield some outstanding science-oriented psychology majors who will help boost admissions to the programs that need them.

This institute initiative is already well along in the planning, and we will begin soliciting nominations by mid-Fall. There's another (somewhat paradoxical) facet to the pipeline problem, however, that we're also very concerned about, but is just now in the serious discussion phase: the chronic difficulty in recruiting promising minority students. Like the other sciences, we haven't done well attracting African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans to psychological science. And it's not a matter of market conditions: Despite the depressed employment situation in traditional academic and nonacademic research settings, opportunities couldn't be brighter for these woefully underrepresented groups. And that will not likely change even if Congress does manage to gut affirmative action.

We've been talking with the National Science Foundation (NSF), the APA Commission on Ethnic Minority Recruiting, Retention, and Training, and some of the more successful graduate departments with an eye toward possible cosponsorship of a conference on these issues, and the response so far has been enthusiastic. Merry Bullock, PhD, late of the NSF Cognitive Program and currently our Directorate's Senior Scientist, is the point person in these discussions. If you have reactions or suggestions on this topic, I'm sure she'd be happy to hear from you (her e-mail address is mxb.apa@email.apa.org, and she can also be reached by phone or mail through the Science Directorate).

We're not naive enough to think that these and other Directorate initiatives will reverse longstanding trends that extend well beyond the boundaries of psychological science. But as a longtime Texan, I know that pipelines don't just fix themselves, and the longer defects are left unattended, the worse they get. All we're trying to do is draw psychology's attention to a set of chronic 'science problems' that has long-term implications for the entire field and to begin the repair process.

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