Interview with Sam Royle – Psychology Technician

3rd year psychology student Ryan McGrath interviewed Sam Royle, a Technician in the Psychology department at the University of Salford.


Photography - Nick Harrison

 1.  How did you get into Psychology?

In a rather fortunate manner, I would say, given my current career aspirations. When I finished high school I wanted to be a forensic scientist, so for my college subjects I decided on chemistry, biology, and physics. I ended up taking psychology to fill my 4th AS level slot (instead of P.E. – I was sporty back then!) because of a taster day where my ‘personal tutor’ happened to be one of the psychology teachers. She persuaded me that it was a topic I’d enjoy, and then had the displeasure of teaching me for 2 years!

Seriously though, she really got me intrigued by the topic of psychology and was an inspiring teacher, so, should she ever read this – Thank you Helen!

2. If you could sum-up your role as a psychology technician, how would you describe it?

That’s an interesting question, because the role of a psychology technician can actually vary a lot between institutions (the BPS says there has to be one, but not what they have to do), and even within my own role, what I’m doing on a given day can be rather unpredictable, as I respond to issues as they arise. A couple of my colleagues have described my role as ‘Professional problem solver’ – I think that’s pretty apt for what I do, and I must say I really enjoy supporting all the different projects going on across the department and the wider university.

I’m tweeting about my day-to-day life as a psychology technician on the @salfordpsych account at the moment, so if you want to learn more about what I do, keep an eye on that.

3. Who is your favourite Psychologist and why?

The work of Marvin Minsky really inspired me during my undergraduate years – his ‘Framework for representing knowledge’ was the basis of my undergraduate dissertation, and he has definitely had a huge impact on my perception of cognitive processing. He was influential in the fields of artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and philosophy before he, unfortunately, passed away earlier this year.

I recommend his book ‘the society of mind’ to anybody interested in how humans represent knowledge or how computers could replicate human thought processes.

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

The three broad topics that I’m interested in researching currently are: Alcohol use, hangover and addiction; Consciousness and flow; and Memory and knowledge representation. What I’m most passionate about though is probably research methods – I really enjoy working on new ways to examine phenomenon, and fortunately this is something I get to do quite a lot in my job as I help students to develop research methodologies that address their research questions using the kit we have available. I do quite enjoy sitting down with some data too!

5. What makes the Psychology Department at Salford unique?

One of the big things that separates us from other universities is the students access to equipment. If we have a piece of kit, and you are dedicated enough to do the work to learn to use it for your research, you can. That’s definitely a real positive for our students, who can come out of their degree with skills they simply wouldn’t have had the opportunity to develop elsewhere. One of the other things that makes us different is our extensive integration with other departments. Psychology colleagues are involved in projects working with for example, radiography, sport and exercise science, or computer science, as well as counselling and criminology. On top of this there’s a real focus on applied research, that is, research that has an impact, so we apply our research to working with various groups such as dementia patients and prosthesis users. This brings a real depth of experience to the team.

That’s all before you get to the wonderful atmosphere in the department (and the university as a whole!).

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

To be honest, in my grand plans for the future, I’m rarely concerned with where I will be. What’s more important is what I’m doing, and I really enjoy my role at Salford. Certainly, there’s prestige attached to working at institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, MIT etc., but there’s also high pressures to publish consistently, and I don’t believe the best science is conducted under such pressures.

I have often entertained the idea of moving to either Canada or the Netherlands however, and dependent on some particular political developments over the coming years I certainly won’t rule that out.

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

For me the most fascinating project I’ve been involved with was my MSc dissertation on correlates of alcohol hangover severity, partially because it was research that I designed from the ground up and invested a lot of time in, but also partly because I’ve had some of my ideas from that work vindicated over the years. For example, my initial investigation consisted of semi-structured interviews designed to elucidate popular perceptions of factors influential in the hangover state – one of the themes I discovered here was an importance of social factors, like whether one drinks alone or in company. Some recent experimental research did in fact show that perceptions of one’s own drunkenness are influenced by perceptions of how drunk the people around us are. There are still links missing here, but research is beginning to support the idea that social factors are influential in what has been predominantly considered a biological phenomenon.

