Ivett Interviews: Dr Catherine Thompson

By Oct.20, 2014

This week Ivett interviewed Dr Catherine Thompson,  Lecturer in Psychology. Catherine is the  module leader for the Cognitive modules on the undergraduate Psychology programmes. Catherine’s research focuses on visual cognition and her main areas of interest include how observers allocate their attention effectively and what factors influence selection; limits in the control of attention and the impact of a preceding task on the allocation of attention; and the influence of environmental factors on cognitive performance.



  1. How did you get into Psychology?

I kind of just fell into Psychology. It wasn’t something I planned – more the fact that there were very few a-level choices available in my sixth form and Psychology appealed to me. It worked out well though!


  1. Who is your favourite Psychologist and why?

I’m not sure I have a favourite Psychologist. I’ve read the work of so many fantastic researchers and I’ve met some really great people from the field that I don’t think I could pick one in particular. Having said that, I really admire the work completed by Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch on working memory. It is such an important concept that relates to so many aspects of human behaviour. The working memory model has been very influential in identifying how and why people differ in cognitive ability, and the work in this area has led to improvements in functioning for a number of populations and in a variety of settings. I am also very much in awe of Daniel Kahneman. A Nobel Prize winner (in economic sciences, despite being a Psychologist), his research and the way in which he communicates this work have made a huge impact on our understanding and recognition of thought processes.


  1. What psychological concept/topic/issue are you most passionate about?

I am most interested in Cognition, and within Cognition my preferred topic is visual attention. I find it so interesting that we don’t process the external environment in the way that we think we do, and what we attend to is influenced by our previous experiences. It really does show that every person has a unique and individual view of the world.


  1. What makes the Psychology Department at Salford unique?

I think our department is unique in two ways. The first is the staff – we always go that extra mile to support our students. The second is our students (obviously!). We have a really diverse mix of students and they each bring something special to the department.


  1. If you could work anywhere, which University would you pick and why?

I really enjoy my job so I think I would be happy working in any Psychology department. My answer would therefore be based on where I would most like to live – either Manchester (I love living in Manchester, so any uni in this area would suit me) or Edinburgh (I really like the city of Edinburgh and my Mum was born there so it feels very special).


  1. What was the most fascinating research/project you were involved in/conducted?

From my own perspective the most fascinating project I was involved in was the work I conducted for my PhD. The work was very theoretical and although I’m in favour of applying research to the real world it was a real privilege to investigate something purely for the purpose of expanding knowledge within a specific area – who knows where that sort of thing could lead! I wouldn’t expect many people to be fascinated by the topic though (!) so another very interesting project I was involved in was the ‘Thrill Laboratory’ which investigated different aspects of thrill-seeking behaviour. We were based at Alton Towers for two days taking all sorts of behavioural and physiological recordings from people as they went on a roller coaster – completely different to the sort of work I am usually involved in.


  1. What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working with my lovely intern from Italy (Alessia Pasquini) and we are just about to run an experiment investigating how the demands of one task can affect attention and performance in a second task. This is an effect I’ve termed “carry-over” and it reveals the importance of attentional control in everyday tasks. As soon as the task demands change we should update our attentional settings, but findings show that we don’t always do this, which results in attention and resources being directed towards irrelevant information. I am also in the process of writing up a previous experiment in this area to submit for publication so my mind is fully focused on carry-over at the moment! I have other data that is waiting to be written up and submitted (some work on the influence of emotion on attention and another study that one of my dissertation students completed looking at how mind wandering – or daydreaming – narrows our spread of attention). I am also focusing on teaching at the moment because most of my modules run this semester and I’m trying to get to know the new Psychology and Criminology students and my new personal tutees. It’s a busy time, but it is challenging and fun.


  1. If you could choose another Profession, what would it be?

I have absolutely no clue! I don’t really spend time thinking about alternative options, and “what ifs”, I prefer to focus on the present. If I didn’t enjoy my job I might think about other options but so far I’ve been very happy in my chosen profession.


  1. Do you have a favourite quote?

“Those who give too much attention to trifling things become generally incapable of great things” (La Rochefoucauld)

10.  Facebook or Twitter?

Anyone who knows me will be aware that I’m pretty ‘anti’ social media so my answer would be “neither”. I do have a Twitter account though so I guess if I had to choose it would be Twitter. I definitely don’t do Facebook!


11.   Which book is a must have for Psychology students?

We give students recommended textbooks on each module so I don’t want to repeat texts that have already been suggested. Instead I would recommend some ‘lighter’ reading for those spare moments, and I’ll suggest two. The first is “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” by Oliver Sachs, which covers a whole range of case studies of patients suffering from neurological disorders. The second is “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman; not an easy book to read but it provides so much information about the process of thinking and reasoning. It will give you a whole new perspective on Psychology and the importance of studying the mind.


12.  What advice would you give to SalfordPsych students?

Can I give two pieces of advice? 1. Read journal articles (please!). 2. Keep an open mind – just because you may be more interested in one specific topic area in Psychology it doesn’t mean that other areas are less valuable. Every area within Psychology has a role in our understanding of behaviour and human performance.


13.  What do you hope for Psychology in the future?

I hope it continues to thrive and I really hope that as Psychologists we can continue to develop theories and apply these theories to real-world settings – I see both as integral to the field and equally important. Also, I hope that Psychology continues to interest me for many years because as you can see above I don’t really know what else I would be doing!


If you would like to know more about Catherine Thompson, please check her Profile out on the Hub.

You can also find Adam on Twitter @catthompson1


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Mind Bending Books: Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Mind Bending Books
“It is what you read when you don’t have to
that determines what you will be when you can’t help it”
Oscar Wilde
Welcome to a new series about those books that change the way we think for ever, those books you try to persuade your friends to read, and whose ideas come back to you in the night when you can’t sleep. Here at SalfordPsych we are offering you a captive audience of like-minded students and staff with whom to share your treasures…
Zen book
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M Pirsig (1974)
ISBN 0-688-00230-7 (418pp)
Zen’ is a modern classic. It is the fictional (but highly autobiographical) account of a father and son’s road trip across the USA in the 1960s. The manuscript was rejected by a record breaking 121 publishers before going on to sell over 5m copies worldwide.
This book will not teach you Zen Buddhist practice, or how to keep your motorbike on the road. It is actually a philosophical riff on Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality. This includes discussion of epistemology and the philosophy of science and logic. The title refers to an extended metaphor relating mechanical understanding to rational analysis and a Classical outlook on life (as opposed to a Romantic, gestalt one). The journey is towards reconciliation of the dichotomy between the two ‘ways of being’.
‘Quality’ is a Big Idea. So big, that the narrator’s pursuit of it drove him insane. Interspersed with hard-core rational philosophy is a challenging , personal and highly intelligent account of the experience and treatment of mania, disassociation, ECT, and of societal responses to mental illness. The book also tackles the worst fear of many a sufferer –  the horrific suspicion that you have passed your condition on to your children.
This book changed the way I think about Quality, and about the fine line between genius and madness. When Big Ideas challenge established authority, the exponent can be marginalised. Plato, Darwin, Freud and Pirsig battled on with perseverance and resilience to pass their Big Ideas on to us so that we might use them to have Big Ideas of our own.
Although more philosophy than psychology, this book will be of interest to anyone interested in the ingredients of ‘peace of mind’, in the philosophy of science, or in experiences of mental illness.
Ease of Reading: 2 (where 5 is pool-side, and 1 is alone in silence)
Health Warning: take regular fresh air breaks; don’t read it all in one go! Depressing but worth it.
Review by Sophie (@gluepotgluepot) Level 4 Psych & Counselling
Which book changed your thinking?
To submit a review, please email it to s.lavin@edu.salford.ac.uk and keep it within these guidelines:
  • 350 words or fewer
  • Include title, author, ISBN
  • Include how/why it changed your life and why you think SalfordPsych readers will like it
  • Rate it on the ease of reading scale (where 5 is light and fluffy for reading on the beach or by the pool, and 1 is difficult and gives you a headache)
  • Include your name, course and level of study.
Have you read this book? Tell us what you thought of it in the Comments section below…
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Ivett Interviews: Ansah Yakub (BSc Psychology Graduate)

By Oct.13, 2014

Ivett Interviewed Ansah Yakub (BSc Psychology Graduate) this week.  Anash has graduated this year and she is getting some fantastic interviews in the first stages of trying to get on in the graduate job market.

