The Naming of Undergraduates

NB: This is intended as a very light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek post, as it is the holidays. It is not intended to offend anyone, but let me know if it has, and I shall endeavour to rectify this.

Otherwise  – enjoy 🙂

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter 
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

          ~ Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot

Thinking on T.S. Eliot’s poem over this holiday (I love reading poetry in my spare time) I have to report that I came to some startling realizations about the similarities between cats and student-kind, and propose that some undergraduates might actually be cats in disguise. Here are nine ways in which you may spot if any of the undergraduates in your department are, in reality, cats, based on the evidence I have gathered thus far.


Undergraduate….or cat?

  1. They naturally sleep through the day (and through some lectures).
  2. They are creatures of habit. Watching Neighbours at lunchtime is an absolute must.
  3. They are nocturnal. Book-hunting activity in the library is at its height during the night.
  4. They never appear during your office hours. But, when you have locked up the office, they will want to be on the other side of your office door.
  5. They play games on their iPads 
  6. They are quite tricky to get hold of when you want to speak to them. They do not answer email. Except at night (see point 3 above).
  7. They have a remarkable preference for @ProfAndyField ‘s statistics textbooks.
  8. As cats bring unexpected gifts for their humans, when teaching undergraduates, essays will often turn up out of nowhere, without explanation.
  9. Any attempt at training the above behaviours out of undergraduates will prove futile.

Feel free to add your own. :-p





Researcher Abroad

Back in September, I got my first ever research grant 🙂 It was an Early Career International Collaboration Scheme award, supported by the BPS Developmental Section, and it was to fund me for a short, international research visit. April seemed like ages away then, but it really wasn’t, and the past two weeks have seen my first longer-than-a-conference research trip abroad. I went to the Universita di Padova, to work with Gianluca Gini, and his research team. I took off with quite a lot of the trepidation that goes with embarking on something new, but now, I don’t want it to be over. The time flew by, and I’d happily go again.

Having had my first experience of this kind of trip, I’m going to use this post to make some recommendations for your first PhD or post-doc trip away to a university (because you absolutely should try it).

5. Find out where you are going before you leave home. Do that research, and write everything out with old-fashioned pen and paper. I thought I was being so organised, having multiple maps stored in Safari bookmarks, only to find when I arrived in Padova, that there was no wi-fi connection anywhere that I could see near the railway station, and I could barely remember the road where I was heading (or the road that the Department of Psychology was on).

4. Learn some Italian or [insert other relevant language here] before you arrive. I’m OK with languages. Particularly Latinate ones. And I thought I’d be OK, given that, simply knowing the basic basics – ” please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”. But, as Padova isn’t a central tourist destination, it would have been helpful to have come equipped with more. To be able to buy a train ticket, order in a cafe, ask which lane was meant for the slow swimmers….Then there was that moment when a colleague’s four-year-old was trying to learn English colour names. She first of all presented me with a pink pen. At which I excitedly exclaimed “rosa!”, this being the only colour name I could give in Italian. The way she then laughed out loud at that point said it all…..

3. Give a research talk. Even if it is arranged at the last minute (I am told this is typical in Italy…) and only a handful of people turn up. It was about quality not quantity of the audience. My research was novel to those who did show up, and there was a useful half-hour discussion, too, during which I got some insightful and time-saving advice.

2. Be realistic in your work plan. I was lucky here. I managed to achieve what I said I would in my application, and had a weekend free to explore the city. But that was done through working full days while I was away, and I’m not sure I could have cracked that pace for much longer (maybe I underestimated how tiring simply being somewhere different would be….). I knew I wouldn’t be able to collect data in that space of time – but I didn’t reckon on quite so many relevant papers having come out since I last checked, for me to go through, to plan out new research materials. I guess, if I had realised, I could have done more reading before I left home. I also find it reassuring to be leaving Padova with a follow-up plan for doing the research, and writing it up. 🙂

1. Be friendly with as many people at the university as possible. It’s a great way to get useful advice and information, when you’re stuck not being able to speak the local language (not that you will be), and you begin to discover the world really isn’t that big a place after all. I saw someone on the corridor who I hadn’t seen for three years, and didn’t know she was still in Padova. And a Fulbright scholar sharing my office turned out to share similar interests to me, and it was lovely to spend some of our spare time together (and she knew where all the best gelati-retailers were in town 🙂 ) It’s all about networking and setting up new collaborations, after all, and who knows who you might be sharing your desk with…

Here’s hoping that I’ve persuaded you that it is a worthwhile (and fun!) thing to do. You can see info. about, and apply for, the specific grant I got at:   I’m going to check how long I need to leave it before I can apply again…..

