Early career psychologists (ECPs) sometimes assume that leadership roles in state associations, APA and its divisions and are reserved for more seasoned psychologists. But these organizations are eager for newer professionals to contribute as well.

“ECPs bring a fresh perspective to a group because they are often from a different generation,” says Jared Skillings, PhD, chair of APA’s Board of Professional Affairs and president of the Michigan Psychological Association. “They tend to be more culturally diverse than previous generations and often have new ideas for solving problems. Plus, they typically have more time on their hands to devote to leadership projects.”

ECPs who are interested in leadership are in even higher demand now that APA requires most boards and committees to have at least one member who is an early career psychologist. There are also opportunities to lead in APA’s 54 divisions, seven of which will have ECPs serving as presidents in 2018. Psychologists who are newer to the field will also find that their help and perspectives are welcome in state associations, and these smaller organizations have the advantage of feeling more approachable and less complex than APA.

There are many paths to leadership positions. Here, five early career psychologists discuss how they got their leadership positions and what they gained from the experience.

Nekeshia Hammond, PsyD

Nekeshia Hammond, PsyDPast-president, Florida Psychological Association; owner of Hammond Psychology & Associates, Brandon, Florida; graduated nine years ago

  • Her path: Early in her private practice career, Hammond volunteered to serve as membership chair of her local chapter of the Florida Psychological Association (FPA). That led to serving on the association’s board of directors, and after several years, running for—and winning—the 2017 FPA presidency.
  • What she gained: One of the highlights for Hammond was attending APA’s 2017 Practice Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., where she met with legislators to answer their questions about psychology and share her views about issues such as adding psychologists to Medicare’s definition of physicians. “I wasn’t sure what to expect from legislators, but they were positive and open to learning from me about the field of mental health,” she says.
  • Her advice: “State associations are always looking for volunteers, so don’t be afraid to get involved, and a committee is a good place to start. Network with other leaders in the association because this will provide invaluable connections.”

Julie Radico, PsyD

Past-chair of APA’s Committee on Early Career Psychologists; assistant professor, department of family and community medicine, Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Pennsylvania; graduated four years ago

  • Her path: Radico first delved into leadership at the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, where she worked to increase ECP membership. She also joined listservs for several APA divisions, boards and committees, including APA’s Committee on Early Career Psychologists, which represents psychologists in the first 10 years of their careers. When the committee put out a call for a membership and governance outreach representative, Radico applied and was
  • What she gained: Radico is particularly excited about the committee’s work to push for more ECPs on APA’s Council of Representatives—only 5 percent of council representatives are ECPs. “It’s critical to have a voice in decisions at the higher levels of governance to ensure that the needs and views of ECPs are being heard,” she says.
  • Her advice: “If there is someone in your department who received a fellowship, award or leadership role, consider asking this colleague how he or she earned it, and if it would be possible to pass along information about similar opportunities.”

Nicole Quinlan, PhD

President-elect, Pennsylvania Psychological Association; chief of the Pediatric Consultation Liaison Service at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, Pennsylvania; graduated nine years ago

  • Her path: One of Quinlan’s mentors encouraged her to get involved in her state psychological association. She began her volunteer work by serving on the Public Education Committee, and eventually became chair of the association’s Professional Psychology Board. In 2017, she ran for and was elected as the association’s president-elect.
  • What she gained: Quinlan’s association experience helped her realize how psychologists’ advocacy can help shape policy. She saw her influence firsthand when she participated in the association’s Advocacy Day and met with state leaders on the latest issues in psychology, including the need to reduce barriers for graduate students as they pursue licensure. “Government officials want your knowledge to help guide their decisions,” Quinlan says.
  • Her advice: “We often hear people talk about ‘born leaders,’ but leadership is just a series of skills that are developed over time. Seek out mentors who have been volunteer leaders in your association for advice on how to develop these skills.”

Kevin Nadal, PhD

Kevin Nadal, PhDPast-President of the Asian American Psychological Association; professor of psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and the Graduate Center, City University of New York; graduated 10 years ago

  • His path: A mentor encouraged Nadal to run for a position on the Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA) executive committee. He was elected and served from 2010 to 2012. At the urging of a psychologist running for AAPA president, Nadal successfully ran for vice president in 2011 and served from 2012 to 2014. At the end of 2014, Nadal ran for president because he wanted to expand the organization’s work on social justice issues and because—as a member of the Filipino-American and LGBTQ communities—he could bring an under-represented perspective to the position. In 2015, Nadal became the youngest AAPA president at age 37. In this role, he focused on increasing the group’s visibility as the national voice for Asian-American mental health and making the AAPA more inclusive for historically marginalized groups.
  • What he gained: Nadal’s roles with AAPA helped him to develop confidence, leadership skills and the ability to juggle those responsibilities while managing teaching, mentoring and research. Now he’s thinking of other ways to serve the field or his community through leadership. “It opened my eyes to other possibilities and other ways that I can find my voice in my role as a psychologist and as a citizen.”
  • His advice: “Be open to different experiences, even when you don’t think that you’ll have time for it. If it is something you passionately care about, it is something you can find time for. If we allow other people to take these positions, are your voices and the voices of people that you care about going to be heard in the field?”

Candice Hargons, PhD

Candice Hargons, PhDDiv. 17 representative to APA’s Council of Representatives; assistant professor, counseling psychology program at the University of Kentucky; graduated two years ago

  • Her path: Hargons joined Div. 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology) seeking a sense of belonging in her new field. As a black woman, the division’s section on ethnic and racial diversity appealed to her, and she served as the section’s membership coordinator. A year later, she joined a division task force that was developing a new counseling psychology leadership academy for students and ECPs. Now she’s treasurer of Div. 17’s ECP Committee and serves as one of the division’s representatives on the APA Council of Representatives, helping to discuss and vote on new APA policies.
  • What she gained: Hargons enjoyed working with more senior, well-established counseling psychologists who, she says, have affirmed the unique perspective she brings as a young black woman from a working-class background.
  • Her advice: “Take the initiative and run for positions because it gets your name out there. Even if you don’t get elected the first time, people will look for you the next time a position is open.”

5 ways to get leadership experience

1. Self-nominate for APA boards and committees

2. Look for opportunities in APA’s 54 divisions

3. Contact your local, state, regional or provincial psychological associations

4. Serve on APA’s Council of Representatives as an ECP

5. Watch this APA webinar