Guest Post: EEG, Eye-Tracking, and Evaluation: Finding a way into Psychology

Last week, Lora, a student from Year 12 at a local sixth form, visited me in the Department. I asked her to blog about her experiences. This is what she said:

I decided to search for work experience in Psychology because it is a new and exciting subject for me that I have found extremely interesting to study throughout my first year of Sixth Form. I am also considering taking on Psychology at university next year, so I felt that this experience would be valuable.


Today was my first day and I had a mixture of nerves and excitement, the latter proving more dominant. After asking several people how to find my way to the correct building, floor and office, I was successfully directed to Siân. Once there I: introduced myself, was given my very own work-space (a whole room in fact) and was shown the rest of the department.

My first task of the day involved 48 questionnaires for a visit to school tomorrow. I had to fold, staple, sort and proof-read (correcting any errors I found) . Two of the piles did not have a specified condition on the front, so Sian gave me the job of working this out. Now, I hadn’t finished quite yet as I needed to have two piles (one male, one female) of questionnaires and they needed to be randomly sorted. Another task I had to do was create an Excel document and write out all the questions. Not such a mammoth task seeing as the questions were the same. Accomplishment – a feeling which was felt on numerous occasions throughout the week.

Other things I got out of the day involved: reading social development papers, obtaining two massive, free text-books, because there was a departmental book clear-out, and beginning to use and get to know the statistics program SPSS. Nice people, a nice subject and free resources to keep – what a nice way to start off the week.


child school

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This morning I continued to help Siân input data she had collected the previous week into SPSS. Fortunately, we managed to finish this before we set off to collect more data. The primary school may have been local, but the commute took us about one hour. We arrived in plenty of time so that we could set up in ease and I could be given instructions on what I was to do. The children filled out the questionnaires very quietly and the school made us feel welcome. In my opinion, the classtime and the day were successful.


eyetrackThe day that Siân and I managed to input all of the data from the previous day into SPSS –accomplishment, once again. After this I was lucky enough to participate in an experiment for a postgraduate student’s research project. The experiment involved a structured interview, filling out questionnaires and then several stages of activities. The project focused on the link between ‘Eye Contact and Social Anxiety’, (i.e. some research suggests that people with high levels of social anxiety make less direct eye contact than people without social anxiety).

Later on in the day I attended a departmental seminar which took form of an IT workshop on Open Access and the REF. If I have to be honest, all the information didn’t really make sense to me because it was something I had never come across. So, halfway through, I migrated to reading Siân’s online blog. And here you are reading my first piece which has been published online.

My final job of the day was to make a start on sorting out a massive pile of evaluation forms from the Friendship Workshops that Siân had conducted in 2014 and 2015 so that they were ready for data input.


On Thursday morning I attended Siân’s “Shut Up and Write” session. This session is a great way to be productive by just sitting down and getting on with your work, in silence. I occupied myself in drafting a Methods section for the research we did in school on Tuesday. Siân was kind enough to lend me her PhD for the session so that I was able to use the method section as a template. I was also given a whistle-stop tour on how to use SPSS to  get basic statistics. We were particularly interested in the means, standard deviations, and correlations.

Moreover, we had lunch with Sarah and several other colleagues from the Psychology Department – everyone was really friendly. And for the rest of the day I continued work on the hundreds and hundreds of evaluation forms, and I managed to finish this job! Need I say the feeling again? (Hint: the word begins with an A.)


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My last day. The week has flown by. But as idioms go, time flies when you’re having fun. A good sign, surely. And I will be back again at the end of next week with my school in order to attend the Psychology conference. They haven’t got rid of me that fast!