1.   How did you get into Psychology?

I actually started off by doing psychology as an A level as it was a subject that I had always taken an interest in. However, I soon realised that this only skimmed the surface and I wanted to know about the subject more in depth. Therefore, I decided to take it further by studying the subject at university.

2.    Who is your favourite Psychologist and why?

Henri Tajfel (1979) – The Social Identity Theory. I think this theory is still very relevant and current regarding issues in the media which can be applied to identity and in-groups and out-groups.

3.   What psychological concept/topic/issue are you most passionate about?

Media representation as it a topic that I can relate to in regards to my ethnicity/religion.

4.   What makes Psychology Department at Salford unique?

The University of Salford has a lot of useful resources specifically for the psychology students, for example, the labs, computers with the SPSS program and many useful psychology books. Also, many of the lecturers are always on hand to help with any specific issues that you may have throughout your years and are always willing to go the extra mile.

5.   If you could work anywhere, where would you pick and why?

London! There are always more opportunities down south regarding psychology. Also, the environment is very fast paced so it would be interesting to see how the work differs.

6.   What was the most fascinating research/project you were involved in/conducted?

My dissertation – as it was my own project, I had the opportunity to research anything that I took a particular interest in. This project takes up a lot of time in your final year so it is essential that you enjoy the topic that you are researching.

7.   What are you doing at the moment?

I am currently trying to find a job or even some voluntary work to get a bit of experience behind me. I have been attending job fairs and recruitment days to see what is out there and how I can utilise my skills that I have gained through university to mould to specific job roles.

8.   If you could choose another Profession, what would it be?

Physiotherapist, but I have never been good at science! So health sciences it was.

9.   Do you have a favourite quote?

“It is literature which for me opened the mysterious and decisive doors of imagination and understanding. To see the way others see. To think the way others think. And, above all, to feel.” – Salman Rushdie

10.   Facebook or Twitter?


11.   Which book is a must have for Psychology students?

Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology – Hugh Coolican

12.   What advice would you give to SalfordPsych students?

There is always room to improve, use the resources around you to help you improve your skills whether it may be written or verbal. It is important to read the feedback that the lecturers give to you on assignments or presentations as this could help you essentially get better marks. As well as talking to lecturers, talk to other students as you can always help each other out!

13.   What do you hope for Psychology in the future?

Psychology is regularly undermined but I think people need to realise that this subject provides a wide variety of options and it all depends on how people use their degree. I would love for people to see how psychology can open so many doors and how much you can gain from such a degree.

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Ivett Interviews: Dr Adam Galpin

By Oct.06, 2014

This week Ivett Interviewed Dr Adam Galpin, Senior Lecturer in Psychology.  Adam is the programme leader for the UK’s first MSc in Media Psychology taught at Salford’s new campus at MediaCity UK. Adam teaches modules on media psychology and technology use at postgraduate level, and contributes to undergraduate modules in cognitive psychology and individual differences.

1. How did you get into Psychology?

I’ve studied Psychology since I took the A-Level back in 1993, and I can’t really remember what the main motivation was then, but there were quite a few Psychologists depicted in fiction on TV and film at the time. I’m thinking of Cracker, and of Psychological thrillers like Basic Instinct (Sharon Stone had studied Psychology as I recall!). I think these were something of an influence. Like lots of people, at this stage I didn’t really have a good understanding of what Psychology was, and thought it was all about reading minds!

2. Who is your favourite Psychologist and why?

This is really tricky. I’m tempted to say William James because he observed a considerable amount of what we now know in Cognitive Psychology back in the 19th Century without access to modern experimental technology. I’m also impressed by thinkers who can see passed the dominant paradigms of the time. For instance, Maslow and Rogers departed from the deterministic perspectives of Psychoanalysis and Behaviourism to paint a more positive picture of human motivation. Of living Psychologists, Bandura has written one of the most influential articles that I’ve read recently (Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory of mass communication. Media Psychology, 3, 265-298).

3. What psychological concept/topic/issue are you most passionate about?

Cognitive and emotional engagement with media and technology, or how we pay attention to and become absorbed in experiences and narratives. This really fascinates me because such experiences are very powerful in both positive and threatening ways. Creators of media technology are increasingly interested in understanding audience responses so they can design appealing experiences. This area is diverse and includes narrative transportation, wearable technology, prosthetics, VR, user experience; but underlying all of these topics are cognition and emotion.

4. What makes Psychology Department at Salford unique?

Media Psychology! We run the UK’s first and only MSc in Media Psychology, so that makes us pretty unique. I’ve worked at other larger Psychology departments and I definitely think we have a much more applied emphasis here at Salford, which is reflected in our research projects and in the courses we offer.


5. If you could work anywhere, which University would you pick and why?

I couldn’t do what I do here anywhere else, so I wouldn’t move to anywhere else in the UK. But perhaps I could be tempted away to somewhere completely different to experience different cultures and ways of thinking.

6. What was the most fascinating research/project you were involved in/conducted?

I’ve been working in the area of upper-limb prosthetics with biomechanical engineers for the past 3 or 4 years. The project is really interesting and truly inter-disciplinary, so I would say this one.

7. What are you working on at the moment?

See above! But also, I have recently launched a consultancy with my colleague Jenna Condie called ‘Media Psychology Services’ providing psychological insight into media use for industry. We’ve had some really good projects so far…

8. If you could choose another Profession, what would it be?

Easy – Zoologist. I’m really into spiders for some reason. Not sure what Freud would say about that.

9. Do you have a favourite quote?

No, actually!

10. Facebook or Twitter?

Facebook for social use, Twitter for professional use.

11. Which book is a must have for Psychology students?

As an introductory text I found Gleitman really useful.

12. What advice would you give to SalfordPsych students?

Get involved. There is so much going at Salford, from talks, to societies, social media, to volunteering for research studies, to employment and voluntary opportunities. Do everything you can.

13. What do you hope for Psychology in the future?

That we find a way to eye-track spiders.


If you would like to know more about Adam Galpin, please check his Profile out on the Hub.

You can also find Adam on Twitter 


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Salford psychology students create newspaper articles about the brain and behaviour

By Oct.02, 2014

Last year we published two “newspaper style” articles, assignments submitted for the Brain and Behaviour module, here on the Psychology blog. The assignment allows final year students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to translate a complex set of ideas into a readily understandable form aimed at the non-specialist reader. Students are also encouraged to be creative in the presentation of their work. In 2013, the articles, by Joanne Pritchard (Foetal Alcohol Syndrome: the Ladette Legacy?) and Clayton Clough (Are We Biologically Predisposed To Believe In God) were well received and great fun to read. This year, we have chosen to publish two more: Bankers Behaving Badly, by Robert Smith, investigates gender differences in the risk taking behaviours of the men and women who run our financial institutions, whilst The Jewels of Fatherhood, by Ethar Bashir, considers whether testicle size and testosterone affect male parenting behaviours. These two very different articles address interesting and important topics within psychology and we hope you enjoy reading them. Both articles are featured below…read all about it!


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Ivett Interviews : Clare Allely

By Sep.29, 2014

1. How did you get into Psychology?

I have always been interested in why people do things and disorders such as autism so psychology seemed the most appropriate degree to study!

2. Who is your favourite Psychologist and why?

One of my favourite psychologists is Professor John Read based at the University of Liverpool. Professor Read’s research shows that genes are not the main cause of schizophrenia and that drugs should not be the automatic treatment of choice. In fact, he shows that some two-thirds of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia have suffered physical or sexual abuse which is, if not the major, then a major cause of the illness.

