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Esther Burson 

New York University


Roxanne Moadel-Attie

Stony Brook University


The Impact of Psychology Graduate Students and Early Career Scientists at the United Nations

SPSSI has played a role at the United Nations since 1948, immediately following World War II1. Primarily driven by Otto Klineberg, past SPSSI President and Director of UNESCO’s Division of Applied Social Sciences from 1953 to 1955, SPSSI developed a working relationship with UNESCO from 1948 until 19601. SPSSI was accredited in 1991 by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, enabling a small team of SPSSI representatives to represent psychological issues at the United Nations. SPSSI continued its work by advocating for the integration of “mental well-being” to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of goals agreed upon by member nations in 2015. In 2011, longtime SPSSI UN representative Corann Okorodudu, along with Deanna Chitayat of the American Psychological Association, pioneered the founding of the Psychology Coalition of NGOs Accredited at the United Nations (PCUN). The PCUN is an organization which represents 12 psychological NGOs which have interests in the UN from multiple perspectives (e.g., clinical, social, organizational). A number of PCUN members also work to plan the annual Psychology Day at the UN (in its 11th year as of 2018).

Although the SPSSI UN NGO Team has been active since 1991, it only began to recruit graduate student interns in 2014. Since that time, seven interns have served on the SPSSI UN NGO Team; each year, two or three interns are selected. Graduate interns provide essential resources to the team and gain an immersive experience regarding the United Nations and international social policy. Additionally, interns frequently collaborate with psychologists and interns from other PCUN NGOs, such as APA, SIOP, IAAP and ATOP Meaningful World, on a variety of events and projects.

Past and current intern activities include the development of an expert database concerning research relevant to the UN SDGs; the drafting of SPSSI and PCUN statements for UN Commissions (e.g., the Commission on the Status of Women); and volunteering at PCUN events, such as the International Day of Older Persons and UN Psychology Day. At the end of their term, interns also have the opportunity to give a presentation on their work at the SPSSI conference and the APA Convention. The internship is flexible and participants are encouraged to pursue opportunities of interest within PCUN, at the Psychology Day Planning Committee, and amongst accredited UN NGO Committees (e.g., Committee on Education, Literacy and Learning), a collection of ECOSOC-accredited NGOs that hold committee meetings on substantive areas of interest (e.g., education). This internship is an effective means of applying your knowledge of psychology research to public policy in an international arena. As current interns, we have been able to connect our applied research interests to events and programs at the UN, impacting perspectives of non-academics. It has also been a worthwhile opportunity to engage with renowned psychologists who harbor similar interests, narrowing the gap between research and international policy. An upcoming email announcement will provide further information on the internship application process. Applications will be due in May of 2018. 

1      Cherry, F., Ellingwood, H., & Castillo, G. (2011). “Cautious Courage”: SPSSI's Connections and Reconnections at the United Nations. Journal of Social Issues, 67(1), 165-178.

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