Society

President’s column; Award for Outstanding Doctoral Research Contributions; and more
President’s column 
Peter Banister
Contact Peter Banister via the Society’s Leicester office, 

Since last writing this column I have attended the BPS Scotland Undergraduate Conference at Abertay University in Dundee. There were some 300 attendees from all over Scotland (with representatives from most universities with BPS-accredited undergraduate degrees) who came along to tell their colleagues about what they had achieved in their undergraduate projects. It proved (as expected) to be a most interesting and enjoyable day, with a keynote speaker and nearly 90 final-year project presentations. The conference was full of energy and enthusiasm, as well as being very informative.

It is to the credit of BPS Scotland that such an event took place, and this is a good example of how we can communicate with the world, telling others about our broad and fascinating discipline and sharing our excitement about psychology with the very important next generation, informing them about our Society and some of the careers that they may subsequently follow. Thanks should go to the organisers of this event, which took an enormous amount of planning and preparation. 

This model is one that is well worth emulating elsewhere as a matter of course; it has been done sporadically in the North West and in Wessex. It has the additional potential to foster relationships between different institutions, leading to developments such as joint teaching or research.

Students are our lifeblood, and we need to engage them, helping to develop a feeling of community when they are students and to continue that relationship after graduating, even if they do not necessarily end up directly in psychology. There is of course a Student Members Group which is a support group for undergraduate students, holding many events, and publishing Psych-Talk, a magazine on ‘psychology for students by students’, containing many articles about studying psychology and related careers. In addition, there is the Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group (PsyPAG) which amongst other initiatives runs an annual workshop and conference, and also produces the PsyPAG Quarterly, which is again an excellent publication deserving wider circulation and reading. Both these groups need to be further publicised. 

Our psychology degrees match the QAA Benchmark curriculum and meet resource standards, providing a good grounding in psychological methods, both quantitative and qualitative. In addition the degree develops many skills, which not all our students or potential employers are aware of; these include literacy, communication, computer literacy, numeracy, understanding and using complex data and information, working in teams, problem solving and scientific reasoning, project and time management, working independently.

Another event that I have attended recently was the Big Bang Science Fair held this year in London over four days. There was a BPS stand with a huge brain above it signalling our presence. I visited for one of the days when school parties were going around, and I must say that the organisation that went into this from the office was superb (thanks, Kelly Auty and her many colleagues), and the interest shown by our visitors was infectious, if somewhat tiring in the long run. 

I feel we may have lost this sense of wonder, energy and enthusiasm, challenges to the accepted ways of looking at things; seeing the world as an exciting place, full of potential and opportunities. I must admit to being somewhat of a Hayao Miyazaki fan; if you have not come across these weird voyages into alternative realities then I recommend trying Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro, and Laputa: Castle in the Sky as good starting points. Nominally for children, I think we can all learn from them. 

I was thankful for many academic colleagues who helped the Society out at Big Bang. Just as we need to do more for our students, the Society should also focus in more on academics, who are (like the rest of us) increasingly under multiple pressures; the Departmental Liaison initiative is welcome here, but there is still a long way to go. I mentioned some of the pressures in my September column, but 

I appreciate that there are currently many other demands (which vary considerably from institution to institution) including research (and not just doing, but demonstrating ‘impact’ and publishing in the ‘best’ journals, and attracting research funds), teaching, assessment and course development (with growing pressures for doing things online), and administration (with growing pressures to do things that previously were done by administrators – when I started as a head of department I had an administrative assistant and a secretary, but when I retired I had to share one person with three other departments). Not to mention unending committees.  

Many pressures abound, including NSS, REF, IT developments, 24/7 society, being available at any time to answer questions and to provide support, commercial activities, open access publications, community engagement/ knowledge transfer, management change often leading to reorganisation (and if you have been there long enough ‘developments’ seem to go full circle), students with problems such as dyslexia and increased expectations (often forcefully put forward) that increased fees should mean more ‘value for money’, despite the income not usually being seen at departmental level.  

Despite all this I am heartened that books still get written, conference papers are presented and colleagues make excellent contributions to our Society and to society in general. A good example of this is that it is now 100 years since what has been claimed as ‘the first official psychologist in the world’ was appointed in what we now call educational and child psychology in London. Right from the beginning the pioneering work was rooted in research, and had a profound influence on child guidance and juvenile criminal behaviour. It is important to note though that psychologists had been involved with educational issues well before that date, not only in this country but elsewhere. The Child Study Society, which eventually merged with the BPS in 1947, traces itself back to the establishment of the British Child Study Association in 1893, preceding the BPS by many years. 