Here is a link to Professor Read’s research publications.

3. What psychological concept/topic/issue are you most passionate about?

I am most passionate about developmental psychology and forensic psychology and bringing these two specialist fields of research together. Currently there are enormous gaps in our understanding of the actual mechanisms underlying the development of a serial killer or mass murderer and this is what I am currently investigating.

4. What makes Psychology Department at Salford unique?

What definitely makes the Psychology Department at Salford unique is how is combines technology and media into psychology. The department really encourages the application of the theory to real-world settings.

5. If you could work anywhere, which University would you pick and why?

If I had to work in a place other than Salford University, I would have to say Harvard University. The field of Psychology first emerged at Harvard in the late 1800′s under the scholarship of William James, and ever since then Harvard has been at the forefront of the field. So many of the most prominent psychologists have worked in the psychology department at Harvard over the years including: B.F. Skinner, Gordon Allport, Jerome Bruner, George Miller and Henry Murray.

6. What was the most fascinating research/project you were involved in/conducted?

The most fascinating project I was involved in was one which investigated the neurodevelopmental and psychosocial risk factors in serial killers and mass murderers. The work was published in the Journal of Aggression and Violent Behavior and since its publication I was invited to become a member of a team of serial murder experts who participate in the Multidisciplinary Collaborative on Sexual Crime and Violence. One product of the collaboration is the Serial Killer Database Project, a catalogue of serial murderers who fit the FBI definition. It really is amazing where research can lead and the connections and collaborations which can result!

7. What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on a really interesting empirical project with colleagues from the Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Centre including Professor

David Cooke; Dr Sebastian Lundström; Dr Eva Billstedt and Professor Christopher Gillberg looking at the rate of psychopathy traits and neurodevelopmental disorders in an adult prison population and an adolescent population. The data is derived from Swedish data records.

I am also working on a number of book chapters in a variety of areas including one for the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Child Development which is looking at damage resulting from perinatal complications and childhood accidents. Another explores the neurobiology of single and multiple homicide and brain injury for The Wiley Handbook of Forensic Neuroscience.

8. If you could choose another Profession, what would it be?

It would probably be a Forensic Psychologist. I just completed my masters in forensic psychology earlier this year but realised I loved research and teaching too much!

9. Do you have a favourite quote?

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world” (Albert Einstein).

10. Facebook or Twitter?

Currently Facebook but I just got a Twitter account this summer so I suspect that might change.

11. Which book is a must have for Psychology students?

I would have to recommend three.

For the statistics part of the psychology programme, while other SPSS books are recommended, I have personally found ‘SPSS for

Psychologists’ written by Nicola Brace, Rosemary Snelgar and Richard Kemp to be particularly helpful and an absolute must have: http://www.amazon.co.uk/SPSS-Psychologists-Dr-Nicola-Brace/dp/0230362729

Another book I would recommend is ‘Phantoms in the Brain: Human Nature and the Architecture of the Mind’ by Professor Vilayanur Ramachandran. I read this myself while a first year student and found it fascinating! It is now available as an audio download: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Phantoms-Brain-Probing-Mysteries-Unabridged/dp/B00HD0JI2G/ref=la_B001IGHMGU_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1407145594&sr=1-3 ….or you can watch him online giving a TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/vilayanur_ramachandran_on_your_mind

A book I would recommend based on my own area of research is one called ‘The Autisms’ written by Mary Coleman and Christopher Gillberg. It explores autism from a number of different fields including neuropsychology; neuroanatomy and genetics.

12. What advice would you give to SalfordPsych students?

Don’t leave things to the last minute! Start well in advance. This allows you time to reflect on what you have read and written. Also don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for advice.

It is a good idea to build up work experience as soon as you can. In most cases you will have to gain experience on a voluntary basis before you can apply for a paid position. Consider what type of people you want to work with, whether it be with young offenders or individuals with depression and/or anxiety and contact relevant local organisations and charities. When I was an undergraduate student I was a volunteer for Headway which is an organisation for individuals with acquired brain injury. I found the experience invaluable.

13. What do you hope for Psychology in the future?

More psychology in the courtroom!

Professor Penny Cooper (Kingston Law School, Kingston University London) has invited me to collaborate with her as a ‘research expert’ for The Advocate’s Gateway (theadvocatesgateway.org) in order to raise awareness and understanding of autism spectrum disorders amongst legal practitioners. The field of developmental forensic psychology, in particular, is an area that really deserves more research attention and one of my main aims is to increase understanding of the importance of focusing on this area (primarily due to the importance of developing early identification and early preventative measures).


If you would like to know more about Clare Alley, please check her Profile out on the Hub. You can also find Clare on Twitter @ClareAllely .

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Psychology Summer Reading

By Aug.01, 2014

By Ashley Weinberg

I recently discovered that Charles Darwin dropped out of his first university course (in medicine) and found fame following his childhood hobby of collecting things and that the great painter Thomas Gainsborough didn’t enjoy school half as much as the countryside so forged his father’s signature so he could head off to paint instead.  Perhaps the message is that doing what we enjoy is important.

musicophiliaSo if reading about psychology, but not reading textbooks about psychology is what you had in mind this summer, then ‘Musicchimpophilia’ by Oliver Sacks is a fascinating insight into how music is processed by more places in our brains than language to produce astounding effects – including the capacity to bring back memories for those with dementia (see Nordoff-Robbins website for therapeutic examples).  For those who are enjoying this summer of sport – or if you are simply seeking motivation for your next challenge – then the psychiatrist Steve Peters’ ‘Chimp Paradox’ is heralded as a must-read.

However for those who are looking for a meaty book to test those little grey cells – or to carry around something which will look good – then ‘The War Inside’ by Michal Shapira examines how psychoanalysis in Britain after the Second World War has helped to shape our society.  Its historical approach brings together the concepts of rebuilding society after conflict with a positive contribution from psychology – themes likely to be uppermost in our minds in 2014.

Whatever you choose it’s important to read something you enjoy – have a great summer!

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Graduation 2014 – Celebrating the success of our final year students

By Jul.31, 2014

By Catherine Thompson

Twitter ejpetalGraduation is a very special time of year, when all the hard work finally pays off. As a student you get to breathe a sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that you have completed your degree and never have to look at SPSS again (unless you want to of course!). Walking across the stage to collect your certificate is a defining moment and really does mark the point where your degree journey ends and a new chapter begins, and you can look to the future knowing that you have already achieved so much. As a family member or friend you get the chance to share in the celebrations of your loved one, and you get a sense of just how much effort they have put into their studies and how much it means to have completed a degree. And as a lecturer you get to see how far each student has progressed– from that first tentative meeting in a research methods seminar when the simple mention of the word “median” led to panicked looks, to a group of confident individuals who are relishing the next challenge.

Twitter salfordpsychThis year we had so much to celebrate – including the fact that the sun came out for graduation (although it sure is hot in a cap and gown!). The students graduating in July 2014 were the largest cohort to have studied Psychology, Psychology and Criminology, and Psychology and Counselling at the University of Salford. This year we delivered our widest ever offering of final year modules (logistically challenging but academically rewarding!). We also witnessed some outstanding achievements from our students, both in terms of assessed work (the quality and creativity of student work was commended by our external examiners) and the success of many students in extra-curricular activities (for example taking part in volunteering work, and completing the Salford Advantage Award). All students who have graduated this year have achieved a great deal, and a special mention must go to our prize winners:

  • British Psychological Society prize for Best Student – Rachel Gribbin (Psychology and Criminology)
  • Best Non-Commissioned Student in the School of Health Sciences – Rachel Gribbin (Psychology and Criminology)
  • Best Psychology Student – Carmen-Florentina Ionita
  • Best Psychology and Counselling Student – Zander Claassen
  • The Endeavour Award – Nikki-Ann Cohen (Psychology)

BSc (Hons) Psychology graduate Danielle Butler has also been shortlisted for the Jonathan Sime Award, an award for dissertation research focused on people-environment issues. Good luck Danielle!

