Society for the Teaching of Psychology

Presidential Blog

  • 31 Mar 2014 3:49 PM | Jeffrey Stowell (Administrator)

    The Psychology Major at Risk: Part I -- Disciplinary Affordances

    R. Eric Landrum, 2014 STP President

    Boise State University

    We have an interesting paradox before us: we have ever increasing numbers of psychology graduates per year in the U.S. (topping 100,000 graduates for the first time in 2010-2011; National Center for Education Statistics, 2012) yet psychology majors also report high levels of dissatisfaction with the major (Light, 2010).  The main focus of this two part blog entry are those individuals receiving a bachelor’s degree in psychology; in other words, baccalaureates.

    I believe there are two major factors at play: the inherent career options afforded by our discipline, and the alignment of student’s understanding about careers and meaningful self-reflection compared to the reality of careers with a bachelor’s degree in psychology (a topic that I have written about previously; see Landrum, 2009).  If you wish, think of these concepts as variables -- the scope of vocational opportunities afforded by study in a discipline and the degree to which there is alignment between students’ reflection about their own vocational preference and their choice of a major.  So in the language of research methods, we have two main effects here: a main effect of disciplinary affordances (generality vs. specificity) and a main effect of alignment of self-motivation and accurate career knowledge (a match between knowing one’s desired outcomes and knowing how to achieve that outcome vs. a mismatch between desires and outcomes).  Although main effects can be interesting, in psychology the interactions often help us to understand the complexity of the real worldundefinedin other words, perhaps an interaction can help us explain our opening paradox.  I believe that there currently is an interaction, and that this interaction effect places some psychology majors at risk and provides formidable challenges for psychology educators.  In this blog, I provide some data where it exists, but note that I am bootstrapping current environmental conditions as I see them into a possible explanation or theory; I hope these ideas have heuristic value and motivate additional attention and appropriate research and reflection.

    The Disciplinary Affordances of Psychology

    According to the American Psychological Association’s Center for Workforce Studies (2013), about 4-6% of psychology baccalaureates pursue doctoral education in psychology, and about 20-22% pursue a master’s degree in psychology.  For those individuals who do earn a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology, they become more specialized, often with the goal of becoming a psychologist.  This graduate-level career trajectory is similar to those of accounting majors becoming accountants, nursing majors becoming nurses, and so on – some psychology majors become psychologists. However, even with this conservative estimate, over 70% of psychology graduates do not pursue additional education in psychology.  This sector of psychology graduates is the primary focus of this blog; that is, those individuals not pursuing a graduate education in psychology.

    What is meant by an affordance?  Gibson (1977) described the concept of affordances in regard to the properties of an environment which influence an animal’s behavior (see also Chemero, 2003).  In other words, the environment an animal lives in (the physical characteristics and resources available) influences an animal’s behavioral options; “the affordances of the environment are what it offers animals, what it provides or funishes, for good or ill” (Gibson, 1977, p. 68).  What I am suggesting here is that the discipline of psychology has career affordances, and students who major in psychology (but do not go to graduate school) have opportunities and limitations afforded them because of their selection of the psychology major.

    In the context of selection of and satisfaction within a career, I believe there may be a theoretical continuum of disciplinary-based affordances that ranges from highly generalized to highly specialized.  Different disciplines have different career affordances.  For example, it seems clear that undergraduate students majoring in accounting become accountants, students majoring in architecture become architects, students majoring in nursing become nurses, and students majoring in teacher education become teachers.  But what do undergraduate psychology majors become?  The APA Board of Educational Affairs Task Force on Psychology Major Competencies, led by Jane Halonen from the University of West Florida, developed a list of potential careers with a bachelor’s degree in psychology (J. Halonen, personal communication, 2013).  This listing is presented in Table 1.