So, for my last day, as Sian was away at a conference, I was cared for by the lovely Sarah and met even more colleagues. I was able to write this blog piece, do some transcribing and visit the EEG lab. Transcription consumes a lot time. One has to listen to the audio file, type what each speaker is saying, listen carefully to understand what they are saying and do this hundreds and hundreds of times. I had a go at one today and I didn’t even get through the full file. The interview was about 35 minutes long and I only got through 10 minutes! I guess it’s not too bad for my first go, but I didn’t get that full accomplishment feeling…

EEG stands for electroencephalogram. It is where the brain’s activity is recorded to help diagnose or manage certain conditions. Brian cells continuously send one another messages and signals that can be picked up as small electrical impulses from the scalp. This process of picking up and recording the impulses is known as an EEG. I was shown the swimming-hat-net-like-cap, made up of electrodes, which a participant would wear. Apparently, baby shampoo is put on the participant’s scalp in order to aid conductivity. How bizarre. However, the procedure is painless and the participant should feel comfortable throughout.

Overall, this week has been a valuable experience that I’m sure I will never forget. I really do appreciate everything that was done for me. The week has shown me the opportunities that await me and things I could be doing in future. For anyone reading this that enjoys Psychology and is considering the subject, I highly recommend doing work experience in this field. So that’s it for this blog piece. I hope it has been as successful as my week…

Very well-accomplished, blog-post, Lora – you’d make an excellent blogger in Psychology, if you fancy that later on…. I should also say that Lora was fantastically helpful to me in getting us ready for school, remembering things when we were at school, and in dealing with the aftermath of the visit. She also reminded me why I love working in Psychology so much. Here’s to the next generation of students …


PowerPoint: In Memorium?

pptLast weekend, a world-renowned University of Oxford professor stunned me when he told me he had never used PowerPoint. Realizing that small group teaching is at the heart of Oxford University’s pedagogical approach, I could see that it might not be necessary here – but not to have used it ever? What about conference presentations? Open days? In stark contrast, a quick straw poll of our MSc in Psychology cohort for this year has just revealed that they have never had a teaching session without  PowerPoint or Prezi. I know that all of the seminar speakers visiting our Department this year have also used this technology in their talks. In light of this dichotomy, I am dedicating this blog post to thinking about the use of PowerPoint* in teaching at university.

Initially, the emerging literature on PowerPoint was glowing. Researchers noted that when there was variety in the slides presented (Clark, 2010) and relevant text and images were presented (Bartsch & Cobern, 2003) PowerPoint could be an effective learning tool. With regards to Psychology, Erwin and Rieppi (1999) compared the effectiveness of multimedia and traditional classes. It was found that students in the larger multimedia class averaged higher grades than those in the traditional classes.

However, other research showed that the relative benefits of PowerPoint over the more traditional “chalk and talk” lecture might be illusory. For example, Savoy et al. (2009) showed that students preferred PowerPoint presentations, but retained 15% less information from such lectures. Relatedly, Amare (2006) assessed students’ written performance, after delivery  using PowerPoint versus traditional lecture, and found better performance with traditional lectures.

Of course, when it comes to such research it can get quite messy. Neither the assignment of students to lectures versus seminars, nor the group size were controlled for in Erwin and Rieppi’s paper and in Amare’s study traditional lectures were accompanied with handouts, whereas the PowerPoint lecture was not. The controls in each study (and many others) were wildly different from one another. Thus the jury is out when it comes to the effectiveness of PowerPoint over other teaching methods.

That aside, it remained troubling to my mind  that while some lecturers did not use PowerPoint at all, some cohorts of students apparently receive very little but instruction by PowerPoint, at least as far as group teaching sessions are concerned. So, it was a surprise when I attended the Brookes Learning and Teaching Conference 2015 #bltc15 yesterday, and was met with – almost no PowerPoint. The closest I got was an image of an umbrella – and a list of discussion questions.


So what happened instead? Well, the first session was led by @georgeroberts as a “walk and talk”. We took to a lane behind the university campus as a group, and ambled along it, taking it in turns to talk to the topic of inclusivity in education. In other words, we thought about inclusion in the classroom, outside the classroom – and perhaps, as a result, outside the box. For what it is worth, participants felt that their ideas flowed more freely in this setting, and it’s certainly one I would like to add to my arsenal for my next seminar (British weather permitting….).