On behalf of the Psychology team I would like to wish all our Graduates every success for the future. Your achievements are well deserved and you are a credit to the University of Salford.

Catherine Thompson
Programme Leader for Psychology and Criminology

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Why does Transition Matter? Studying Psychology in Higher Education

By Feb.10, 2014

By Jenna Condie

Whether you’ve just done your A levels, an Access course, or you’ve been out of formal education for a few years, studying psychology at undergraduate level involves adapting to new places, new people, new teachers and new situations.  The Higher Education Academy (HEA) is currently trying to identify ways to make university a less daunting, more enjoyable experience for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) undergraduates.

For that to happen, those teaching psychology across the different education systems need to get better at talking to one another. HE lecturers don’t necessarily know what is taught at GCSE, A Level, and on Access Courses, and in turn, what their new students expect of psychology.  Students come to undergraduate psychology from diverse educational backgrounds. Furthermore, there are a number of A Level exam boards (e.g. OCR, Pearson, AQA) with different syllabi.  Even if HE lecturers were familiar with all syllabi, 40% of psychology undergraduates haven’t studied psychology before (HEA, 2013). So how can you create first year modules that don’t confuse some students and bore others?

Similarly, how can school and college teachers prepare students for undergraduate psychology when universities have greater freedom over what to teach and how to assess students? How can they prepare students for the kinds of learning activities they will experience at university (e.g. carrying out a research project) when there is seemingly less and less opportunity to deviate from an overloaded curriculum?

Transition issues were the focus of a recent event ‘Tackling Transition in Psychology’ organised by the HEA at the University of Manchester.  Teachers from schools, colleges and universities, as well as current psychology undergraduates came together to discuss transition – what it is like, what are the differences and similarities between the two education systems, and what can we do about it? A key message was that although some things are beyond our control, we do have some power to make changes and have a positive impact.

In groups, we came up with a few ideas of how we can work together to help students with transitions to university study.  For example, after AS students have sat their exams, there is a 3-4 week opportunity of time to teach content and run events that might be beneficial for university study.  Our ideas were that research methods and statistics training could be co-delivered by FE and HE lecturers, we could host joint conferences where students present their work, and run ‘taster’ events for students to experience university lab facilities.  Other ideas centred on creating opportunities to participate in current research projects to give insight into undergraduate dissertation projects and what psychology looks like when it is applied.

One particular aspect of interest to me is the role that social media and digital technologies can play in adapting to university study – we could connect psychology students in schools, colleges and universities via social networking platforms, and create opportunities for school and college students to join online undergraduate psychology teaching sessions via Blackboard Collaborate.

Last year Psychology at Salford ran an Open Lecture Series where psychology students from local schools, colleges and sixth forms joined our undergraduates in their first year psychology lectures.  This was a real success and students found the experience really worthwhile.  The challenge becomes keeping these initiatives going and investing time in creating and maintaining meaningful partnerships between local psychology departments.

Although it seems that there is a long way to go to address issues of transition, student retention and success, we can act now. Attending the event and being a part of the solutions-focused conversation it created feels like a positive step forward to me.  The HEA will produce a report at the end of the year on transition issues based upon the findings of their transition workshop series.

If you have any ideas around how to support students with transitions to undergraduate psychology, please leave a comment below.

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Mindset and statistics anxiety: stick with it…

By Feb.07, 2014

By John Hudson

Do you ever feel that you’re just not a ‘statistics person’?  Well, you’re not alone because research suggests that the vast majority of students in psychology-based degrees feel exactly the same (Onwuegbuzie & Wilson, 2003).  Maybe there’s some comfort in that; I certainly remember feeling that way as an undergraduate, but just what is a ‘statistics person’ anyway?  Are some people born with a ’magical’ ability to comprehend statistics?  Now there are many things that are passed on via our genes, but if you can show me evidence that some newborns enter this world with an appreciation of skew and kurtosis, or a working knowledge of SPSS, I will give you my collection of S-Club-7 singles (*my lawyers have asked me to make it clear that this is a joke and that I will not, under any circumstances, be giving these away – but you knew that).  Sure, a decent level of cognitive ability will help when thinking is required – and some of this is indeed genetic – but, if you are accepted onto an undergraduate degree you really do have more than enough basic intelligence to handle everything that a stats/research methods course will throw at you.   However, that doesn’t mean it won’t feel confusing or intimidating sometimes, so maybe you still don’t believe there’s much you can do if you are not one of those ‘stats’ people.

Mindset matters

In fact, research from Carol Dweck suggests that this belief alone may be one of the main things holding us back.  Professor Dweck theorises that people tend to hold one of two contrasting mindsets regarding ‘the fixedness or malleability of personal characteristics’.  On the one hand, people with a ‘fixed’ mindset see personal characteristics such as intelligence, maths ability, or even shyness, as fixed traits, while people with a ‘growth’ mindset believe these can be developed through additional effort or strategy (there is a nice overview of ‘mindset’ herewhich goes into more detail).

I have to confess that before I became aware of Dweck’s theory, I think I probably had a fixed mindset; it wasn’t something I ever actually thought about, because we are often not consciously aware of these beliefs.  But they can still be highly influential; especially in the way we perceive and respond to learning situations.  There is now ample evidence to suggest that people with a growth mindset tend to show greater improvement in learning situations than those with a fixed mindset (e.g. Blackwell et al, 2007).  This makes sense, because even though learning new things can be very rewarding it can also be difficult at times – that is part of the process.  Because it can be so challenging we often need a lot of persistence to keep going, especially when things get harder or we feel like we’re not getting anywhere.  The theory suggests that with a fixed mindset – being more likely to view ability as something that cannot really be changed too much – there is less point in pushing yourself to improve because it feels like it’s not going to make that much difference.  In contrast, someone with a growth mindset has more incentive to keep trying and practicing, because – for them – there is some light at the end of the tunnel; they believe that their efforts can make a difference, even if things are getting difficult.  It is a little more complex than that, of course, but you get the idea.

Practice, and change your brain…

So far, all I’ve told you is that having a growth mindset seems to be helpful, while a fixed mindset is not.  Which means, now all you have to do is change your ‘mindset’ and away you go?  Well, yes – if you can.  But although beliefs can be highly tenacious, there is actually a lot of evidence indicating that many of those abilities commonly viewed as innate can indeed be developed, regardless of your mindset.  Long-term practice of a skill is associated with physical changes in your brain; in fact research has actually suggested that in some circumstance, detectable changes may begin to manifest themselves in as little as one week (May et al, 2007).  Nonetheless, the real benefits come from sustained effort, over a period of time, as demonstrated in relation to skills such as meditation (Hölzel et al, 2011), juggling (Driemeyer et al, 2008), and taxi-drivers’ ability to navigate London’s complex road network (Maguire et al, 2000), among many others.  In other words, these abilities are not fixed.  For example, I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of people saying that they’re not very ‘artistic’ – artistic ability might seem like one of those things some people are just born with, but I followed an inspirational thread on an online forum that shows what practice can do – this person committed to drawing and posting one picture a day and, over a period of years (that’s right, it didn’t happen overnight!), they went from relative beginner, to producing some amazing work (the original thread is here).

Sept 2002September 2002

January 2006January 2006

You could say the transformation is incredible – except it’s not really a ‘transformation’, it’s a progression.  That’s the whole point.  But I’m not really writing this for people who want an easy ride, I’m writing it for those who might feel that they just aren’t cut out for ‘stats’ (or anything else, for that matter); people who might feel that they could never learn a particular skill or ability.  But you really can. However, that example was about drawing and painting, which is not the same as stats, is it?  Well, as it happens…

Although improvements in artistic ability are much easier to see, the principle is the same.  Sigmundsson and colleagues’ (2013) study indicates that practice is also what really counts when it comes to maths-related skills, not so much what you were born with.  Meanwhile, Aydin et al (2007) showed a strong relationship between the length of time spent as a mathematician and specific brain-related changes (Aydin et al, 2007).  So, – as if I haven’t got you excited enough about this already – budding statisticians among you can look forward to “an increase in gray matter density in the right inferior parietal lobule” (Aydin et al, 2007).  Now if that is not something to get you rushing for your stats lecture notes, I don’t know what is.

