Then and Now: APS Conventions

This is a photo of an old cover of the APS Observer and a newer cover of the APS Observer.

Then: The First APS Convention: 1,000 Strong
The following appeared in the July 1989 Observer.

In what one attendee called a “psychology Woodstock,” over a thousand psychological scientists and scientist-practitioners attended the historic first convention of the American Psychological Society [our original name] on June 10-12, 1989, in Alexandria, Virginia.  The attendance exceeded everyone’s expectations, and very nearly the capacity of the convention facility. Registration so topped early estimates that the convention had to be moved to the new hotels only months before the event. With a feeling “somewhere between exhilaration and relief,” APS Logistics Coordinator Logan Wright declared the event to be a “huge success.”

Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the convention was the attendance at sessions. “People clearly came for the scientific program,” commented Kathleen Grady, the newly-appointed APS Secretary. Alan Kraut, new Exectutive Director of APS, concurred: “Where else could you get 600 people to attend a business meeting?” Even the 7:30 am poster sessions, necessitated by the extraordinary attendance, were packed.

The convention featured 21 invited addresses and symposia spanning all aspects of scientific psychology, and two keynote addresses, one by George Miller of Princeton University, the other by incoming APS President James T. McGaugh. In addition to the invited program, there were  426 submitted poster presentations and a panel discussion on federal research funding opportunities, chaired by John Tangney. Said Nan Anderson, Program Co-Chair, “the presentations — across the board — were of the highest quality I’ve ever seen.” Judith Goggin, the other Program Co-Chair, agreed. “The research content was exceptionally good.”

Because plans for the convention were made in the midst of the establishment of APS itself, the call for papers went out only a few months before papers were due.  Nevertheless, 520 poster submissions were received by the deadline, and another 50 submissions and/or inquiries were received after the deadline. In addition, more than 25 requests to present papers, symposia, or workshops were received. Although there will still be a substantial invited program, the 1990 convention will feature a much greater opportunity for submission. Attempts will be made to keep the number of concurrent program tracks low. The 1989 convention had three tracks at the maximum.

Local Arrangement Chair and Board Member Virginia O’Leary summed it up this way: “There was a wonderful spirit of excitement. People had the sense of participating in an historic event that would make a difference in scientific psychology.”

Charter Members Recall the First Convention

Roger Drake: An Air of Confidence

In 1988, I was a Visiting Professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, on a sabbatical grant from the Dana Foundation. One attraction of the new APS was its focus on psychological science; another was that its first annual convention was to be in D.C., a quick train ride away.
The convention in Washington was filled with excitement. It was small and highly interactive. There was a camaraderie of common interests, a feeling of commencement, and even a whiff of rebellion as we were breaking away from the older and larger APA which was not adequately addressing our science. Most remarkable to me at that first meeting was the air of confidence. We looked around and saw a group of fine colleagues who believed in and practiced psychological science. We were optimistic about the future of the organization and of the science, and twenty years later we have been shown to be correct.

Paul Thayer: Enchanted Expectations

I remember the beginning of APS very well. I enjoyed visiting Alan Kraut in our first office over the liquor store, but enjoyed our first convention more. We booked a hotel in Arlington, had so many advanced registrations we had to move to a bigger hotel, and held the first reception in the parking lot. The APS Board met sitting on the lawn over sandwiches and sodas.

Richard Jackson Harris: Baby Talk

I attended the first APS meeting in Alexandria, VA in summer 1989. My wife and infant son came along to make it a short vacation. I remember taking my son to my poster presentation in a baby sling. Although I had wondered if he might be a distraction, I had more people come and talk to me than I ever had before! They would come and we would initially talk babies and then they would ask about my research. It crossed my mind that maybe I should “rent-a-baby” to take to future poster presentations to stimulate discussion about my research! (P.S., that “baby” is now in college!) Another memory I have is one informal reception out on a hot parking lot right in the sun. I appreciate that APS has made better arrangements in later years!
As an academic psychologist and cognitive researcher, I have really appreciated the academic and scientific emphasis of APS, as well as its broad scope of all research psychology. I always enjoy the meetings and especially appreciate the format of several lengthier talks and symposia, rather than an entire convention of short research presentations, which can fry your brain after a couple of days. I always come away from an APS convention with new ideas I can incorporate into my teaching, as well as my research.

