Privileged Participation: EASP 2014 In Review

I have been abroad a fair bit for research this year. From 9-12th July this year, I attended the European Association of Social Psychology’s triennial conference in Amsterdam. This conference is always impressive. This year, it was bigger than ever before with over 1 400 delegates, from within and outwith Europe, and four full days of  twelve parallel sessions to choose from. Added to that were twice-daily poster sessions with over 100 posters apiece. I was privileged before I had started, to be going as not all submissions are accepted.

And I was glad that I went. The sheer range of sessions meant that there was always something of interest, if not of direct relevance to my research, on offer (and often it was the case that I had to choose between two or more directly relevant presentations). Social identity was writ large here, its applications spanning ever further –  from physical to mental health, sexual orientation to gender identity, emotion regulation to morality. That, as well as cutting edge looks at the usual suspects: collective action and intergroup contact to name but a few.

The meta-contact was, as ever invaluable. Great conversations were had over coffee, and at the conference dinner, there was ample opportunity to catch up with old colleagues, and to spark new connections.   

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Maybe the important thing here is that social psychology makes social identities visible. The privileges of being European, of being educated, of being from that social class, that ethnicity, along with the differences between being male or female, or transgender, heterosexual or LGBT+, are studied. Privilege is scientifically demonstrated. You cannot attend this conference and not leave with a sense of just how much social groups matter. And I was proud of the way in which social psychology is moving forwards to uncover identities that are often otherwise erased by society.

I was also pleased with the way in which the “green” agenda ran through the conference. Although, maybe this is where I need to make the conference team aware of their own privilege. A privilege of not having a physical disability. It was a green decision, no doubt, not to have conference bags. But, when you can only use one hand, some fore-warning of this would have been helpful.  We still had things to carry, after all. It would also have been useful to have coffee breaks every morning and afternoon – if only to give time for swapping between conference sites between sessions. The buildings of Amsterdam are gorgeous, but cobbled streets and bicycle jungles don’t make for the easiest of passages. I had to forget plans to change destination in the midst of sessions at the outset.

But this is a small point, for next time. Because I will be back next time. This is the social psychology conference not to miss.

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Exam Scripts: From the Other Side of the Fence

Now that exam season is well and truly over, I thought it would be timely to post for those who will be continuing on a taught course at university, (particularly Psychology students) reflecting on what exams look like from my side of the fence. While I don’t experience the stress of exam preparation that students do, I do experience high levels of frustration when I can’t credit students as highly as I would like to, because the evidence they present for that credit isn’t explicit enough to attain the marks.

So – here are some tips for your next round of exam preparation.

1. Answer the question(s) you’re asked. Even if your in-class-prepared response was first class, if it doesn’t address the question on the exam paper it is unlikely to score as high as it could otherwise. The first thing I look for when I scan an exam essay is information that is relevant to the title.

2. Plan your answer. From my experience, fewer students do this, than seem to skip this bit entirely. And it shows later on. Taking a few minutes at the start of the exam to breathe, and brainstorm your response into a logical sequence will help, because some marks are awarded for clarity of expression.

3. Relevant information isn’t enough if you’re after the top marks. Information that evidences argument is needed. That is, have you thought critically about, rather than simply reported, research findings? If you’re not sure, go through your answer with a pencil and underline or number the critical points you’ve made. That will highlight how much of your essay is simply description.

4. Find out whether you are expected to have read beyond lecture slides or key readings. If this is an expectation, make sure you season your answer with relevant research evidence (and associated criticism of this reading). Read through your marking criteria. Hours went into writing these, and much discussion, and it will help you see what we’re after.

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5. Drawings like the one in this post won’t get you higher grades. But things like this, and double spacing your writing, and writing clearly, and filling out the frontsheet properly, makes markers’ lives much easier. And your exam script might be on the bottom of the pile. … Assume that it will be. Markers are human, and prone to tiredness. Make your brilliance obvious to us, so we don’t miss it.