Hack through the jungle: practice

A jungle

There you go – the more you practice, the stronger and more efficient these pathways in your brain become; but at first, it probably doesn’t feel like it!  If you’re learning something new, there probably aren’t too many of these paths/connections in the first place, which is why it might feel so hard; but these will develop as you study/practice. I always think of learning a new skill being similar to hacking a path through thick jungle; it can feel like a staggering amount of effort, yet all you’ve really done is make the tiniest of gaps in the ‘undergrowth’ – a path that is still a struggle to get through.  That can feel quite demotivating, but if you keep going, slowly your efforts will make the path wider, and easier to get navigate, until eventually – after a lot of work – you’ll have built a nice wide motorway that can take you from A to B in no time at all.  In other words, what previously took you a lot of effort, now feels fairly easy.  But remember, it doesn’t happen overnight – the frustration and confusion you might experience in learning are like the pain you might experience in the gym if you were trying to build up your strength or stamina: a necessary part of the process.

This is great news because it means that a decent understanding of maths and stats – or almost anything else – is with our grasp if we juststick with it and keep practicing.  That’s not to say that some of us might take longer than others, but we can do it.  However, there is a downside, because once we know this it means we can’t rely on the ‘I’m just not a maths/stats person’ excuse anymore!

So, although there isn’t a magic wand that can instantly transform your mindset (if you needed to), being aware of your own mindset, and your capacity to learn new skills, can be an important first step.


  • Aydin, K., Ucar, A., Oguz, K. K., Okur, O. O., Agayev, A., Unal, Z., … & Ozturk, C. (2007). Increased gray matter density in the parietal cortex of mathematicians: a voxel-based morphometry study.American Journal of Neuroradiology28(10), 1859-1864.
  • Blackwell, L.S., Trzesniewski, K.H., & Dweck, C.S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child development, 78(1), 246-263.
  • Driemeyer J., Boyke J., Gaser C., Büchel C., May A. (2008).  Changes in Gray Matter Induced by Learning—Revisited. PLoS ONE, 3(7): e2669. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002669
  • Dweck, C.S. (2008). Can Personality Be Changed? The Role of Beliefs in Personality and Change. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 17(6), 391-394.
  • Hölzel, B.K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S.M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S.W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging191(1), 36-43.
  • Maguire, E. A., Gadian, D. G., Johnsrude, I. S., Good, C. D., Ashburner, J., Frackowiak, R. S., & Frith, C. D. (2000). Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences97(8), 4398-4403.
  • May, A., Hajak, G., Gänssbauer, S., Steffens, T., Langguth, B., Kleinjung, T., & Eichhammer, P. (2007). Structural brain alterations following 5 days of intervention: dynamic aspects of neuroplasticity. Cerebral Cortex17(1), 205-210.
  • Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Wilson, V. A. (2003). Statistics Anxiety: Nature, etiology, antecedents, effects, and treatments–a comprehensive review of the literature. Teaching in Higher Education8(2), 195-209.
  • Sigmundsson, H., Polman, R. C. J. & Lorås, H. (2013). Exploring individual differences in children’s mathematical skills: a correlational and dimensional approach. Psychological Reports. 113, 23-30.

This post was originally published on John’s blog.  If you would like to speak to John about this post, he can be contacted on j.h.hudson@edu.salford.ac.uk or via Twitter: @brucie_rooster.

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Psychology FM – challenging disability and embracing the community

By Feb.06, 2014

One of our psychology lecturers, Michael Richards, was awarded a public engagement grant from the British Psychological Society in 2013. In collaboration with All FM radio station and Manchester Metropolitan University, Michael will use this grant to produce 8 radio shows that embrace different psychologies including forensic, health and clinical psychology. Michael will collaborate with a group of men labelled with learning difficulties from Manchester, to help connect the community with psychology. The shows will bring psychology to a wider audience in an accessible and fun way. The shows will contain music, interviews and discussions about the main issues, positives and negatives that accompany the range of psychologies we learn on BPS courses. Below are the dates of the shows, which will take place every two weeks at 2pm and will be broadcast on All FM.

29.01.14 – 2pm – Show 1 – What is Psychology?

12.02.14 – 2pm – Show 2 – Neuropsychology

26.02.14 – 2pm – Show 3 – Clinical Psychology and Counselling Psychology

12.03.14 – 2pm – Show 4 – Health Psychology and Sport/Exercise Psychology

26.03.14 – 2pm – Show 5 – Forensic Psychology

09.04.14 – 2pm – Show 6 – Developmental Psychology

23.04.14 – 2pm – Show 7 – Community and Critical Psychology

07.05.14 – 2pm – Show 8 – The way forward for psychology – the Big Society and learning difficulties

You can contact Michael if you want to know more on M.Richards2@salford.ac.uk or via Twitter @mikepsychology or if have any ideas or views that might contribute towards the shows.


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Comment – The Many Labs Project and the importance of replication in Social Psychology

By Dec.21, 2013


The current issue of the BPS’s Psychologist magazine features an article on the Many Labs project (in press manuscript can be found here  https://openscienceframework.org/project/WX7Ck/files/ManyLabsManuscript.pdf/).

As Honorary Secretary of the Social Psychology Section of the BPS, I have been asked to provide a comment on this initiative.

Below is a more elaborate version of my comments.

There are at least two ways to assess the strength and solidity of an effect: one is performing a meta-analysis (i.e. statistically combine the results of a series of studies which included the effect of interest), the second experimentally reproducing the study and see if the same effect appears in the new sample. The present study attempted a large scale replication of some very popular effects in social psychology.
Replication is at the basis of scientific progress: the fact that we find a certain effect in a certain study does not mean the effect is present in general, it could be an oddity of the sample or it could be linked to the specific conditions in which the study was run.

Over a meta-analytical work, the project reported has the advantage of guaranteeing that standardised procedures were adopted in each replica-experiment, though it meant that at times the design had to be necessarily over-simplified. It also has the advantage of getting around the ‘file drawer effect’, that is, the fact that most studies who fail to replicate an effect do not get published, and are therefore difficult to retrieve for meta-analytic purposes.

This ambitious project shows the importance of having a scientific community which engages in collaborative research and joins forces and resources in the common pursue of knowledge. Not only, but the transparency with which the data, their origin and their analysis are shared with the public are commendable and should set the standard for future work.
Indeed, no study is perfect, and also this project has margins of improvement, but it provides some solid ground to build upon.

Some possible areas of improvement are:

- Over-simplification: the effects which are successfully replicated are very basic

- Context in/dependence: the two studies which failed to replicate might be more linked to contextual factors (e.g. the lack of support for the flag-effect could be due to the ‘Obama effect’ in US and to the fact that the political discourse in general has changed it focus since the time in which the experiment was run; as for the currency, the recent economic downturn might have negatively impacted the link between money and system justification). This does not mean that the effect does not exist: it could exist under certain circumstances.

