The Wonderful World of Research

Over the summer a number of students visited on Nuffield Research Placements. These give sixth form students hands-on experience of a professional research environment through a placement in their summer holidays. Each of them worked with an academic on a mini research project. Here, three of them, working on a project looking at whether imagined contact in children would reduce prejudice towards  those with disabilities,  give a candid account of their experiences.



From left: Forogh, Farzeen, Tashreefa

Farzeen says…

I was given the opportunity to spend three weeks with Sian and Elena where we l

Week 1:

I remember being scared to the core on my first day. I spent about 10 minutes walking around the university campus, confused as to where I had to be. After entering random buildings and asking the friendly receptionists, I eventually found my way to Sian’s office where I was greeted by suitcases full of computer wires, monitors and keyboards. Setting up three computers from scratch was definitely a challenge at 11am in the morning! It took around  half an hour but once it was all set up, we were able to take a sigh of relief.

Our first ‘official’ task of the day consisted of entering details of consent forms into Excel spreadsheets. There were roughly 1000 forms but since there were three of us, the task  definitely seemed doable. It took 3 days of typing, reading and figuring out whether the next letter was an ‘i’ or an ‘e’… but eventually we prevailed. The consent forms were finally over. But of course we had some other tasks in between, one of the most interesting being testing out the eye-tracker.


The eye tracker ready-for-action

Elena took us to the eye-tracker equipment where we were able to take part in the experiment conducted by  Sian and her team . This involved filling in questionnaires about attitudes& friendships and then placing our heads on the headrest whilst staring into the camera lens. Our pupils were then calibrated and the movement of the pupil was detected as we were presented with a story which we then had to recreate using fuzzy felt.

We also took pictures of the experimental set-up in order to write up our methodology as well as understand the basic aims of the study. This required us setting up Playmobil figures in three different settings: a park, green space and school.

Week 2:

The second week of the placement consisted of listening to audio files from the experiment, transcribing what was said on an excel spreadsheet and then coding the ‘utterances’ based on five main themes (Paternalism, interaction, imagination, awareness of disability and disruptive behaviour). In total we had about 40 clips to go through. Transcribing was definitely a challenge at first. It requires one to pay close attention to every single detail, whether it be a 3 minute long monologue or a slight ‘hmm’. Luckily we were able to speak to a trained transcriber at the university who told us that it will become easier as we go through more videos, and  she was right! We were also able to use each other to double-check or clarify any issues in the audio.

Once we got through all the clips, we were required to write an analysis report on findings outlining the definitions of the themes, the number of utterances associated with each theme and why certain trends were present.  These reports were then peer reviewed, edited and saved for our final report write up.

Week 3:

Final week! It was hard to believe that the placement was almost coming to a stop and in order to mark the end, Sian presented us with our final task- a 2000 word literature review. This review could be about any topic in psychology but had to have a clear argument throughout and any external information ideally had to be derived from chunky psychology books or reports. Day 1-2 entailed planning and finding all the relevant sources for the essay. Once this was done, Sian gave us the okay and we were able to start writing. I initially found this really daunting, especially since it came to keeping your side of the argument persistent throughout. However with the help of Sian and my colleagues Forogh and Tashreefa, I was successfully able to write a coherent essay on the effectiveness of CBT (Cognitive behavioural therapy) and biological therapy in treating paranoid schizophrenia.

All in all, the Goldsmiths experience is definitely one I would always remember. I learnt about the world of psychological research, made new friends and was also able to relish the famous ‘chicken salad baguette’ from the university canteen! I am extremely thankful to Elena, Sian and my colleagues for making this such an enjoyable and productive experience.



Forogh says…



9th August

Today was my first day, I got lost on campus when I arrived, but managed to find it eventually, and I met Sian who then introduced me to my other co-workers for the week, Tashreefa and Farzeen. Our first task of the day was to create a consent data base for all the participants who took part in the investigation in the science museum.After lunch we went down to take pictures of the different conditions of the experiment, it was pretty fun playing with the characters.


10th August

The second day in the morning we started on ploughing through the consent forms.

After lunch I had the task of doing content analysis on feedback from the participants where they were asked ‘what should scientist find out more about the imagination?’ I first coded the frequency in which people used a key word. Then we split the words into themes, to find an overall pattern of what the participants said as feedback. Then we were asked to write a content analysis on what we found.

11th August

Elena (Sian’s Research Assistant) showed us another experiment they also did where they looked at eye movement. They used an eye tracking device which we tried out but first we filled out a questionnaire and then we calibrated the machine and we tried it. Then a picture of a character with a disability and his/her friend were playing outside in the park while Elaine would give a back story of the friends. Then I was given a fuzzy felt to play with and to ‘carry on’ the story. Then I was asked to do another questionnaire on my attitudes towards the character with a disability.


