Of References and Reading Lists, of Rectangles, and….String

How long is a piece of string? This is the response I’ve often heard lecturers give, in answer to a question commonly heard at this time of year

How many references do I need to put into my assignment to get a good mark?

The answer is given because the question is deceptively simple. If I were to ask you what the area of a rectangle is, given that it has width 15cm, the best you would be able to do is give me a formula for working out the area, if I were good enough to divulge the rectangle’s length.


Every assignment I have ever marked has been preceded by at least one email asking the “references question”. The above problem is very similar to the question about references. I’ve only been given one piece of information.

What matters, when I mark an assignment, is not only whether the student has carefully selected peer-reviewed, up-to-date papers that are relevant to the title, but what has been done with those papers.

The highest marks are available to students who, after Bloom’s Taxonomy,  can argue in response to an essay title. Good essays will (a) analyze the relevant research to say what it shows (often, as opposed to what the authors claim it shows) and (b) evaluate the research in terms of what it adds to their argument. The argument also needs to be a careful synthesis (drawing together into a coherent whole) of the relevant literature.

Bloom’s Taxonomy. Image from: http://classweb.gmu.edu/

Thus, it is possible to get high marks for an assignment that carefully analyzes and evaluates only a few pieces of research, and it is possible to fail an assignment by littering it with numerous irrelevant citations that fail to address the essay title.

That is the formula for finding the area of the rectangle.


The Secret Life of A Committee Member

The nature of committee membership has been discussed in our Department this week. As such a role is not usually factored into workload planning, the commitment is something extra, that one wouldn’t want to take on without reflection on exactly what is involved. And since committee meetings happen, to a large extent, behind closed doors,  the work involved might seem something of a mystery. Here then is an attempt to elucidate something of that mystery, from my recent experiences as a BPS Developmental Section Ordinary Committee Member.

I was elected to the role in September 2012, and now have joint responsibility for Section communications in the form of Developmental Forumthe section newsletter. I also have a meta-role in this, in the form of garnering opinions from the Section on the newsletter and communications.

The newsletter is produced three times a year, and features conference news, reviews, forthcoming books, info. on developmental labs, and prizes/grants information. Emily and I spend time asking for this information from Section members and putting it all together. My email account shows 123 messages about the last newsletter. A lot of them one liners with an attachment.  An initial lack of responsivity from the Section was disheartening, but once I had the material, I loved working on it – and look at the result *bounces*

Other than the newsletter, I spend time (one morning, or one afternoon) in meetings, four times a year (usually in London) with the Section, thinking about Section matters, like conference venues, membership costs, and who should get to be invited as keynotes. Things that affect me directly. And the experience is great, as you get to know the Committee well. The lines between colleagues and committee members and friends is easily blurred, and in a good way.

So for me, the benefits are many: I get to help put together a newsletter, and to see the results of my work, I get to ask Section members what they think, to feed this  back, to have a voice, and a heads-up on what’s coming next. Beyond this, I’ve also made useful researcher links with committee  at Royal Holloway and Greenwich Universities, that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. The time commitment is sporadic and focused: weeks with nothing to do, and days with dedicated work, but the overall time and effort input is small.

I don’t know why everyone wouldn’t want to serve on a committee as an ordinary member at some point 🙂

The Crocheted Brain

Crocheti ergo sum. 

Or that’s how it feels, when I’m not at work. Ever since I gingerly picked up a crochet hook last September, I’ve been smitten with it. It’s easy (read: easier than knitting), so versatile, so quick, so engaging….


What I mean to say is, when I’m not doing teaching or research, this is what I love doing – and since it’s the Easter holidays I thought this a good time to post about it. I’ve had great fun with a number of projects, from toys to blankets, and have just found the Oxford Drunken Knitwits whom I am planning to meet with soon.

Not that Psychology and crochet don’t mix, of course. I’ve recently crocheted a brain. Yes, a brain –


– at a colleague’s behest. That was good fun – especially as I couldn’t find any patterns in front of pay walls (spot another link to academia) and eventually devised my own (which I will freely share at your request).

And, a 2012 review article by Rosemary Kingston  in PsyPAG Quarterly extols the benefits of knitting via research evidence. Specifically, while some research has suggested that knitting and crochet attenuate symptoms of anxiety, Kingston points out that benefits might also be derived from knitting as it is a “mindful” and creative activity, with research suggesting that both mindfulness and creative pursuits have a positive impact on mental well-being. What’s more, the Knitwit’s blog, which is fantastic, even has some posts under the topic of mental health, on knitting and “unraveling mental health perceptions”.

So crochet is good for you, too 🙂 What hobbies do other PhD students and post-docs or lecturers pursue in their spare time? Anyone want to join me for some crochet?