    Table 1

    Potential Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology

    Activities Director

    Admissions Evaluator

    Advertising Sales Representative

    Alumni Director

    Animal Trainer

    Army Mental Health Specialist

    Benefits Manager

    Career/Employment Counselor

    Career Information Specialist


    Child Development Specialist

    Child Welfare/Placement Caseworker

    Claims Supervisor


    Community Organization Worker

    Community Worker

    Computer Programmer

    Conservation Officer

    Correctional Treatment Specialist

    Corrections Officer

    Criminal Investigator (FBI and other)

    Customer Service Representative Supervisor

    Data Base Administrator

    Data Base Design Analyst

    Department Manager


    Disability Policy Worker

    Disability Case Manager

    Employee Health Maintenance Program Specialist

    Employee Relations Specialist

    Employment Counselor

    Employment Interviewer

    Financial Aid Counselor

    Fund Raiser

    Health Care Facility Administrator


    Human Resource Advisor

    Information Specialist

    Job Analyst

    Labor Relations Manager

    Loan Officer

    Management Analyst

    Market Research Analyst

    Mental Retardation Aide

    News Writer

    Occupational Analyst

    Patient Resources and Reimbursement Agent

    Personnel Recruiter

    Police Officer

    Polygraph Examiner

    Preschool Teacher

    Probation/Parole Officer

    Project Evaluator

    Psychiatric Aide/Attendant

    Psychiatric Technician

    Psychological Stress Evaluator

    Psychosocial Rehabilitation Specialist (PSR)

    Public Health Director

    Public Relations Representative

    Purchasing Agent

    Real Estate Agent

    Recreation Leader

    Recreation Supervisor

    Recreational Therapist

    Research Assistant

    Retail Salesperson

    Sales Clerk

    Social Services Aide

    Substance Abuse Counselor

    Systems Analyst

    Technical Writer

    Veterans Contact Representative

    Veterans Counselor

    Victims’ Advocate

    Vocational Training Teacher

    Volunteer Coordinator


    Individuals who seek employment and a career with a bachelor’s degree in psychology have a wide variety of choices available, leveraging the high generalizability of the psychology baccalaureate.  I would also contend that those who continue for graduate education in psychology become more specialized and focused on more prototypical, “psychologist-type” careers.  In addition, I believe there are collegiate majors which afford high specialization in an undergraduate context.  In fact, for each of the ‘high specialization’ examples used in this essay (accountant, architect, nurse, teacher), there is a national licensing examination and an accrediting organization.  See Table 2 for the specifics.

    Table 2

    Examples of Highly Specialized Undergraduate Degree Programs

    Undergraduate Major/Program

    Licensing Exam

    Accreditation Body

    Prototypical Job Title


    The Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Examination

    National Association of State Boards of Accountancy



    Architect Registration Examination (ARE)

    National Council of Architectural Registration Boards



    NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination)

    National Council of State Boards of Nursing


    Teacher Education


    State Departments of Education (40 states)


    So based on my own intuitions and without data from various disciplines, I would tend to place the undergraduate disciplines in Table 2 (accountant, architect, nurse, and teacher) toward the right side of the graphic below, and the undergraduate psychology major toward the left side of the graphic below.

    High Generalization Careers Afforded by Undergraduate Major

    High Specialization Careers Afforded by Undergraduate Major

    Please remember that my depictions, hypotheses, and theories are mostly anecdotal; actual results may vary.  But if there is any validity to the notion of disciplinary-based affordances with regard to career options might be captured from an empirical standpoint, the ideas provided in Table 3 may help to motivate researchers to collect data and analyze trends with may support or refute the notion of career affordances.