 8. What are you working on at the moment?

Other than the day to day teaching/admin/support duties, I’m currently studying for the final module on a postgraduate certificate of academic practice – this is a course on teaching practice at higher education level. I’ve also got some alcohol hangover research in the pipeline, and have been collecting data for a project I’m working on with Robert Bendall and colleagues from the physiotherapy/sports and exercise science department.

Some slightly longer term projects I’ve got going (given there is only 24 hours in a day) include learning the C# programming language, modelling and animation in blender, and VR development in Unity. I’m also learning Dutch.

 9. If you could choose another profession, what would it be?

Would a similar job in a different department count? I’ve always been interested in Forensic Science (my undergraduate degree being dual honours Forensic Science & Psychology), so that would definitely be an option. There’s also engineering, architecture or computer science. The key thing for me is the open and friendly environment provided by universities. My mother has said for many years I would likely be a ‘perpetual student’.

10. Do you have a favourite quote?

Most of my favourite quotes come from Hunter. S. Thompson. A couple of my favourites:

“I was not proud of what I had learned but I never doubted that it was worth knowing” – Hunter. S. Thompson. The Rum Diary

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a ride!’”

– Hunter. S. Thompson. The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967.

And on a more humorous (but still somewhat poignant) note:

“Thanks to denial, I’m immortal” – Phillip. J. Fry. Futurama.

11. What benefits do you find in using Twitter?

I’m by no means the most engaged person when it comes to the use of social media, so for me, using Twitter is all about having a professional presence. The obvious benefits in this kind of approach include increased connectedness with colleagues all around the world, and having a forum for discussion or for promoting certain ideas (you’ll notice a few tweets in my timeline on the topic of universal basic income, for example). But there are other benefits too – engaging with my students, or having something to distract myself with for 5 minutes (or half an hour) when I hit some kind of roadblock and need a break.

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

The dreaded ones. Statistics books. I opt for Andy Field’s ‘Discovering Statistics Using IBM SPSS Statistics’ when I want to check what I’m doing in SPSS.

For a more casual read, my old supervisor, Dr. Richard Stephens, wrote an excellent book not so long ago called ‘Black Sheep: The hidden benefits of being bad’, which recently took the award for the BPS book awards popular science book of the year. He’s coming to speak on the ‘psychology of swearing’ here at Salford later in the year as part of our research seminar series, so keep an eye out for that too!

13. What advice would you give to SalfordPsych students?

1) Attend your lectures/seminars – if the fact that your missing opportunities to learn isn’t enough for you (and that attendance correlates with achievement), remember that for each session you miss you have essentially wasted some of that big student loan you took out.

2) Remember that one of your greatest tools for learning are your colleagues. Working together with your colleagues will help you all to come out of university with a better understanding of your topic, and experience that will be undoubtedly helpful in the world of work.

3) Read your assignment briefs carefully, and compare your work to the requirements set out. Rubrics can be a particularly useful document in that regard. These documents almost literally tell you how to do well in your assignments.

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

To see the field continue to develop, integrating new technology into methodologies to better understand phenomenon and improve people’s lives.

Some people have said that the recent ‘replicability crisis’ in psychology shows that the field has failed to produce any real understanding – well that’s clearly not true – Psychology has informed many effective interventions that we know have positive impacts on people’s lives. The replicability crisis for me is a representation of developing practices in psychology. Nowadays we are starting to see processes like pre-registration of investigations in order to eliminate issues like ‘p-hacking’. We’re beginning to see more open science, with big data being used in more transparent processes, and psychologists (rather than statisticians) are starting to have discussions around the use of arbitrary p-value cut-offs and the low publishing rate for non-significant findings.

To me it sounds like everything is moving in the right direction, and psychology is still a young field with plenty of development still to occur and impacts to be made.

Interviewed by Ryan McGrath: @ryanmcgrath1

Sam Royle: @PsyTechSam_UoS