- Westernisation: of the 36 samples, only three were non-western (Turkey, Malaysia and Brazil) and three from Eastern Europe (Two in the Czech Republic and one in Poland), thus there are still issues to be addressed re: applicability of findings outside western world

- For the study including the IAT:  being based on a contrast score we cannot tell whether the difference observed is due to a worse evaluation of maths or a better evaluation of arts which drives the results, so I am particularly unconvinced of the solidity of the Gender differences in maths attitudes study

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60 Second Interview with Dr Phil Brown, Researcher and Psychologist at the University of Salford

By Nov.07, 2013

By Danielle Butler

During the summer holidays this year, I had the opportunity to work with the team in the Salford Housing and Urban Studies Unit (SHUSU) at the University of Salford. My role involved SPSS data entry (not as scary or boring as it may seem!) from surveys conducted with the Gypsy and Traveller communities across the UK. These surveys try to understand the needs of the communities by establishing family sizes, roles, and existing problems, such as overcrowding or poor access to various services including education and health provision. Once analysed, the data is presented to local authorities to establish what kinds of shortfalls exist for Gypsy and Traveller communities and these findings can then be transferred into planning and policy, having a positive impact on the lives of many Gypsy and Traveller families. This experience left me eager to understand more about the role of a researcher so, after giving him some time to take a holiday, I approached Dr Phil Brown, a SHUSU researcher, to ask him a few of my own, and some of your questions too…


I think you are proud of different things for different reasons. I’m probably most proud of the PhD work I did, not necessarily because it had a lot of impact but because it’s the only opportunity in your career you get to actually get stuck into something in that much depth.

Sometimes it’s also about the amount of effort. So the recent work we’ve done that has been funded by JRCT on numerating the Roma populations in the UK. Really, really difficult information to obtain but when you come up with a number that people have been wanting for a long time and there are lots of different agencies that are looking for evidence to do all sorts of things. There are a few that are small in value and small in scale but which mean a lot to individuals when they use them.


There isn’t actually a single book that I would recommend because mostly the books themselves should be read for a specific purpose to a certain extent, when it comes to psychology. There’s plenty of other broader topics that you can draw on, I think, in this day and age you need to piecing your knowledge together from a variety of different sources. I once got asked this question in an interview and I said the book that Brian Keenen wrote after he’d been released from being a hostage in Lebanon with John McCarthy “An Evil Cradling”. I still think it’s a pretty good book for understanding the human condition under great constraints


Do it. Do it and make yourself known. Approach people and demonstrate that you’re competent and you’re capable and that you’re willing to learn, but also that you’re willing to do some things that are fairly low level because it’s a good way to understand how the system works. So…get yourself out there!


Stressful, enjoyable, challenging, unpredictable and worthwhile


I’m going to split and say primary school because it’s the only time you don’t realise that you’re part of a system. And my last year of my undergraduate degree because it all clicked. I got it, and after 20 years of trying to learn how to learn I finally figured it all out.


DO plan as early as possible. Stick to your timescales as much as possible. Listen to your supervisors.

DON’T be afraid of being innovative. Adapt existing work but don’t be too ambitious because you don’t need to be. It’s about balancing innovation and producing something that is doable.


Probably, inevitably, my supervisor throughout my undergraduate and post graduate stuff which was Prof Christine Horrocks, who is now the Head of Psychology at MMU. She was inevitably influential because we spoke for hours when I was there and she gave me a new way of thinking about the world, which you can’t always get from a text book. That’s the most influential real person. The most influential academic that I’ve never met, but referenced a lot, is a guy called Sunil Bhatia who is a cross-cultural psychologist in the states. I got to a point where I was writing my PhD and I was grappling for a theoretical framework and I just read one article that he had written and I was absolutely sold and then I read loads of stuff that he had done on this one idea. He basically helped to guide my PhD to the finish line, really.


I stop thinking. You have to stop thinking and move away. Do something different. Don’t keep doing it, don’t stay up all night. Close it down, wait a day and come back to it, if you’ve got the time. If you haven’t you haven’t planned enough earlier on. It’s a difficult one and everybody gets it – whether you’re an undergraduate or you’ve written 15 books you will always get mental block. Sometimes it’s just all part of trying to understand an area.

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Get fit with HE: Managing students expectations in Higher Education

By Nov.07, 2013

By Dr Sharon Coen


The changes in Higher Education (HE) have exacerbated some misunderstandings concerning what the University is for, and what students can expect to get from the University experience. Many have claimed that HE is becoming more of a ‘business’ or a paid for ‘service’.

Many in HE find themselves having to face disgruntled students who say they have paid £9000 therefore they expect this or that ‘service’.

Personally, I deeply dislike the idea of HE as a business, but for the sake of argument let’s follow this line of reasoning.

So, if Universities are a business, what sort of business are they? A Grocery, providing food for thought? An airline, with a one way ticket for a successful career? A SPA, full of people there to look after your health and wellbeing?

No. Higher education is a gym.



Higher Education is a gym, you have to put in the effort in order to get results….

We have initial health checks (entry criteria), machines (libraries and infrastructures) personal trainers (lecturers and tutors), personalised programs (courses, optional modules and support material), health-checks (assessments and feedback), ….There are fancy gyms, newly built gyms, gyms equipped with the latest technologies, gyms with saunas and relax areas, gyms renowned for certain activities they offer or for certain – particularly successful – trainers, etc…

But one thing is common to all the gyms (and I know it well, trust me, as I wasted hundreds of pounds on gym memberships): if you do not put the work in, you are not going to build the muscles. You can have the best equipment, the best trainer, the most tailored health check and training plan, but if you do not sweat, there is nothing the gym can do for you.

So, dear students, enrolling in HE you have signed up to a very luxurious and very expensive gym. Of course, people sign up to the gym for different reasons: some just want a place to hang out with their friends, others want to find a romantic partner, others are simply looking for a distractions. In this case, of course, showing up every once in a while with a charming smile and a light attitude would suffice to guarantee your goals are achieved. Yet, others sign up to the gym to improve their body shape, build muscles or lose weight: to be successful in this case, you need to attend your gym, put in the work and the sweat and listen to your trainers’ feedback.

Simply signing up – for how expensive it is – is not a guarantee for success. Hard work is.


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Qualitative Psychology Dissertations Online

By Oct.03, 2013

This post originally featured on the Media Psychology UK, the blog for our MSc Media Psychology course at the University of Salford.  

By Jenna Condie

I’m often asked how to structure a qualitative dissertation and I find that seeing other dissertations can help to 1) recognise the structural similarities and writing conventions, and 2) recognise that all dissertations are slightly different and it’s perfectly ok to do your own thing too.  So I recently went on the hunt for some examples of qualitative psychology Masters theses to help MSc Media Psychology students in writing up their qualitative research.

I found a few qualitative psychology Masters theses online (see below) but PhD theses and undergraduate dissertations seem more available electronically (I’ve also included some examples of each below).  Perhaps there is gap for an online hub of Masters projects? If you know of one, I’d love to hear about it.


*Found via the University of Edinburgh’s search option for Psychology Masters thesis collection here.


LSE Theses Online and the Open University’s Open Research Online are both fab repositories. Registering for the British Library’s Electronic Thesis Service EThoS is also a must.

Undergraduate dissertations:

  • Foskett, E. (2012) A discourse analysis using feminist strands of thought to analyse advertisements, Download from the MMU Psychology Dissertations Journal here.
  • Walker, S. (2012) “Follow, follow?”: A thematic analysis of how geographical location, social intensity & masculinity are predictors for ‘casting’ nationality with football, Download from the MMU Psychology Dissertations Journal here

Media Psychology:

Whilst searching, I also found a Masters dissertation on social media’s role in branding which applies cultivation theory…might be of interest to our MSc Media Psych students.

Quite a few of the dissertations uploaded to the MMU Psychology Dissertations Journal are also media related.  You can search the Journal here.

Get Writing

It’s great to see how others have conquered the challenges of writing up but there does come a point where you need to stop looking at other people’s work and focus on writing your own work in your own way.  Good luck!

P.S. Don’t forget to adhere to your University’s specific guidance on writing up dissertations and theses too!

Thanks to @DrAClements, @ClareUytman, @ej_odwyer, @spatialsyndave, @drshroyer, @cyberandrew, @marcdonncadh, @paulbyrneuk, @DrSharronH, @GalvinMary, @VickiMcDermott for their retweets and suggestions which informed this post.