    Table 3

    Potential Behavioral Indicators/Variables Which Might Validate That Disciplines Have Affordances That Influence the Generalization or Specialization of Careers


    High Generalization Afforded by Undergraduate Major (e.g., psychology)

    High Specialization Afforded by Undergraduate Major (e.g. accountancy, architecture, nursing, teacher education)

    Number of job openings, available, number of applicants

    Wide variety of job openings available with much competition from many sources and educational backgrounds

    Tendency for fewer job openings available for specialized careers with competition from similarly licensed individuals

    Accreditation of undergraduate education

    Tend to not have undergraduate accreditation requirements

    May have undergraduate accreditation body; typically require credentialing/licensing

    Number of credits required for graduation

    Typically the minimum institutional number to graduate

    Often exceeds the institutional minimum number of credits to graduate

    Ease of switching careers after graduation

    Easier due to generalist/liberal arts focus; additional training (without return to formal education) may suffice for career switch

    Not as easy due to specific training for specific career; may require more formal education (additional training alone may not suffice)

    Starting salary and first job expectations

    Vague understanding of first job expectations; lower starting salaries due to high competition from others with analogous skill sets

    Good understanding of first job expectations; higher starting salaries due to specialized skills, credentialing, licensure

    There are some available data that are from psychology researchers and from the general literature that provide support from some of these contentions.  Regarding psychology baccalaureates, salaries tend to be lower as compared to preprofessional and technical program graduates (Rajecki & Borden, 2011) and graduates report lower levels of job preparation as compared to other fields (Borden & Rajecki, 2000), perhaps due to the wide variety of jobs available (i.e., high generalization).  In a direct comparison of psychology baccalaureates to graduates from nursing, business, engineering, and education, psychology majors (a) more frequently had jobs that did not specifically require a college degree, (b) had lower salaries, and (c) reported lower ratings of job relatedness compared to undergraduate degree program (Rajecki & Borden, 2009).  Carnevale, Cheah, and Strohl (2012) reported that majors that are closed tied to specific occupations tend to experience lower unemployment rates, but that the specificity of a major can backfire.  Recent architecture graduates experienced a 13.9% unemployment rate, believed to be linked (in part) to drastic reductions in construction-related efforts.  Menand (2011) characterized it this way: “…advanced economies demand specialized knowledge and skills, and, since high school is aimed at the general learner, college is where people can be taught whey they need in order to enter a vocation.  A college degree in a non-liberal field signifies competence in a specific line of work” (¶ 33).

    In summary, the broad flexibility afforded to psychology baccalaureates in selecting careers with high levels of generalization may be both a blessing and a curse.  It may be a blessing because there are a wide variety of options available and the importance of understanding human behavior is pervasive throughout every workplace.  It may be a curse because the opportunities are so generalized that students do not know what they can do with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, they do not have a clearly identifiable job title, accurate career advising may be a challenge, and competition for non-specialized jobs and careers may be elevated.  You’ve heard the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” – perhaps the modern-day less-eloquent equivalent for psychology baccalaureates is “jack of many different career paths, specialized training in none.”  That is not necessary a good or bad situation, but students need to know that it is what it is so that they can have accurate expectations and plan accordingly.  In the next blog entry, I’ll explore the “other” main effect mentioned at the beginning of this blog -- student alignment, in the context of self-perceptions and self-reflections.


    American Psychological Association. (2013).  What percentage of undergraduate psychology majors continue on to earn graduate degrees in psychology?  Center for Workforce Studies.  Retrieved from

    Borden, V. M. H., & Rajecki, D. W. (2000). First-year employment outcomes of psychology baccalaureates: Relatedness, preparedness, and prospects. Teaching of Psychology, 27, 164-168.

    Carnevale, A. P., Cheah, B., & Strohl, J.  (2012).  Hard times: Not all college degrees are created equal.  Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.  Retrieved from

    Chemero, A.  (2003).  An outline of a theory of affordances.  Ecological Psychology, 15, 181-195.

    Gibson, J. J.  (1977).  The theory of affordances.  Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Landrum, R. E.  (2009).  Finding jobs with a psychology bachelor’s degree: Expert advice for launching your career.  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Light, J.  (2010, October 11).  Psych majors aren’t happy with options.  Wall Street Journal.  Retrieved from

    Menand, L.  (2011, June 6).  Live and learn: Why we have college.  The New Yorker.  Retrieved from

    National Center for Education Statistics.  (2012).  Degrees in psychology conferred by degree-granting institutions, by level of degree and sex of student: Selected years, 1945-50 through 2010-11 [Table 330].  Digest of Educational Statistics 2012.  Washington, DC: U. S. Department of Education.