I think in these days of increasing integration of neuroscience to other areas of psychology (cognitive, social, personality, clinical etc.), APS is the ideal forum to explore those connections. The choice of major speakers is excellent. They are always exciting speakers, highly gifted researchers, and they see connections across different areas.

Now: Highlights of the 20th Annual Convention
Louise C. Hawkley
2008 Program Committee Chair
A review of past APS Conventions is a journey through excellence in psychological science. It shouldn’t be surprising to see growing interest among psychological scientists in participating in APS Convention programs. It is amazing, however, to see a one year increase of more than 16% in the rate of submissions to the Convention! For the 2008 Convention, we received over 2,000 poster submissions (up from 1,732) and 103 symposium submissions (up from 83), necessitating a further increase in Saturday and Sunday programming to include more of the high quality submissions. Growth of this magnitude poses challenges as we seek to accommodate high quality research across all domains of psychological science. These challenges will intensify as APS becomes an increasingly international society, but these are good challenges to have as we look forward to the next 20 years of APS Conventions!

For this, our 20th Anniversary Convention, we have a diverse, award-winning line-up of plenary speakers that alone is worth the price of admission. Shelley Taylor, recipient of the 2001 William James Fellow Award from APS and member of the Institute of Medicine, kicks off the 2008 Convention with a keynote address on “Stress and Health Across the Lifespan.” On Friday, the Presidential Symposium hosts an illustrious panel of speakers who will share their perspective on “Psychology as a Hub Science:” Daniel Kahneman, recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics and member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS); Claude Steele, a Fellow of APS and member of NAS; Richard F. Thompson, past president of APS and member of the NAS. Our Bring the Family speaker, Laura Carstensen, chair of NAS Committee on Future Directions in Social, Personality, and Developmental Psychology and Aging, will speak to the need for contributions from psychological science in the development of a “longevity science” in her address, “Long Life in the 21st Century.” Award addresses and special events add to this roster: the APS-David Myers Lecture by Ed Diener; a Festschrift in Honor of Elliot Aronson; and award addresses by Howard Friedman, David Meyer, Morris Moscovitch, and Frank Schmidt.
The 2008 Convention Program Committee has been honored to serve the field in planning the 2008 program. Guided by the Convention theme, Psychology as a Hub Science, the Program Committee planned Theme Programs that reflect the central role of psychology in increasingly interdisciplinary research enterprises. In Brain, Body, Behavior, and Health, leading researchers discuss evidence that links maternal behavior with infant biology, immune dysregulation with autism, gestational conditions with health trajectories, and socioeconomic status environments with cardiovascular health. In Genetics, Environment, Culture, and Behavior, discussion centers on the role of the environment in gene regulation and expression, the interplay between genes and the environment in explaining associations between the family environment and child adjustment, and the role of genes in eating behavior, flavor perception, and dieting. In Learning, Competitiveness, and Real-World Achievement, cognitive, educational, social, and organizational psychologists address learning and achievement in education and work settings, as well as motivational and emotional factors that influence the likelihood of success versus failure and cooperation versus competition in learning and performance. New this year is a program category, Tools of Psychological Science, that identifies (and cross-lists) workshops and addresses that provide practical advice, resources, and information on models, methods, and measurement in psychological science.

This year’s convention also includes special programming celebrating the 20th Anniversary. This includes a presentation about the founding of APS by Robin Cautin of Manhattanville College. Executive Director Alan Kraut will also be joined by APS Past Presidents for a special round table conversation on the past and future of the Association. The celebration will be capped off with a 20th Anniversary Reception where convention attendees will join fellow members and friends to commemorate two decades of APS. Since its inception, members have guided APS’s momentum with extreme talent, hard work, and thoughtful contributions. What better time to reconnect with friends and colleagues, while forming new connections to last the next 20 years! ♦

Photos from the First Annual APS Convention printed in the July, 1989 Observer.

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