APS Fellow Randy Engle was the first on either side of his family to go to college; in fact, the first on one side to graduate from high school. The first time he ever heard about the field of psychology was as a freshman at West Virginia State College, when someone he had gone to high school with mentioned that he was majoring in psychology. Interested in this field he had never heard of, Engle decided he had to take a course in the subject.
His life has never been the same since. He took his first course in psychology during his sophomore year, and he vividly recalls voraciously reading every chapter of Floyd Ruch’s textbook before the semester was half over.
Engle brings his passion for the field of psychology with him in his new position as Editor of APS’s Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal that publishes concise reviews of the latest developments across the full spectrum of psychological research. “The list of journals I would really like to edit is quite small, probably three or four, and Current Directions in Psychological Science is at the top of that list,” he says. Engle succeeds former editor Harry Reis, who has been in that post since 2005.
Engle is well-suited to the demands of editing Current Directions; he has always had a wide variety of scientific interests. “I graduated [from West Virginia State] with nearly as many hours in zoology and in math as I had in psychology,” he says, “so it was inevitable that I gravitate toward experimental psychology.” After completing his undergraduate degree Engle was admitted to Ohio State University, where he received his PhD in experimental psychology in 1973. He taught at King College in Tennessee for two years, where he began researching modality effects in short-term memory. He then took a faculty position at the University of South Carolina, where he remained for 21 years. In 1995, he was appointed Chair of the School of Psychology at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is currently Interim Director of the Center for Advanced Brain Imaging at Georgia Tech and recently began a new project on how genotype and other genetic factors are related to executive functioning and the improvement of working memory capacity.
As head of the School of Psychology at Georgia Tech, Engle was able to choose which courses he taught. Unlike other department chairs, who might have chosen to teach higher level classes, he has always elected to teach Introductory Psychology. “The broad field of psychology interests me and I think I explain it well,” he says. “That is the same reason that I want to edit a journal such as Current Directions that deals with the full gamut of psychological science and how that science comes to bear on real world situations.”
For Engle, accessibility is one of the most important features of Current Directions articles. “There is probably no single academic discipline as diverse as scientific psychology, and there is a great need for researchers across that wide discipline to be able to learn from one another.” Engle often uses articles from Current Directions in his classes to supplement the textbook. “I feel very strongly that the introductory psychology course is the most important vehicle by which the field ‘gives itself away,’ and Current Directions should be another such vehicle,” he explains. “[The articles] are typically written by researchers on the leading, if not bleeding, edge of the field, and they are typically edited to be accessible to a broad range of readers.” He understands that papers published in Current Directions must have sufficient scientific value and depth for fellow researchers, yet must be comprehensible to educated laypeople and undergraduate students. “This is a difficult challenge,” he says. “Some authors are more skilled at communicating their work at that level than others. I am convinced that a good editor can succeed at cultivating papers that reach that goal.”
Engle sees further potential for Current Directions at the international level. Engle had a paper published in Current Directions in 2002, and it has been cited about 150 times (and counting), mostly by researchers working in areas other than Engle’s and in journals published outside of the United States. One of Engle’s major goals as editor is to use the journal to help connect psychological researchers around the world, making Current Directions an “international journal.”
As Engle often remarks to his introductory psychology students, “virtually every major problem in the world has a large component that arises from human behavior, and understanding behavior will be instrumental in solving those problems.” Disseminating to a broader audience the research findings published in psychology journals such as Current Directions is a key step in addressing and solving many of our society’s major problems.
“Current Directions can be an important bridge between the so-called basic and applied areas of psychology,” says Engle. “I want to have the journal celebrate the value of good theory-driven work but also make us all think and appreciate how that work can have an impact on the world.”