Thank you Developmental Section 🙂

In the Middle Of A Chain Reaction: Normalizing Verbal Insults

A friend posted this video (click on image below to view)  to my Facebook feed earlier this week. It’s well worth the few seconds it takes to watch it, in my view, although not just for the reasons Stonewall intends.


Don’t get me wrong. Stonewall’s message is a stark one, and one that is supported by empirical research; social developmental psychologists have shown that simply encouraging bystanders to intervene is enough to stop bullying episodes (Atlas & Pepler, 1998). In fact, more recently, they’ve shown that simply asking perpetrators to stop is enough to end verbal remarks that are unwanted (Lamb et al., 2009).

The thoughts that crossed my mind, as I watched the video, were more about the chain reaction that was taking place, as one person passed on verbal abuse to another. What I was thinking about was the time-course of bullying: how an episode of bullying of one child by others evolves over time.

Whitney and Smith in their 1993 study found that some episodes of bullying had continued for over two years. And I know from my research (Jones, Manstead, & Livingstone., in press, Frontiers in Learning Research) that an instance of bullying can take place over weeks or years, and can change from a relatively innocuous dirty look, to a full-on campaign, constituting multiple methods, and spaces in which to attack the target.

Beyond that, a review of the literature reveals relatively little empirical research about how bullying develops with time. Children who bully, and who get bullied (as depicted in the video) are known as bully-victims, or aggressive victims in this research area. And the literature shows that these children are vulnerable from multiple risk factors concerning their home life, and subsequently are more likely than any other children involved in bullying to be psychologically maladjusted (e.g., Haynie et al., 2001). I could find nothing, however, on which comes first: bullying or victimization. the only studies I could see we’re cross -sectional (looking at a snap-shot of children’s behaviour at a given moment in time) rather than longitudinal.

Not deterred, I looked more broadly for evidence on the time-course of bullying. It could be that if bystanders and targets are less likely to react angrily to ambiguous (perhaps more innocuous) forms of bullying, targets may later find themselves on the receiving end of nastier forms of attack, as the innocuous behaviour is exaggerated and becomes normal for the friendship group to enact. To support this view, the targets researched by Gamliel, Hoover, Daughtry and Imbra (2003) in a series of case studies, reported how bullying got more severe with time. It is possible then, that the ambiguity of initial incidents prevents targets from appreciating what is happening; by the time they do so, it is much more difficult to resist behaviour that has become increasingly normative for both perpetrators and target alike.

Earlier in this blog, I have referred to Dorothy Epelage’s view that bullying should be banished as a term, because teachers wait until a behaviour unequivocally counts as bullying before they treat it as such. This kind of process may also apply to bystanders who witness mildly nasty behaviour and who do not intervene to stop it because it does not meet their definition of what constitutes bullying. Even if the event does make one feel angry on behalf of the target, it may still be difficult to enlist the help of others – including teachers – because they may not necessarily share one’s own interpretation of the event. Consistent with this view, Boulton (1997) found that teachers readily saw verbal or physical threats as bullying, but were reluctant to identify ostracism (a more passive and ambiguously negative behaviour) as bullying. Similarly, Bauman and Del Rio (2006) found that trainee teachers would punish relational bullying less severely than more overt (verbal or physical) forms of bullying. The ambiguity of negative interpersonal or intergroup behaviour may play an important role in the development of bullying. If the behaviour is seen as harmless or normative at the outset, and as a consequence escapes negative sanction, it may escalate over time.

So, Stonewall’s video is important not just for showing how failing to say ‘stop’ when someone uses a verbally offensive remark can perpetuate a chain of abuse, but in showing the damage that can be done by normalizing verbal insults, as they aren’t curtailed, and get re-cycled in childhood and adulthood.