The eye tracker tests whether the individual would look more at the figure with a disability. (It was so cool!)

We were then set the task of reading into a paper ‘changing attitudes with a little imagination’ which introduced us to the ‘theory of imagined contact’ and how it developed to reduce prejudice among -members of out- groups. We then wrote a comparative essay on Cameron et al’s paper and Sian’s investigation on imagined contact. It’s pretty cool what your imagination can do..


12th August


Today I was introduced to audio/video coding which we had around 40 clips between us, which we transcribed and then coded it to different themes..



16th August

Then we collated our coding and then looked at the frequency of the themes that occurred in each theme. We then wrote a content analysis on our findings and compared the themes and conditions with each other.

I found this quite difficult because some conditions had more clips than others which made it difficult to compare to each other.


23rd August

We were introduced to our task of our literature review,  we could pick any area of psychology and write an argumentative essay on that topic. I picked my area to be decision making and psychology and wanted to look at how soft paternalism is more effective in positive decision making than hard paternalism. I was very excited about writing this, as decision making and the cognitive process that goes behind making decisions always interested me.

25th August

This morning I started my essay and was working on that, then at 1pm we had a meeting (which also meant an early lunch (yay!) ). The meeting is where we met other members of the research team and discussed what we had done in the research process. We were also given feedback on our content analysis which was to add quotations from the clip into our analysis.



30th August

Today was our last day of our work experience which I worked on my report (well it’s the second of September but we didn’t need to come in from the 30th to the second).

Overall I would definitely recommend this invaluable work experience especially if you’re interested in psychology or any subject related to psychology. It was a fun and educational experience and I met some really great people. It was a fantastic opportunity that I am sure I will not forget.

Thank you very much Sian!


Tashreefa says…

Week 1

On the first day I got lost searching for the Psychology department as there were many entrances and the refurbishing work only made things more confusing. But luckily I found my way round and I also bumped into Forogh who was also lost. Sian picked us up from the ground floor and showed us the way to her office and the room we would be working in.

After a brief introduction to each other we were given our first task of filing consent forms of those who participated in the experiment. Sian handed us a box of over 1 000 forms and my first thought was this is going to take forever. But once we got on with it, it wasn’t too bad the only struggle was reading some of the handwriting, but we managed and got everything filed by the end of the week. On the first day we also took images of the conditions the children were given to play with at the Science Museum which is where the experiment took place. Sian conducted the study using Playmobil settings and figures and each child was given a disabled and non-disabled figure and was told to use their imagination to re-enact and display how they would play with them. This was then recorded upon consent from the parent/carer.


Week 2

We were each given a few audio clips and were told to listen to them and transcribe them by writing every single word the child participants says on a spreadsheet provided by Sian. This turned out be more difficult than we thought as it was hard to work out exactly what some of the kids were saying especially without any visual aid. Some of the participants were 5 years old making it a extra difficult to make out what they were saying however I noticed how most kids were being very imaginative especially when it came to superpowers as they went all out and creative with their powers showing that imagination has no boundaries.

Once all audios were transcribed we were given more clips but this time it was video clips. YAY. This was much easier to transcribe than the audios but still quite challenging. Once transcription was complete we had to code them by themes. T These themes were further divided into categories and we had to rate them according to which category we think they fall under. After completing this we were tasked to write a mini essay, analyzing the themes by stating its definition and why we think particular themes and categories were more abundant in some conditions than others.


Week 3

For our last week of placement, we were tasked to write a literature review on a preferred topic in psychology. This was to be a 2 000 word essay and once we decided our topic Sian gave us books related to it so we could research and plan out our essay. I chose to write about eidetic memory and Sian handed me a HUGE book that was all about memory. I was a bit startled by the thickness of the book and looking through the contents page I came across so many interesting topics that I could possibly write about.

I decided to change my essay subject to eating disorders as I thought that was more relevant to what I want to study at university which is mental health nursing.

We also had a meeting with Sian and her team who have been working on the investigation and we discussed the initial report of the study thus far and about our analysis of the transcription. After the meeting we did an inter-reliability check on the coding to standardize the coding.

Overall this was a great experience getting to work along talented people and I being able to get a taste of what research is really like and the all process involved in. I’m very thankful for this opportunity as I have learnt a lot of valuable skills.

*I should note that setting up their own computers is not usually the first task I present new students with (it was a busy, busy week!). They all worked incredibly hard – and produced some excellent reports at the end of it. Thank you to *them* and to the Nuffield Foundation for sending them our way.


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