Next was Isis Brook’s keynote, also delivered without PowerPoint. One of my colleagues admitted to being perturbed by this. I will admit to finding it more difficult to concentrate on what was said, without visual clues if my mind wandered. But – the session was far from dydadic –  questions were asked about our own experiences for intermittent discussion with colleagues.

cliffordThe afternoon gave way to further discussion about culture shock and mental health in international students, and included a guest appearance from Clifford the Elephant (the elephant in the room who visits events to open up conversations about mental health). To be more specific then, the afternoon was spent listening to students’ experiences (sans computer), to playing a game of human diversity bingo and to (re-) meeting Clifford and the issues he represents. Barely a slide was in sight.

So we come to today. Which must be these MSc students’ first experience of a large class teaching session without PowerPoint. We’re running a “shut up and write” group, to help them with their assignment motivation. On balance, as a participant and a teacher, I think I prefer teaching methods that don’t involve PowerPoint …I’m about to find out what my students think of it all. …

*Other presentation software is available.

The Right Way To Do Statistics in Psychology

It’s that time of the year again. The time when undergraduate students in Psychology have collected their data, and are furiously trying to get it analyzed and written up, in time for their dissertation deadline.  It’s also the time of year when students tend to panic about the “right” way to analyze their data. But – as far as statistics go – there is no single right way to go about things. In fact, there is as much debate about doing statistics in Psychology as there is about psychological theories themselves – with whole journals dedicated to the topic. When it comes to dissertation stats, there is no single right way here, either…I explain.

I have one manipulated variable (call it Experimental Condition) and two continuous variables that I measured, Measure A, and Measure B. I want to know how Measure A and Experimental Condition interplay to influence Measure B. I have met all the assumptions for parametric data analysis. Although that research question is clearly defined, there are still several ways I could go about this.

Option 1

One way would be to perform a linear regression, entering Experimental Condition as a dummy variable and Measure A (centered about the mean) as predictors of my outcome, Measure B. If I found any interaction, I could analyse it using a simple slopes analysis. That would answer my research question.

Option 2

Equally viable, however, would be to run this analysis using ANOVA – because the maths underlying ANOVA and regression analyses are essentially the same. You can check this for yourself, by running the two analyses on the same variables: you will find that because both rely on what is called the General Linear Model the R squared value is the same for each. The distinction between the two in teaching terms is really just an historical artefact arising because ANOVA has been traditionally used for experimental designs and regression for correlational designs. It doesn’t have to be that way: whether the analysis you do make any sense depends on what you were trying to find out, more than anything.

Anyway – if I ran this analysis using ANOVA, there are two ways I could go about it. I could continue to treat measure A as a continuous variable and, in SPSS at least, force the program, via the syntax editor, to treat measure A as continuous but nevertheless a bona fide fixed factor, by adding it after the WITH sub-command:

Measure_B  BY Experimental Condition with Measure A_centred

Option 2a

I could, however, legitimately perform a median split on Measure A, creating a new variable where people are coded as either high A-scorers or low A-scorers. I would then enter Measure A _ split into the ANOVA alongside Experimental Condition, as above.

In either case, if I found an interaction between Measure A and Experimental Condition, I would analyse it using a simple effects analysis (to look at the effect of Experimental Condition at differing scores on Measure A).

The Right Way?

So – either ANOVAs or regression could be used for the above research question. Neither way is “wrong” although statisticians will point out the advantages and disadvantages to each approach. The classic disadvantage to median splits, for example, is that I would lose some of the variance provided in the variable scores (because I have changed a continuous variable to a dichotomous one).

Of course, that said, there are some things that we need to do, for any of the above options to be “right” before we run those tests. Here is a checklist, courtesy of Tabachnik and Fiddell (2007) – with the health warning that, the debate around statistics rages on, and these are guidelines – one high-profile  journal in Psychology decided earlier this week that reporting p values is inappropriate full-stop….

(1) Before you do anything, check for missing values and cases where weird stuff seems to be happening. Work out what is weird, and consider deletion of these cases, or checking against the questionnaires for human error in data entry.

(2) Check you meet the assumptions for the tests you want to do. See Tabachnik and Fiddell (2007) for myriad guidelines on what to do with the data, if you fail to meet an assumption.

jf16(3) This is not a fishing expedition. Define your research question clearly, and the type of test(s) you need to do to answer it with your data. Report what you find.