    Rajecki, D. W., & Borden, V. M. H.  (2009).  First-year employment outcomes of US psychology graduates revisited: Need for a degree, salary, and relatedness to major.  Psychology Learning and Teaching, 8, 23-29.

    Rajecki, D. W., & Borden, V. M. H.  (2011).  Psychology degrees: Employment, wage, and career trajectory consequences.  Perspectives in Psychological Science, 6, 321-335.


    Note. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Psychological Association, APA Education Directorate, APA Division Two (Society for the Teaching of Psychology), or Boise State University.  But they should.

  • 28 Feb 2014 10:19 AM | Jeffrey Stowell (Administrator)

    Scientist-Educators Using Evidence-Based Instructional Practices

    by R. Eric Landrum, PhD

    2014 STP President

    Active learning, flipping the classroom, student engagement, the student-as-producer model – it is sometimes difficult to know in today’s teaching environment what emerging pedagogical approaches are fads vs. meaningful trends. However, if you adhere to the scientist-educator model, then it is your obligation to explore, study, and reflect upon your personal pedagogical choices.  In this brief message, my goal to bring together two important concepts: the scientist-educator model and evidence-based instructional practices (EBIPs).  Like the two great tastes of chocolate and peanut butter, each is pretty good on their own, but the combination provides for a powerful (and tasty) interaction.

    The notion of the scientist-educator model emerged from the APA-sponsored National Conference on Undergraduate Education in Psychology held at the University of Puget Sound in 2008.  The efforts of nine working groups at this conference are chronicled in an edited book by Halpern (2010), and the scientist-educator model is credited to Bernstein and his team (Bernstein, et al., 2010).  Some of the key tenets of the scientist-educator model are presented here:

    A scientist-educator treats professional work as an inquiry into the effectiveness of practice.  It is critical to be familiar with evidence-based practice in the teaching of psychology, identifying those methods that are appropriate to one’s own teaching.  Central to this enterprise is the systematic collection of evidence regarding the effectiveness of teaching and the use of these data to guide the development and refinement of both the conceptual understanding of teaching and its practice in an iterative, recursive fashion.  The scientist-educator reflects on the results of the instruction, makes that work visible to peers, and redesigns course conception, measures, and activities accordingly. (p. 30)

    This iterative pattern of action is reminiscent of the steps involved in action research, which are planning, acting, observing, and reflecting, with new planning following reflection.  Of course the notion of evidence-based practices has been around for some time in disciplines such as medicine and clinical psychology.  Saville (2009) noted that similar to clinical psychologists using treatments that are based on the best science available, so too should teachers of psychology – thus the value of an evidence-based approach pre-dates the emergence of the scientist-educator model, but this new model powerfully reinforces the notion that the planning, preparation, delivery, and assessment of what happens in the classroom should be evidence-based.

    So how does one go about finding the evidence that defines an evidence-based instructional practice (EBIP)?  Just as we would with any academic research topic, we look to the literature.  Although the acronym EBIP is not yet universally accepted, there are useful sources of evidence-based instructional practices that provide the details about the data.  Two sources that I recommend for starters would the book Evidence-based teaching (edited by Buskist & Groccia, 2011) and the article Transformational teaching: Theoretical underpinnings, basic principles, and core methods by Slavich and Zimbardo (2012).  Both provide detailed overviews about the “evidence” in evidence-based teaching practices.  Thus, both depth and breadth are articulated in these resources.

    But there are other, convenient sources as well.  I would encourage readers to take advantage of the resources provided by the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) at our web  We have resources available which have been peer reviewed (through our Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology, or OTRP) as well as open-source resources, such as ToPIX.  Resources abound, such as the recently published ebook on Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum by Benassi, Overson, and Hakala (2014). This ebook is freely available as a PDF.