This important occasion has been marked by the publication by the BPS History of Psychology Centre of British Educational Psychology: The First Hundred Years (Arnold, C. & Hardy, J., 2013, HoPC Monograph No 1). This book ably covers the development of the profession since 1913, and I urge anybody interested in the history of psychology to obtain a copy (£10 from the BPS Shop www.bpsshop.org.uk). It covers a number of themes that have emerged over time and documents key points in the profession's development; an important feature is a series of vignettes providing personal accounts of experiences over time. Further volumes in this series are planned, and I am looking forward to them. 

 

Doctoral award winner 2012

Stephanie Rossit 

Dr Stephanie Rossit has won the Society’s 2012 Award for Outstanding Doctoral Research Contributions to Psychology. This award is made each year to recognise outstanding published contributions to psychological knowledge made by a postgraduate research student while carrying out the research for his or her doctorate.

Two articles published in 2009 on which she was the lead author helped Dr Rossit win the award: ‘Immediate and delayed reaching in hemispatial neglect’ (Neuropsychologia 47, 1563–1572) and ‘No neglect-specific deficits in reaching tasks’ (Cerebral Cortex 19, 2616–2624). In total her PhD work has resulted in 10 publications in high-impact journals  and she was the first author on nine of these.

Dr Rossit’s research involved investigating how and where in the human brain visual information is processed for the control of action. This required her to gain expertise in testing stroke patients (including voxel-based lesion analysis) and to learn specialised programming and analysis skills so she could use hand- and eye-tracking devices.

Her work has also had an effect on therapeutic practice. Her rehabilitation approach is now implemented at a clinic in Leipzig, which admits 800 brain-damaged patients a year. She was approached by the clinic following a talk she gave while still a PhD student.

Dr Rossit says: ‘I am honoured and truly humbled to be the recipient of the 2012 Award for Outstanding Doctoral Research Contributions to Psychology. The work would not have been possible without the contribution of the stroke patients who took part in my doctoral studies and thus this award is for them, who have taught me more about visual neglect than any book could ever teach me.

‘In the future, I would like to continue investigating the pattern of spared and impaired abilities in patients with visual neglect as well as translate these results into new methods to rehabilitate this severe syndrome. I hope to explore these questions using lesion-symptom mapping but also neuroimaging techniques – such as functional neuroimaging) and by conducting large-scale clinical trials to investigate the effectiveness of visual neglect therapies.”

After completing her doctoral research, Dr Rossit secured postdoctoral funding from the Center for Brain and Mind at the University of Western Ontario, where she was appointed to a lecturer position after only two years. She is currently lecturing at Glasgow Caledonian University and will be taking up a position in the School of Psychology at the University of East Anglia in August. 

Exploring self-harm in film 

A short film ‘Hurting to Heal: Exploring Self-harm and Recovery’, funded by the Society’s 2012 Public Engagement Grants scheme, is now available to view online at tinyurl.com/hurt2heal.

The film, produced by HarmLESS Psychotherapy, was launched at the University of Edinburgh on 1 March to coincide with International Self-Injury Awareness Day. The launch was introduced by Niall Kearney from the Scottish Government, with speeches from academics, front-line workers and those with personal experience of such issues. The film acts as an introduction to self-harm, aiming to open up dialogue about how people affected by the problem can access effective support.

Maria Naranjo, Educational and Health Services Director of HarmLESS Psychotherapy, said: ‘Every year around 250,000 people attend accident and emergency departments across the UK due to self-inflicted injuries. We know this is only the tip of the iceberg as many people never seek medical attention. Self-harm is a taboo subject and people struggle with the idea. This is particularly so in the caring environment, where the lack of clear protocols and training leave staff feeling ill-prepared to support people who engage in self-harming behaviours. With this film we hope to remove some of the myths around self-harm and engage people at a personal and human level.’

In ‘Hurting to Heal’ Lora Coyle, a former self-harmer, takes the viewer on an exploratory journey through the reasons that lead people to engage in self-harming behaviours and how we can offer support. 

‘Hurting to Heal’ was produced by HarmLESS Psychotherapy in collaboration with Choose Life, The University of Edinburgh, Scottish Mental Health Association, Shared Strengths and NHS Lothian with a 2011 BPS Public Engagement Grant. 

For more information about our Public Engagement Grants please see tinyurl.com/bpspegs

PSIGE conference

The Division of Clinical Psychology’s Faculty of the Psychology of Older People is holding its annual conference at Colchester on 4–5 July 2013. The conference theme ‘Identity and Sexuality’ will be discussed by speakers, including Dr Linda Claire: ‘Awareness, self-concept and the experience of dementia’; and Dr David Weeks: ‘Good sex: Eccentrics and the superyoung phenomenon’.

Applications to: [email protected] 

Event query? Please call: 01332 227778

www.psige.org 

 

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