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Educational Psychology: Creating a seminar for teachers

By Sep.28, 2013

By Jenna Condie

In the final year of our undergraduate programmes (BSc Hons Psychology, BSc Hons Psychology and Counselling, BSc Hons Psychology and Criminology), one of the option modules that students can chose to take is Educational Psychology.  Educational Psychology can be “…loosely defined here as the application of psychological theories, research and techniques to the educational development of young people in the context of the home, school and community” Holliman (2013, p. xxii).  More broadly, educational psychology also considers how people can learn better, how teaching and learning practice can be improved, whether different people should be taught differently, and how learning can transform the person and impact upon their lives.

For the assessment, students taking this module propose a seminar for teachers, selecting a topic from the field of educational psychology that they consider is both current and of practical use in the training of teachers.  The emphasis is on the application of theory to teaching practice.  Last year, BSc (Hons) Psychology and Counselling student (now graduate!), Jessica Tomes created a seminar for teachers that focused on mental health stigma and how teachers can educate students to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues in the school environment.  You can read her work below.

Jessica also presented her work as a poster ‘Reducing Mental Health Stigma Through Educational Seminars’ at the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Conference which took place at The University of Northampton (3-5 July, 2013).

It is fantastic to see how an assignment can be taken further to embrace opportunities such as presenting at conferences and sharing your ideas and work beyond the module.

For more information about the Educational Psychology module, please contact Jenna Condie, j.m.condie@salford.ac.uk , Twitter: @jennacondie



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Polishing your clinical psychology job/course application to a shine

By Sep.24, 2013

Fleur-Michelle Coiffait is a recently qualified Clinical Psychologist, co-founder & curator for the Early Career Psychologist Network. She tweets @fleurzel, @PMLDresearchand blogs at Fleurzel, Thoughts and Things.  We asked her about getting on in clinical psychology and how to apply for training and assistant posts.  Here’s what she had to say.    

So application season for the clinical psychology doctorate is now open (see here for details of the UK Clearing House in Clinical Psychology, how to apply and the different courses) and ‘tis also the season for applying for voluntary or paid assistant psychologist posts (these can mainly be found on jobs.nhs.uk and jobs.ac.uk/psychology). Here are some tips and pointers that may help you think about and refine your applications* These are based on my own experiences as a former psychology graduate, postgraduate student, and assistant psychologist. I have recently completed my doctorate in clinical psychology and am now a qualified clinical psychologist and have supervised and shortlisted assistant psychologist posts.

First of all, I would suggest taking a little time to think about why exactly you want to do this particular job/course. This is a step that we often overlook, but it is really important to be clear with ourselves about our reasons for pursuing such a goal and it is something you are likely to be asked about in interviews. Many people say ‘I just want to help people’ and there’s nothing wrong with this. Nevertheless, I would spend time really thinking why it is that you want to help people. Who is it that you want to help? What is it you are hoping to help them with? Are you being realistic about the help you can give? Does this post/course actually provide opportunities to help in this way or would another similar career/course be more suitable? Do you have personal experiences that drive this motivation? Why is it important to you to be able to help? In clinical psychology and other helping professions, it is necessary to reflect on these things at all stages so that we can remain aware of our own motivations, as these will influence our actions, reactions and how we make sense of the process. I continue to revisit this question and often return to it in supervision as it is so important to recognise ‘our stuff’ and how this may influence our work.

The next step is to familiarise yourself with what the role actually involves – read through the job description, google the trust/university/organisation and if you happen to know anyone who has a connection to the place – ask them what it’s like and what they do there. Sometimes we see a job or course title pop up and we get ahead of ourselves and quickly see what we want to see, which may not be what it actually is. The reality can be a little different – so you need to fully understand as far as possible (some job/course ads sadly don’t give much detail) what is involved in the ‘day to day’ aspects of the post or course. It can help to phone up the department and ask any questions you may have about this, although only phone if you have genuine questions, it won’t win you any extra points to phone up if you haven’t really got anything to ask/say.

Similarly, you need to study the person specification so you understand exactly what they are looking for. Speaking from personal experience, too many times I applied for something despite not meeting the ‘essential’ criteria because it seemed like my ‘dream job’ and then I failed to get shortlisted. Given that there is often a tight turnaround with deadlines, some NHS assistant psychologist posts even closing following a 24 hour window or when a certain number of applications have been received, you need to focus your efforts or you will end up feeling burnt out, deflated and fed up of the process – trust me. It can seem really unfair and frustrating that such posts close so quickly, but I can say from being on the other side as a clinician and shortlister that we are given minimal time out of clinical and other duties to sift through applications and it really is hard work when there are many more high quality applications than there are posts/course places. If our time is restricted, we unfortunately have to cap applications in some arbitrary way.

This brings me on to how you write and set out your application. Make it easy for whoever is reading your form to tick the boxes that they will inevitably have in front of them that map onto the person specification. There’s a really good explanation of common statements usually contained in the person specification for NHS psychology jobs here that will help you think about exactly what the recruiters are looking for so you can provide evidence of this. If it says, for example, that existing experience of working with people with mental health issues is essential, then this is exactly what you have to have and you must also demonstrate this clearly in your application in order for that box to be ticked. I recommend thinking about the ten core competencies of clinical psychologists and how you may already be developing emerging skills and experience in these areas.

The way I structure my own applications is to go through the person specification, grouping similar skills/experiences together. I then describe how I meet each one, evidencing this with examples from my experience to demonstrate this and any reflections I have on that particular skill/experience to show that I understand it and have thought about it. What I mean by reflections is going one step further than simply describing ‘I have done x, y, z.’ What exactly did you learn from that experience? What insight did it give you into the importance of that skill/field? What insight did it give you into the practice of clinical psychologists or academics in that field? Did it make you realise anything about the work? How does it relate to topical issues in the news or on the current political agenda? And so on… Show that you don’t just do things to simply tick the boxes – demonstrate that you think about, learn from, and develop in response to your experiences. It’s not about ‘collecting’ experiences from your CV – it’s the quality of them (and by that I mean what you take from them), rather than the quantity. There are a number of different models of reflective practice that you can use as a framework to start you off if you’re not sure, including Gibbs’ reflective cycle Johns’ structured reflective promptsand Rolfe’s three key questions.   For further discussion on reflective practice, see here.   

Something else that I realised from feedback on one of my assistant psychologist applications many moons ago was that it is good to be confident, but don’t be arrogant or overstate your skills. If your application states that you are already trained in 10 therapies and have been chairing multi-disciplinary meetings for years and have a caseload of 50 patients – why the chuff aren’t you employed as a Professor / Consultant already and why should they bother wasting their money training you if you already know it all?! In all seriousness, it is good to be aware of and realistic about your limitations (another common interview question is about your strengths and weaknesses) and this is an important skill as both a practitioner and a researcher. It means that you won’t do things that you aren’t capable of that are potentially risky if they are outside your skills and experience and also means you know when to seek help and advice where appropriate. Counterintuitively, these attributes are actually valued and respected in the psychology profession – you don’t have to know everything and you never will, so it’s probably a good lesson to learn now :) On the other side of that, be confident in what you do know!

Along these lines, I think that the best candidate for any position is probably the person who shows that they understand the role and what is required, meets the essential requirements, and shows evidence of potential and a readiness and openness to learn and develop. Other key things that employers and admissions staff look for in this field is enthusiasm and warmth. Now these two are pretty hard to convey in a standard application form, especially if you’ve followed all of the other advice above. The way I tackled this one was to not use other people’s forms as a template or formula (this usually freaked me out, led me to compare my experience to theirs and ultimately morph my application into something similar) and to just focus on what I’d done and write what I really thought about things. So, for example, I would mention in application forms that I loved the challenge of every day being different when you work with children. Or that I am passionate about involving carers in research as I feel they often get overlooked. Be real, be you, as at the end of the day it’s a person they want, not a robot who ticks all the boxes. As for warmth, this is really tricky to demonstrate in an application – but once you get to the interview stage – my top tip is simply to smile, try and relax and be friendly and yourself!