(4) If you do perform extra post-hoc tests, because something interesting has come up, don’t be afraid to admit to that. There are ways of statistically adjusting for the probability of finding significant results in such cases, and the important thing is being transparent about what we are doing as scientists, to allow effective evaluation of findings.

So – to sum this up, before you do anything with your data, look at it. Is it weird? Is it normal(ly distributed)? Can you use parametric statistics or not? Then, work out what research question you would like to answer, and what types of variable you now have. Based on this, choose among the options for answering that research question. All the time, remember to be transparent about the analysis and post-hoc tests that you are using. Just as one rationalizes the inclusion of different variables in your study in the Introduction, the Results section should give a rationale for what you have done with each variable, why, and what was found. Statistics in Psychology is about having a rationale, rather than a “right” answer.





Memory Monday: How are you today?

In the spirit of blogging culture, this morning, as Time to Talk Day 2015 approaches, I’d like to look back on a post I wrote this time last year, and ask what, if anything, has changed.

The original post may be found here.


Well, I still have an open-door policy, and I still see a lot of students in my office with mental health related concerns. And students are still very welcome to come and raise concerns with me; nothing has changed there. Indeed, from where I am sitting, mental health concerns at university are still normative.

But the plural of anecdote….

….is not evidence. So what’s changed, evidence-wise in the past year? Time to check the oracle (read: internet) .

First thing I realize is that since February last year, there has been a huge upsurge of student voices talking about mental health at university. There are many pieces on the taboo that surrounds it, noting, as I did last year that according to the latest NUS survey (2013) that one in five students say that they have a mental health problem, but most stay silent about it. I can’t find evidence (but am happy to stand corrected) of more recent large-scale surveys of UK student mental health. But this year, there are  more stories about mental health at university out there, with The Guardian having an overwhelming response to a request for them – gathering over 200 pieces. True, that the plural of anecdote is not evidence….but maybe the time is ripe for a qualitative study of student experiences…..

It was also interesting to note, on two counts for me, that the conversation has expanded. It’s not just about student mental health anymore, but also about mental health in academia. There is evidence that academics, from PhD students to professors are struggling in high-stressage environments. Alongside this, is the hypothesis that there is a culture of acceptance around mental health problems in the academy: in other words, social psychology is at work – stressage is part of the job.

And recently published research by Ken Mavor and his colleagues (2014) supports this contention. That is, a strong social identity as a medical student is associated with high levels of social support and improved well-being  (strong social identity = good) , but this comes with a set of unhealthy group norms (for overwork et al.) that may have a greater influence on students with a strong social identity, encouraging them to do things that put their well-being at risk (strong social identity = risk for poor mental health). Maybe the same is true of PhD students, top professors, early career researchers…If we cast the latter as peripheral group members  to use Jolanda Jetten’s term (that is, those who are on the edge, and want to be in the group of “established academics”) there would be even more reason to suppose that ECRs would be at risk….there are another two hypotheses to test.

So, what has changed? It seems that people are more vocal these days – and that there are a lot of stories out there about mental health in academia. But, beyond small-scale experimental work, there is not much hard-core evidence on the nature of the problem. Now it has been driven out from underground, and now that the hypotheses are being put forward, the time for up-to-date full-scale research seems to have arrived.

How are you today? The Department of Psychology, Social Work and Public Health will be marking Time to Talk Day at 11am, this Thursday, 5th February. If you would like to join us, drop me an email.

Remember my open door policy, if you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this piece – and the variety of support offered by Brookes Well-Being. And you can always contact Samaritans or Nightline for help and support, too.




Much Ado About Academic Essay Writing

By virtue of a course on lecturing that I had to attend over the past year, I got to research a lot on student writing. And there’s a lot out there. I might speculate on why this is – the numerous email messages I get from students – and the high proportion of these that are about essay writing might give me a clue. In my research paper, one student gave advice for future students thus:

Make sure the content of your draft is as good as possible (i.e. read everything you want to before the draft deadline) so that the draft comments are focused on how to make the essay read better

What I sense in this, and in a lot of the messages I receive, is a fear of writing – of defining one’s own carefully thought-out arguments in the wrong way. Drafts seemed to be students’ safety net – the fear, about striking out alone. As an academic I have to do a lot of writing. And outside work, I write for pleasure, too. I love writing. It’s one of the best things about being an academic – getting paid to write (albeit indirectly).

