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Science Leadership Conference Hits a Home Run!

The goal of the Science Leadership Conference was to bring together key leaders to develop a common agenda that will advance psychological science and help secure its future.

By Sara Robinson

On December 2-4, APA's Science Directorate and the Board of Scientific Affairs (BSA) convened the first-ever Science Leadership Conference (SciLC). The theme of the inaugural conference, which will now be an annual event, was "The Public Face of Psychological Science." The goal of the conference was to bring together key leaders to develop a common agenda that will advance psychological science and help secure its future.

Following stage-setting remarks from Science Directorate Executive Director Steve Breckler and BSA Chair Roberta Klatzky, participants were welcomed by APA CEO Norman Anderson and APA President Ron Levant. Breckler and Klatzky made sure the 160-plus psychologists in attendance knew that we had high expectations for their participation in the meeting. They must have listened well, as the action plan resulting from the conference is ambitious.

Former APA President Phil Zimbardo moderated the first plenary session on Psychology in the Media, featuring talks by two well-respected print journalists covering the science beat, Shankar Vedantam of The Washington Post and Jamie Talan of Newsday. Both reporters discussed the challenges the media faces when trying to represent science accurately while making it consumable for a lay audience, and shared tips with the audience on how psychologists can make themselves more likely to get desirable media coverage. Following the plenary, participants broke into smaller groups to develop action plans and recommendations for APA on more specific media issues, such as "Psychological science under attack" and "Psychologists as media producers."

The highlight of Friday afternoon was a special broadcast of National Public Radio's Science Friday with host Ira Flatow. Conference participants, as well as area high school students and other groups, comprised the studio audience at the National Geographic Society Building, where Science Friday was broadcast live from the SciLC!

After the broadcast, participants headed to the Reagan International Trade Center Building for a reception, where APA President Ronald Levant and President-Elect Gerry Koocher announced the election of Sharon Brehm as the 2007 APA President. Participants then enjoyed the sharp political satire of DC's infamous Capitol Steps.

Saturday it was back to work for the conference participants. Alan Leshner, CEO of AAAS, kicked off the morning's plenary talk on "Embracing Major Audiences." Leshner talked about psychology's relationship to other sciences, as well as the importance and inevitably of the trend toward multi- and inter-disciplinary research. Well-known high school psychology teacher Charles Blair-Broeker switched gears and provided a refreshing perspective on how we teach young people about psychological science and inspire new generations of science leaders. Breakout sessions focused on psychology's various audiences and how to communicate most effectively with them. The afternoon plenary concentrated on "Infrastructure for the Science of Psychology." James Swanson presented on the National Children's Study and its significance as one of the most ambitious data-collection projects to date and its enormous potential for developing critical new findings. Bennett Bertenthal introduced participants to his Social Informatics Database GRID, another cutting edge project allowing for mass data-sharing.

While the day was over for conference participants to experience the DC nightlife, the work was only beginning for Roberta Klatzky and Science Directorate staff. They worked into the night dissecting the notes taken during all breakout sessions to develop concrete recommendations for APA action to be presented the following morning.

On Sunday morning, Steve Breckler and Roberta Klatzky presented an overview of the action items suggested and invited ideas for future SciLC themes. APA President-elect Gerry Koocher presented lucky participants with prizes in a well-received drawing for science prizes. Rhea Farberman, APA's Executive Director for Public and Member Communications, then introduced the participants to media training. In addition providing guidelines for interacting with reporters in various media settings, she showcased examples of psychologists who have appeared on live television to represent, and in some cases defend, their research.

In addition to collecting evaluation forms to identify areas for improvement, the Science Directorate has received much positive feedback about the conference. Commended for the "smooth organization and creative programming," the meeting was called "wonderful and thought provoking" and "inspired and inspiring." While we are delighted that so many attendees were impressed with our first effort, we look forward to making the second annual SciLC even better!