Other simple things that really will enhance your application and increase your chances of being shortlisted include checking and double checking your application for typos and spelling mistakes and getting someone else to check it if you have time, just in case you’ve missed any. I realise that spelling isn’t some people’s strong point and we all make typos, but if a busy, tired shortlister who has to read through 30 applications in their lunch break has to read through one littered with mistakes, the reality is that it will probably put them off and risk you being seen as sloppy and unprofessional and possibly mean your application gets put into the no pile. If your application is full of spelling mistakes – what are your reports going to be like? Unfortunately, these sort of judgements will be made based on your form, so polish it up to be the best it can be! Another pet hate of mine is when people don’t capitalise the letter ‘I’ (when referring to oneself). I also dislike the use of acronyms without the phrase initially being used in full, because we may not be familiar with whatever it is you are talking about.

Another tip that helps make your shortlister’s life easier is to make your application as clear, succinct and visually easy to read as you can make it. That means not cramming in as much information as you possibly can in size 8 point font with no paragraphs. Now, I know people are divided on whether you should use headings or not (so that’s your call), but the use of proper paragraphs is recommended, ideally with a line break in between them. With regard to the use of bullet points, again people are divided on this one. I prefer complete sentences, but I think it is ok to use a bulleted list if for example, you’re giving a brief summary of duties involved in a particular position when you have to list your previous employment. List your qualifications and jobs in date order, starting with the most recent, this makes it easier for the person reading your form to have an overview of your experience in their mind. Again, repeat and pay attention to this mantra – make their job easy!

Include any publications you are an author or co-author on (including internal reports or things that have been submitted but not yet published), as well as conference presentations or posters, and reference these correctly using APA or BPS format. As an aside, the BPS Editorial Style Guide is an invaluable freely downloadable resource for all sorts of things, from how to reference a website to whether or not you should write numbers greater than ten out in full in the text (the answer to that is no). Use control+F (or command+F if you’re on a Mac) with the document open to search for the exact thing you’re looking for.

I also think it is really crucial to include some indication that you have a work life balance – i.e. you do not spend every waking hour, 24/7 doing psychology. That is not healthy and anyone who does fill up their spare time with psychology as well as working in or studying it really needs to take a step back to think about their priorities. Self-care is paramount in this profession and it is important that we practice what we preach. You are going to be no use to anyone (or not for any significant period of time) if you do not ensure you have a life outside of psychology where you pursue other interests, socialise, unwind and look after yourself. Indeed, evidence of hobbies and self-care, or at least recognition of the importance of self-care and work life balance, are something I look out for when shortlisting. Someone without this is at risk of burning out, so take heed!

Finally, once you’ve done all that, think about what makes you stand out. What makes you you. Have you done something particularly unusual or interesting that is worth mentioning? Do you have experiences from outside of psychology that are relevant? Think about how you can convey this in your form and weave it in somewhere, obviously within reason and within the boundaries of taste, relevance and appropriateness to the application.

If after submitting your form you are unsuccessful, read through your form and think about why and what you could possibly improve. Ask for feedback on your form from the shortlisters (although this is not always given at the application stage) and take this on board and do something to address it. It can be disheartening and upsetting to not get a job or place on a course, but it is an opportunity to learn and refine your application, so dust yourself off and go back to it when you’re feeling a little better and have had some space to reflect. If you know anyone who is in the field – ask them to read over your form and share their thoughts (also take them with a pinch of salt, as like this blog post, it is just their opinion). It may be that they just had too many applicants who were all really reallly good and they had to just find a way to cut the cloth and you lost out on something that you can’t change. In that case, you just have to keep your head up, learn from it, and keep going.

As they say in the Hunger Games, may the odds be ever in your favour….

*disclaimer: sadly, following this advice does not guarantee you a place/post and is my personal opinion based on my own experiences :)

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Summer Reading

By Aug.23, 2013

By Ashley Weinberg

If you’re looking for something to re-engage your mind with studying psychology before the new semester begins and you haven’t quite got to the point of feeling you need to read the recommended core texts yet, then I highly recommend any of the following as popular classics about some aspect of the human condition.  Below, I’ve also included a talk from each author to give you a flavour of their work.

Susan Cain’s book ‘Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’ is a reminder that there is more than one manifestation of an effective personality, with some pretty memorable examples.

Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ seems to have swept the boards of book awards and gives an accessible insight into our everyday experience of cognitive processing.

Meanwhile Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks is a particularly enlightening and diverting insight into our brain’s relationship with music.

There’s plenty more out there, and thanks to online shopping these should be pretty accessible too. Enjoy!

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Evelyn Chen: Hong Kong student visited Salford this Summer

By Aug.16, 2013

By Sharon Coen

Sharon and Evelyn

Sharon and Evelyn

Evelyn Chen is a BSc (Hons) Psychology undergraduate with the University of Salford who studies at the Open University of Hong Kong.  Evelyn spent a few weeks here over the summer and I was lucky enough to be her assigned tutor. Evelyn worked with me on developing and pretesting a codebook and coding scheme for some Content Analytical work I am planning to carry out in the near future.

Evelyn has worked extremely well and has had significant input to the project, besides being a very nice person!  Time flew by so quickly and today she will be flying back home.

It has been great getting to know one of our students from Hong Kong and to work with her on this project. Although we are all part of the same programme and social media like LinkedIn and Twitter allow us to be at least virtually connected, I feel much closer now to our programme in Hong Kong and I hope many other students will follow Evelyn’s lead!!!!

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The Power of Personal Identity

By Jul.22, 2013

By Ashley Carrick, BSc (Hons) Psychology graduate 2013.

Ashley with her dad at Graduation Day 2013

Ashley with her dad at Graduation Day 2013

I am not going to bore you with the importance of starting your work and dissertation early or choosing a subject of personal interest in your final year (as with most students I know, this is probably something you will understand better when you finish your degree). I am however going to discuss my personal research in relation to you as a student or young person and the power you have over your own opportunities.

I have recently graduated from the university with a degree in psychology. To gain this qualification I had to produce my own research. I chose to look at the relationship between peer attachment, place attachment and identity in young people living in a deprived area. I realise that due to changes in university applications and the current economic climate, this is an area relevant to many students.

Something I learned when leaving high school is that you are the only person with control over your ability to succeed. I was once told I wouldn’t achieve the grades to go to college never mind be in a position to consider a masters. I believe my ability to overcome the doubters was, in part, due to my personal identity. As detrimental to my education as that statement could have been, I chose to use it as inspiration. I made it my personal goal to disprove the statement. Alongside of this, the knowledge I gained in psychology allowed me to see that not everyone would be able to look past the negative side of such a statement: this was something I wanted to address.

I grew up in a deprived area where it is often more important to have some income than none at all. The majority of work is provided by factories and casual work. My parents will admit that it is due to this that I am the first member of my family to attend university. Research, including my own, has found that living in a deprived area can have an effect on personal identity.  Systems once put in place to help young people find work are now outdated and only sufficient to help maintain low level employment. These systems can prevent progression to higher levels.

Constant knocks and set backs in your pursuit to gain employment or further education will inevitably affect personal views of identity. Place identity is an important factor in the development of personal identity. We develop our personal identities based on the similarities and differences we see between ourselves and others.  For example high achievers living in deprived areas are less likely to attend the best colleges and universities, this is said to be, in part, due to a personal feeling that they would not fit in. In young people it has even been found that social interactions are affected by the type of home you live in (private/council).

I believe that self belief, motivation and a positive sense of identity are key to opening up opportunities, even in a country where deprivation is on the increase and opportunities seem fewer. A change is needed and you as students are able to make that change. University is hard work but if you are willing to give it your all, and believe you can do it, (you can, you got here), the opportunities and rewards your degree can offer will be immeasurable.

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