Education:Beaconsfield High School (GCSEs), Wycombe High School (A-levels), University of Edinburgh, University of Essex, University of Stirling, City University of London
Qualifications:9 GCSEs (English x 2, combined science x 2, maths, geography, music, Spanish, religious studies). 3 A levels (English, Maths, Geography) and 1 AS level (Music). MA (Hons) Psychology, University of Edinburgh. MSc Cognitive Neuropsychology, University of Essex. MSc Health Psychology (many years later), University of Stirling. DPsych (professional doctorate in health psychology), City, University of London.
Work History:Temporary finance assistant, Charity shop assistant, admin assistant (NHS, 6 months), medical secretary (6 months), assistant clinical psychologist (9 months), research assistant (schizophrenia research, 2 years), research assistant (forensic psychiatry, 6 months), admin assistant (charity, 4 months), research assistant (healthy ageing, 5 years), Census enumerator, research assistant (healthy ageing, 4 years), scientific administrator (temporary), lecturer in health psychology (3.5 years and counting).
Senior lecturer in health psychology
Liverpool John Moores University
Favourite thing to do in my job: Hear other people's stories
I'm a health psychologist, interested in what influences wellbeing
I live in Liverpool with my husband, having moved here 3.5 years ago after living in Edinburgh for 20 years. I can quote most episodes of Friends and firmly believe that there aren’t many concepts and ideas in health psychology that can’t be explained using Friends references.
I enjoy going to the cinema, watch far too much TV for my own good, and inbetween I enjoy spending time in the garden (lovely to finally have a garden after 20 years of living in a flat!). I play in an occasional ceilidh band and own approximately 10 tin whistles.
Lecturer in health psychology
Having worked for many years as a research assistant at Edinburgh University, I made the move into health psychology in 2010, completing my MSc followed by a professional doctorate in health psychology. I was fortunate to be offered a lectureship in health psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, which I started in October 2015.
Health psychology is, in a nutshell, the application of psychological ideas and theories to physical health – including things like managing and preventing illness, understanding the causes of ill health, enabling people to make healthy lifestyle choices, and informing public policy and healthcare. My own interests lie in what influences how we rate our wellbeing, whether it be our personal characteristics (things like personality, how we react to stressful situations, our outlook, etc.) or our circumstances. I have looked at this in older adults and, more recently, in students. Most of my research is questionnaire-based – asking people to rate their wellbeing, answer questions about their lives, personalities, how they respond to situations, how they’re feeling, etc., and then looking to see how these things all relate to one another.
But there is little point in finding out what influences wellbeing if we’re not going to use that information to help people, and so my research is shifting towards looking at interventions that might make people happier. I’m particularly interesting in things like singing, social groups, and spending time outdoors. Last year we took some of our students to the beach to see if it helped their wellbeing. The results were fairly positive!
As a lecturer, my work is quite varied. I teach anyone from first year undergraduates all the way through to students on PhDs or professional doctorates. Most of my teaching is on health psychology or mental health and wellbeing. I run a module on research skills for our MSc Health Psychology students, which allows me to make use of all those years spent as a research assistant!
My Typical Day
Tea, emails, meetings, teaching, meetings, emails, tea, reviewing
Working in academia is quite varied, but a typical day would involve the above. During semesters, when teaching takes place, my days are structured around any teaching I have (which includes lectures, tutorials, seminars, and workshops), meetings with dissertation students (I supervise dissertations at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, as well as supervising a number of PhD / prof doc students), or meetings with colleagues to discuss teaching or, occasionally, research. In-between these activities I read and answer emails, do a wide variety of admin tasks, chat with colleagues in the corridor or lift, comment on work from PhD students, and occasionally manage to fit in some research. This year I’m covering the programme leader role for our MSc Health Psychology, which means I also answer students’ queries about the course, and meet with any students who have additional questions or are experiencing difficulties.
During the summer, there is a bit more time for research but a lot of time is also needed to prepare for teaching in the next academic year, plus our postgraduate teaching – MSc and doctoral-level – continues all year round, so there are still student meetings, supervision, and reviewing to be done. And of course the summer is just about the only time I can take any annual leave! It’s important to take leave to allow space to reflect and recharge the batteries.
What I'd do with the prize money
Empower mothers and communities in sub-Saharan Africa to run educational play schemes
I would use the money to support an excellent charity called Lively Minds (www.livelyminds.org). They work to improve the education and care given to pre-school children in highly deprived communities in Ghana and Uganda, liaising with local government to train and empower mothers (and their communities) to run educational play schemes. Learning through play is something that we can all benefit from, but is something that children – and adults – in deprived communities throughout the world (including the UK) often miss out on. Receiving quality care and education in their early years enables children to be healthier, happier, and stay longer in school.
Lively Minds works to provide mothers with the skills they need to provide holistic care for their children while looking after their own physical and mental health. More importantly, mothers taking part in the scheme gain the confidence and knowledge to pass their learning on to others within their communities, and are given the opportunity to become trainers themselves.
The charity is small but is doing excellent work, putting into practice much of the research in psychology about the importance of early years on mental health later in life, and the impact of mothers’ mental health and confidence on their childrens’ development.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
enthusiastic, friendly, interested
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Various people over the years, but initially our local youth worker when I was a teenager
What was your favourite subject at school?
What did you want to be after you left school?
Psychologist (yes, really)
Were you ever in trouble at school?
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Running a tea shop, or a professional musician
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Took a ride in a hot air balloon
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To be healthy, happy, and stress-free
Tell us a joke.
What's brown and sticky? A stick