    Just as our physician and clinician colleagues do, I encourage you to plan, act, observe, and reflect about your teaching and consider using EBIPs – as a scientist-educator, share your results with your colleagues, whether that be at a regional poster session, as shared resource on our website, at the APA convention as part a symposium, a presentation or poster at our Annual Conference on Teaching, or a manuscript submitted to our highly regarded journal Teaching of Psychology.  Our students deserve the very best instruction possible, and only through a scientist-educator lens will we ever know if that is occurring.


    Benassi, V. A., Overson, C. E., & Hakala, C. M.  (2014).  (Eds.).  Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum.  Society for the Teaching of Psychology.  Retrieved from

    Bernstein, D. J., Addison, W., Altman, C., Hollister, D., Komarraju, M., Prieto, L., … & Shore, C.  (2010).  Toward a scientist-educator model of teaching psychology.  In D. F. Halpern (Ed.), Undergraduate education in psychology: A blueprint for the future of the discipline (pp. 29-45).  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Buskist, B., & Groccia, J. E.  (2011). (Eds.).  Evidence-based teaching.  New Directions in Teaching and Learning, 128.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

    Halpern, D. F.  (2010).  (Ed.).  Undergraduate education in psychology: A blueprint for the future of the discipline.  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Saville, B. K.  (2009).  Using evidence-based teaching methods to improve education.  Teaching and Learning Excellence.  Retrieved from

    Slavich, G. M., & Zimbardo, P. G.  (2012).  Transformational teaching: Theoretical underpinnings, basic principles, and core methods.  Educational and Psychological Review, 24, 569-608.  doi:10.1007/s10648-012-9199-6

  • 30 Jan 2014 12:14 PM | R. Eric Landrum (Administrator)

    by Eric Landrum

    2014 STP President

    I am truly honored and humbled to serve this year as the President of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) / Division Two of the American Psychological Association.  I joined STP in 1989 as I received my PhD in cognitive psychology, and for the past 25 years, I’ve enjoyed the benefits of  membership.  The most important benefit, however, are the lifelong friends I have made as being part of an active and vibrant community that cares about a quality psychology education at all levels.

    So you think you know about an organization after being a member for almost half of your life (yes, I turned 51 earlier this week), but I didn’t really start to understand the depth and complexity of STP until I became its Secretary in 2009.  In that capacity, I was in a room with very smart and very active people who care about psychology education as much or more than I do. It is both invigorating and intimidating.  Can I keep up?  Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about that, because when you are part of a meaningful community, we all pitch in. 

    During my presidential year, my litmus test question is this – how can we better serve our members?  I’m happy to report that our Executive Committee (EC) does not move like a glacier, and I’ve been so pleased with our collaborative spirit and prompt response times.  Although January is about to come to a close, earlier this month we had an STP member inquire about moving our Master Teacher Competencies document from the Members-Only section of our website to a public viewundefinedshe believed that this document could have a widespread impact to all psychology teachers.  Our EC conferred and concurred with our member’s suggestion, and by the end of the same day the document was made public (go Homepage – Resources – Teaching Competencies).  Late last year another member inquired about resources for graduate-level educators; we certainly have many resources that would assist in this area, but they are not organized in this fashion.  So we’ll be looking at how we can add organizational features to our website so that “quick hits” on a particular topic are easy to find and time-savers for teachers of psychology.

    My goal is to write a presidential blog at least once a month, and in future posts I’ll highlight particular resources, grant opportunities, diversity initiatives, awards, programming, member benefits, and so on – it is an impressive organization from all perspectives.  Here’s the current roster of EC members –


    Suzie Baker

    Past President

    Victor Benassi

    Vice President for Diversity and International Relations

    Susan Nolan

    Vice President for Programming

    Janie Wilson

    Vice President for Recognition and Awards

    Beth Schwartz

    Vice President for Recruiting, Retention and Public Relations

    Diane Finley

    Vice President for Resources

    Sue Frantz


    Scott Bates


    Dave Kreiner

    Executive Director

    Ted Bosack

    Thank YOU for all that you do for our psychology students everywhere, everyday –



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