Given the messages I’ve had from students about writing, I’d like to use this post to share some of their thoughts with you, and to look at ways of becoming a more confident writer. In a nutshell, of course.

Shut up and Write Group - Oxford Brookes Psychology

Shut up and Write Group – Oxford Brookes Psychology

1. Practise, practise, practise. Here’s a secret. If you’ve got the information straight in your mind, there’s no wrong way of writing it down. There are different ways of expressing said information, and some will be clearer than others. Play around with different ways of writing the same sentence. Find which you like. Find a voice that suits you. Don’t just write for academia either – write in your spare time; write something you’d like to read – write for no one else’s eyes but yours. The more experience you have with writing, the easier words will flow.

2. Don’t forget your reader[s]. Think about where they’re coming from, what they know already, and the  gaps you need to fill for them. In any piece of academic writing, always set out what terms mean for you, at the start. “Parenting” can mean different things to different disciplines – so can “depression” and “effective”. Tell your readers what they can expect the content of the piece to be – and afterwards, sum up what that content was. If the two descriptions don’t match – something needs revising.

3. Write [and plan] in paragraphs. Most academic pieces have word counts. So work out how many paragraphs you’ll need to write, and bound your writing into those paragraphs. Do not write outside of a paragraph. Ever. If you have six paragraphs,  you can make six points – so what are the six key points  that need to be made – what are the key things that need to be included to present your argument? Give each point a topic sentence, an exploration, and a take home-message.

4. Join a “shut up and write” group at your school or university (or start one). Sit down with a few friends in a coffee shop. Tell each other what you’re going to write, and then spend the next half hour writing, in silence. If you start with a clear goal, you’ll get more done in that time, than you thought you could (trust me). Sharing a little of what you write with the group, also prevents the isolating nightmare that academia can otherwise become from setting in, and gives you the chance to get and give encouragement.

5. Start now. Grab a note pad or start a blog and get going. You don’t have to start with writing your opening paragraph, or your take-home sentence. Start with what you like, what you know, work out what you don’t know, and write from there.

Happy Writing 🙂

Thanks to Tim Kourdi for this “shut up and write” location, and for chocolate cake to keep us going.

Guest Post: Learning the Language of Psychology

Husna is a student in Year 13 at a local secondary school. This week, she spent time on a work experience placement, in the Department of Psychology, with me. Here, she reflects on her experiences.

I have spent three days working with Sian Jones in the Psychology department of Brookes University, Headington Campus. I chose to take on this experience because I spent my first year of A-levels really enjoying psychology as a subject. I feel like it may be something to consider at university so working with Sian has given more understanding about the subject.

On the first day, I found Sian in her office and she showed me to my own. She told me about her research project and I found it really interesting and I was happy to learn more about it and work with her. I was told to create a document that had a list of all the primary schools in Oxfordshire in order to use them for some possible research studies into the friendship subject. It was a really interesting experience since I haven’t done much admin work during school or through work. I was able to also speak to some other professors and teachers who study different subjects which was also really helpful as they all had different aspects of psychology so I learnt more.

On the second day, using the work I produced on the previous day I began to create information packs with all the necessary documents, such as, information sheets and permission forms for parents. I addressed these letters and made them ready for sending. During the day I also had the chance to visit the Brookes baby lab, I was showed around and given a taste of what is done and researched within it.

husnaOn the final day, I had the opportunity to begin the day with visiting the baby lab once more. There was a child present so it was really interesting to see how they work with infants and the different aspects at which they look at. Also today, I have been looking through and finishing up some leaflets to do with Sian’s work and research projects for schools and groups. I was able to edit them and add some final touches which were fun.

Through this experience, I have been able to learn more and increase my knowledge of psychology and understand about the broad choices I have. It has helped me to think of my choices in the future and I am very happy to be more comfortable with those.

