James Hardie on an inspiring project, and Kam Khun on success in A-level coursework.

An inspiring project

James Hardie 

LAST year I flew to India to work in a rural hospital for three months with people who have leprosy. I was there to carry out research for my health psychology MSc dissertation project, studying the psychological impact of leprosy. My mission was to design and implement a pioneering assessment form – the Psychological Impact of Leprosy Scale (PILS) – which might offer professionals a more appropriate, biopsychosocial insight.
I had spent many hours in the library and on the internet searching for inspiration and the elusive specificity that I required, finding it difficult to identify a suitable focus and manageable literature base that contained really engaging and worthwhile issues. I was very aware that I would be committing my life to that one topic for a number of months, often forsaking all else! It was with trepidation that I finally settled on a subject, knowing that only a good selection would sustain and perpetually enthuse. Eventually I constructed an unlikely but fascinating research proposal; an unusual, perhaps ambitious project, addressing a historically important and surprisingly overlooked subject.
Such an infamous affliction as leprosy, especially with its legendary connotations and stigma, demonstrates an obvious need for psychologists’ efforts; but despite this, there are almost none working in the area. Having e-mailed various professionals during the course of my literature review, I managed to make contact with a clinical psychologist in India who worked with people who have leprosy. Our correspondence led to an invitation, and a few months later I was making the necessary arrangements to visit the hospital. In order to alleviate the financial burden of this project I applied for and secured partial but significant funding through my institution. Academic supervision was available both from the resident psychologist in India and by e-mail from my lecturers in the UK. Support and advice was also offered by the Leprosy Mission, to whom I hope to present my findings and so raise awareness of the potential use of psychology.
Carrying out this work in India has given me the opportunity to travel abroad, visiting a developing country to carry out my own research in a different culture and language. One of the hardest realities to face was the language barrier, which would not have been such an issue had I been visiting in any other capacity. I was always frustratingly constrained by my dependence upon translators and felt linguistically disabled as an impotent psychologist! Despite such difficulties it has provided me with career-enhancing clinical experience and a novel, pioneering research project
for my postgraduate dissertation. I would recommend the experience to anyone.
Being able to choose your own subject to tackle in a research project is always an exciting prospect. It offers you the freedom and responsibility to decide upon and develop your own professional interests. All kinds of opportunities and even adventures may be on offer, if you look out for them.

- James Hardie was at Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh. E-mail: [email protected].

Getting full marks

Kham Khun on a successful strategy.

AS a student at Herschel Grammar School, I got full marks for my A-level coursework. Coursework is such a vital part of student life that I thought I should share my experiences.
My project looked at the effects of changing background colour of paper on visual stress, in relation to the speed of reading. Visual stress refers to unpleasant symptoms when reading, including visual distortion of print, illusions of colour and movement, eyestrain and headaches. My interest in the area developed when reading an article in Psychology Review, written by Alison Wadeley. This article outlined some of the past studies: for example, Olive Meares and Helen Irlen (1989) used coloured overlays to reduce visual distortions reported by some dyslexic children.
Psychology Review is a very helpful publication aimed at psychology sixth-form students. Each publication has a section dedicated to coursework issues, providing useful outlines of how to conduct your coursework, with a breakdown of the criteria expected by the different examination bodies. Books such as Mike Cardwell’s Psychology for A2-level and Greer and Mulhan’s Making Sense of Data and Statistics in Psychology are helpful for the statistical part of the coursework.
But to get high marks it really does help to go beyond these sources for some in-depth research.
I used the internet to narrow my search, which led me to Professor Arnold Wilkins (University of Essex). His research concerned treatment of visual discomfort and associated perceptual distortions.
In 2002 Wilkins found that 5 per cent of children in mainstream education read 25 per cent more quickly with a coloured overlay of their choice. My own study found that participants overall read significantly faster under the coloured (yellow) condition, than the control condition of white. In fact no participant read faster with white paper.
I think what made my coursework stand out was that it built on previous research rather than just replicating it. Use the internet and books/magazines to expand your idea and provide an original aspect. Talk to people, e-mail psychologists, anything to spark your imagination. Make the most of teachers – they are there to help! For the statistical part you could even ask the maths teacher. And lastly, the golden rule is good time management! Although some, like myself, may work better under pressure, leaving coursework until the last day is not a good idea!

- Kam Khun is now a first-year at Brunel University.
E-mail: [email protected].

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