Over the years I’ve held memberships in a variety of different professional organizations. Many of these were related to certain activities I was involved in at the time, and they represented a great diversity of interests – ranging from an acapella association to a safe childbirth association to a classic car group. Several years ago I joined another professional organization – the Psychologists Association of Alberta (PAA), and this past year I took it one step further and joined the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA), becoming the CPA undergraduate student representative for Athabasca University.
Why join professional organizations? There are many reasons. In the case of the Acapella Association I joined so that I could have my group listed on their website and newsletter, and so that I could maintain a connection with other acapella acts. I joined the classic car group so that I could qualify for special classic car insurance. Some organizations required membership so I could receive a particular service. For example, I joined the Association for Safe Alternatives in Childbirth (ASAC) so I could access and support the services of a midwife and have a homebirth – but I found my membership so educational that I maintained the connection long after my children were born. I joined the Alberta Motor Association so that I could receive the telephone company’s internet connection discount, but later found that the membership fees were higher than I could justify for the services provided, and coverage was inconsistent. This was brought home to me when my daughter borrowed my car and locked the keys inside, yet when I requested AMA key rescue services I was told I had to pay another $25 to make my daughter a member before they would unlock my car for her! I also found I could not justify continued membership with the Acapella Association – once my group was no longer actively performing the yearly fee became too much of a burden.
One drawback of membership in some associations is that a certain level of involvement is often required. The classic car group was always inviting me along on car rallies and trips I never had time to participate in, as much as I would have liked to. With non-profit organizations like ASAC, members are expected to participate in time-consuming fund-raising ventures. But overall, membership in a professional organization can be very beneficial, particularly for us as students.
I joined the PAA initially because I wanted to attend their yearly conference. With student membership costing $50, and conference fee being cut in half for members – it was a good deal. Membership did require a sponsor, however – someone who is a chartered psychologist in the Province of Alberta needed to vouch for me. One of my psychology professors was willing to oblige, once I had thoroughly explained to her my reasons for wanting to join. This sponsorship is important, as the sponsor is endorsing you as a worthy member who they trust to maintain the professional ethics and requirements of the psychology profession.
What are the benefits to me as a student PAA member? In addition to being part of a group that advocates for the psychology profession, membership in such a professional organization looks good on a resume or CV. It gives strength to your voice to be part of a professional organization and enhances credibility. At the PAA conference I had the opportunity to earn continuing education credits for several of the sessions. These credits are considered very important for the practicing psychologist, a way to maintain current knowledge and abilities. For students, we can add these to our educational accomplishments and CV. Membership also entitles you to access libraries and professional journals, as well as discounts on purchase of psychological materials. Most professional organizations have also negotiated member discounts with insurance companies, car rentals, hotels, and many other services. There are website services members are entitled to, such as the online job classifieds. Membership in a professional organization as a student can also increase your connections and opportunities to lobby for all kinds of student benefits and issues. Most importantly for me, membership in the PAA is a step towards building professional alliances with potential colleagues, a mark of a serious student seeking a career in psychology.
I joined the CPA this year for many of the same reasons. I had wanted to expand my professional connections and the types of information and services I could access. Unfortunately I could not afford to attend the CPA annual convention in Hamilton this year, but I did enjoy access to CPA journals for course projects. Becoming a CPA member also requires a sponsor, but since I am already a member of a provincial organization, this requirement was waived.
Interestingly, sponsorship is not required to become a student member of the American Psychological Association (APA), the American equivalent of the CPA. Student membership fees are very reasonable in that organization as well, and there are many benefits. However, as a Canadian psychology student I felt that it was more realistic to be involved with the CPA. Do you need to be a member of a provincial organization as well? Not necessarily. Across Canada there are provincial psychology organizations for each province, but not all of them even have the student membership option. Ontario and Saskatchewan do, and sponsorship is required. Manitoba allows student affiliates without sponsorship. The other provinces either do not have website membership information or are not open to student members. So for interested students, seeking direct student membership in the CPA may be the best option.
Student membership in the CPA is $55.64, and includes subscriptions to several psychology journals, in addition to the numerous benefits already enumerated for the provincial association. Conference attendance for CPA student affiliates is a permanent $35 (for early registration), since the CPA recognizes the importance of conferences for students. Among things that the student section of CPA are advocating for is representation on the CPA board of directors, improved student mentorship with university faculty, lobbying for student funding, opportunities for psychology students to present original research at CPA conferences, and initiatives to involve psychology students in research and professional development early in their studies.
An international student psychology organization is in the works, too, which is of particular interest to distance education students. Even for non-members, the CPA website provides a wealth of information and resources for psychology students. As the Athabasca University CPA Student undergrad representative, one of my responsibilities is to encourage membership in the CPA and provide information about the organization to interested students, so if you have any questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Membership in a professional organization that is related to your university studies and career goals can be a highly beneficial learning experience and an important part of pursuing professional recognition within your chosen field. Many other disciplines besides psychology have student membership options available within their professional associations, and I’d encourage all students to check these out, starting with your provincial associations. Generally student membership is at a very reasonable cost. Even if you choose not to become involved as a member, learning about these organizations and contacting them or perusing their websites can be an invaluable source of information that can help you make those important career and educational decisions.
Alberta Psychologists Association:
Canadian Psychological Association
Debbie is a native Edmontonian, and a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University Students Union.