And, as last time, I have no regrets about having taken on a work experience student. Husna was very quick to pick up what researchers need to know about schools, and showed real enthusiasm for Psychology as a discipline.

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.


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.

Conference Review: GRASP 2014

Last week, I  visited Linköping University, in Sweden, to give a keynote address at the  ninth  Nordic conference in group- and social psychology -GRASP). My talk is available online here. I count travelling abroad as among the best things about my job, and visiting the research group who held this conference was a real treat.

The day before the conference opened, I gave a workshop for students, looking critically at some of the measures we use in social psychology with children, vis-a-vis the original definitions of the concepts we research, often coined in the 1970s. The irony of this, of course, is that while these measures were originally developed for use with teenagers (think Tajfel et al., 1972), it was not long  before they were applied wholesale to the world of post-war adult social psychology, and now, our challenge is to differentiate them for children again,  erstwhile remaining faithful to their purpose.

That same day, this piece appeared in British media. The upshot of it is, that students, reviewing their university experience in light of their tuition fees want more contact hours and online resources for their money, but won’t bother attending lectures or seminars if such content is made available on the web.

Thinking about this, in light of the workshop, and then during the conference presentations, beyond the paradox of wanting more contact hours, and yet not wanting to turn up for them, my sense that students who don’t attend classes really do miss out was affirmed. My workshop involved group-work, where students could look at the measures, talk to each other, and sit outside in the glorious Swedish sunshine.

Sunshine aside, the conference talks could not have been engaged with in the same way via ‘lecture capture’ (class-recording software). The entire, relatively small, conference had a supportive and friendly atmosphere throughout. Researchers asked questions as the talks progressed, spoke with each other at lunchtimes ( I developed a new collaboration with a lovely research group, that I am very excited about) networked, and enjoyed each others’ company, as well as the change and inspiration of different surroundings. The talks spanned social psychology, from problem-based learning, to benevolent sexism, and from childhood peer victimization to workplace team-building, ending with Ken Mavor’s keynote address on capturing social identities to explore these phenomena, and more.

As an Early Career Fellow, I see my job as training students in their discipline. Granted, not all students aspire to be academics – but face-to-face meetings and discussions, and getting along with people is a paramount skill outside academia, too. As a final meta-point, research on student social identity and problem-based learning presented at GRASP shows us that students who can develop a strong identification with their discipline experience better outcomes, earlier on.

So – more contact hours are likely to lead to better results – if students attend and benefit from the opportunities they provide, which are not, so far as I  can see, available to download online. Conferences remain for me one of the most rewarding and fruitful aspects of academia – a good one, such as this was, can set me up with a research program for the entire year. My wish would be for all students to recognise the benefits of learning in this way, both with and without their lecturers, but face-to-face, rather than simply online. Consumers or not, social psychological evidence supports that this would be good value for money for them.









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




‘I’ve done it!’ An Open Letter to Second Year Students

We had a lovely time in our Department at lunchtime on Friday. It was dissertation hand-in day, and students, who a few days before were showing signs of the stressage of their impending deadline, were now milling the corridors, grinning from ear-to-ear. Some couldn’t quite believe that they had actually just succeeded in handing in a dissertation at all; some were simply relieved and shattered; all were happy with their achievement.

photo 3 (4)

As was I. From the supervisor side of the fence this year, I’ve seen students move from uncertainty to assurance. I’ve seen them develop skills in Psychology that will make them competent graduates and independent learners. There have been tears, and periods of stress, too (and not all of them mine….) but I think anyone in that room would agree that the process was worth it. There was a real, almost tangible, sense of accomplishment.

To all second (penultimate) year students about to choose their projects: whatever your topic, and whoever your supervisor,  the journey ahead has a steep learning curve. It won’t always be an easy ride. Speak to a third year now, before they disappear, and ask them about their dissertation, and how it felt to hand it in. Look at the photo’ above. Hold onto that throughout the journey. It will all be worth it in the end.

And for your supervisors, this is one of the best feelings they’ll get, too: seeing you happy with what you have achieved. Bon courage.