At the end of a year it’s perhaps not surprising that I find myself in a reflective mood. I wanted to write about some things that I’ve been involved with as I’ve been travelling round to meet a range of members at different events. First of these was the General Assembly, where the Chairs of every member network meet together (or at least of the main network groups – you may recall from an earlier column I was explaining the rather complicated substructures that some of our Divisions have, leading to more groups than most of us can keep track of!).
Some of the sessions allow the Branch, Section and Division Chairs to meet in separate groups to consider their shared concerns about particular issues, and in other sessions we’re all mixed together to ensure there’s discussion across those groupings and with the Trustees and key staff of the Society. There’s also plenty of opportunity for more informal conversations too, and often it’s these serendipitous chats that lead, for example, to suggestions of joint day conferences or workshops, or ideas for keynote speakers from other groups.
At this year’s General Assembly we talked quite a lot about the new strategic plan for the Society’s work over the next five years as well as about the member network review that’s currently being undertaken – chaired by our President Elect. We also took some soundings about a possible name change for the Society since the Trustee had received a request to consider investigating a new title (e.g. Royal Psychological Society / Royal College of Psychology). On this latter point there was little support for a name change, as colleagues felt there was already good recognition of our existing name and changing this would involve a great deal of work (especially to try and obtain a Royal title) as well as then having to work to achieve recognition for the new name.
Other ideas did get more agreement, however. First amongst these was the call for improved communication – between member networks, for networks with their members, and between the networks and the Trustees and staff. I think our current review and revamp of the Society website will go a long way to help with this (wouldn’t it be good to have more easily accessible listings of all events being run and searchable not only by topic but also network organising it and by geographical area, for example, and might it not be helpful for members beyond a particular subgroup to be able to see events and activities being run by other groups/networks?). There was also a call to build in more effective use of technology, for example to record and stream events for those who can’t attend them, and to enable richer content for CPD, etc.
One interesting comment was made more than once – might we not draw more on our own psychological expertise and insights to help organise and enhance the Society’s functioning? It does indeed seem strange that what we collectively know about communication, about feelings of inclusion and exclusion, of organisational dynamics, etc., is not more obviously brought into our attempts to improve the Society’s services to members. I’d like to challenge all of those involved in the member network review (and others, such as the Trustees and network committees) to perhaps do this more often and more explicitly.
I’ve also recently attended some events organised by the Society’s North West Branch. One was a student conference that gave current undergraduate and postgraduate students the opportunity to present their own work to a supportive audience, hear a keynote from Dr Abigail Locke, the Chair of the Society’s Social Psychology Section, and take part in a Q&A session with a panel including academic and professional psychology representatives discussing career options after graduation.
Running such events in collaboration with local universities allows the Society to support current students and their departments by extending the range of activities available and so extending the students’ knowledge about psychology. They also increase the students’ awareness of the benefits of Society membership and hopefully encourage more of them to join and get involved in the member networks. I’d like to see more of such collaborative working between psychology departments, Branches, Divisions and Sections, since there are benefits for all the groups involved. We will also need to consider addressing anything that makes organising such events more difficult – such as restrictions on advertising – as this will prevent us pursuing key aims that we have adopted in our new Strategic Plan. I’ll be discussing this further with staff in the Society.
Another collaborative activity that I enjoyed taking part in was a workshop with heads of psychology departments on addressing gender inequality in academic psychology careers [see also p.918]. This will be taken forward by helping departments gain Athena SWAN (Scientific Women Academics’ Network) accreditation – a scheme that has been influential in changing the culture of departments in other science subject areas and is an attempt to address what’s called the ‘leaky pipeline’ for women trying to progress in their careers from undergraduate to professorial levels. Whilst the initial focus came from concerns about women’s progress in STEMM subjects, actions to address these concerns have had a positive effect on the formal and informal working culture for both men and women, for example clarifying promotions processes, avoiding pressure to attend ‘out of hours’ activities and providing mentors. We heard how the Royal Society of Chemistry had supported chemistry departments around the UK to improve the situation in their subject and so will look at further ways that the BPS can support psychology departments to do the same. I’ll be working with the Association of Heads of Psychology Departments and Professor Kate Bullen (Chair of our Society Ethics Committee) to do this, supported by Lisa Morrison Coulthard from the Society’s staff.
I want to end by remembering one woman who managed to beat the ‘leaky pipeline’ in academic psychology to have a very successful career – Professor Christine Temple. Christine became founding Chair of the Department of Psychology at Essex University in 1990 at the very young age of 32. She began her career after graduating from St Andrews with a first class degree in psychology with a master’s at UCLA and a doctorate from Oxford University before time at the University of London, where she established the Developmental Neuropsychology Unit that she later moved to Essex when she was invited to set up the department there. She was a talented researcher and her many publications and PhD students made a lasting contribution to this field. She was also an outstanding academic manager and served for six years as Pro Vice Chancellor for planning and resources at Essex. After she stepped down from that role she devoted herself to writing a new book – Picasso’s Brain – combining her two passions of art and neuroscience to consider what lies behind great feats of creativity. Very sadly Christine had not yet had the book published when she died in October, but I hope that may be possible posthumously. I know her colleagues, friends and students will miss her enormously, and our work to improve gender equality in psychology careers can see her as an all too rare but wonderful example of what can be achieved.
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