1997 Summer Science Institute

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By Ludy Benjamin, Jr., PhD, and Virginia Holt
photo of Ludy Benjamin, PhD photo of Virginia Holt

Plans are nearly final for the second year of the APA Summer Science Institute to be hosted by the Psychology Department at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1997. Last summer, 59 very talented and enthusiastic undergraduates came together for a week of immersion in the science of psychology. The two Summer Science Institutes were sponsored by the Science Directorate and hosted by the University of Maryland at College Park. The goal of the program was quite explicit: to recruit bright students into science careers in psychology. The Institutes were under the direction of Virginia Holt and Ludy Benjamin, Jr., PhD.

During each of the week-long Institutes, students attended lectures by some of psychology's finest researchers, participated in active learning exercises, toured behavioral science labs at the National Institutes of Health, and designed experiments as small group projects. In addition, they saw some of the sights in the Washington area, and they participated in a number of social activities, including an evening psychology quiz bowl competition that gave students a chance to display their erudition, creativity, and, perhaps most important, their sense of humor. The program was an intensive one of daytime and evening activities that left the students tired, the Institute directors exhausted, and everyone exhilarated by the experience and sad that it had to end. Kathy Newcomb, a student at Yale University, summed up her experience this way: 'I went home with some great books, great friends, great ideas, and a southern drawl. What more can you ask for?'

Reflecting on the start of the Institute, Taryn Fielder, a student from Eckerd College, expressed the misgivings of perhaps many students as they prepared to attend: 'I know that many of the students arrived at the Institute concerned that they would meet 29 of the nerdiest students in the world with whom they would be forced to spend 6 days of relentless meetings and boring speeches, but they left the Institute with a fresh outlook on the future of psychology and the role that they could play in the field's transition into the 21st century, as well as with many new friends and contacts that would greatly influence them the rest of their lives.'

The camaraderie was echoed by many students. Alec Rosofsky, a student at the University of Rochester, wrote, 'I can say for sure that friendships were formed in 1 short week that will last many years into the future. To be completely honest, I was sadder ... when I left the conference than I was when I departed from college this spring.' Kate Augustine, from Furman University, said, 'It was surprising and wonderful how we bonded so well and so quickly. It was hard to imagine not knowing each other less than a week before.'

Many students also commented on what the Institute had meant to them beyond the friendships they made. Mike Kaschak, a student at Wilkes University, wrote, 'Perhaps the thing I liked best about the Institute was that it made me feel good about the future of psychology and the possibility of my having a place in that future. In an era when I hear quite a bit about how the biologists and chemists are going to be making all the important advances in understanding human behavior, the variety of researchers presenting at the Institute made it clear that this was not necessarily the case.' Karen Adler (Brown University) added, 'The Institute ... gave me the framework to conceptualize psychology, how to really think about it. And because of that, it has been easier for me to identify my place in that structure.'

Several students have written to us about changes in their major and program of study that will better prepare them for a career as a scientist. Two students have worked out special programs of study at their colleges as a result of their experiences at the Summer Institute. One is developing an interdisciplinary major in neuroscience, and another is combining her interests in psychology, political science, and law.

Several students are planning summers in psychology research labs as a result of contacts they made with faculty at the Institute. Still others are getting more involved with research on their own campuses. Several are giving talks on their campuses about their Institute experiences and encouraging some of their fellow students to apply for next summer.

The two groups of students are now connected via an electronic network that includes the Institute faculty and APA staff. In addition to providing a means of easy communication for the student groups, the network also will allow APA to keep in touch with these students and to monitor their academic and career choices. We cannot say if the Institute will prove to be the impetus that propels some of these very talented people into the science of psychology (no control group here), but judging from their responses and their truly exceptional abilities, these students appear almost certain to be psychology's future leaders. And even if these students do not pursue careers in psychology, they will carry with them an especially positive image of the contributions of psychology as a result of the Institutes.

It should be obvious why we are excited about next summer's program. We will be offering only one session this time, June 7-15, 1997, for 32 first- and second-year college students. If you have a promising undergraduate who would benefit from this program, please contact APA for an application at:

APA Science Directorate
Summer Science Institute
750 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242

(202) 336-6000
e-mail: science@apa.org

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