One on one... Julie Turner-Cobb
One moment that changed the course of my career
Attending the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) conference in San Francisco in 1993, to give my very first presentation at an international meeting as a PhD student. Aside from confronting my abject fear of presenting, I heard two incredible yet very different talks. One was by Professor David Spiegel on psychosocial interventions in women with breast cancer, and the other by Professor Robert Sapolsky on cortisol and the stress response in baboons. I was too shy to introduce myself to either of them(!) but the whole conference was a pivotal point in my career. When I found myself living in California a year or so later (long story), I contacted David Spiegel and had the good fortune of joining his lab at Stanford University.
One psychological superpower
Aside from acknowledging that superpowers don’t exist, which is empowering in itself...! Psychology is by its nature a superpower, since psychological knowledge and understanding bring with it empathy, compassion and understanding of each other and ourselves. As with all superpowers it needs to be used wisely and unselfishly, sharing it with others for good.
One thing psychologists could do better
Being more generous with our praise and appreciation of each other’s work. Whilst critique is important, in Psychology I notice people are often more negative of one another’s work than in many other academic fields including medicine. We are slow to acknowledge the many good points and often far too scathing in our reviews. I frequently catch myself being guilty of this and make a point of looking beyond the negative to capture positive aspects and the bigger picture; even if the work has a way to go to be up to standard there are positive ways of communicating that can make such a difference to how that person receives the information and is enabled to respond to the challenge. It’s all too easy to be over critical and this can have a really negative impact, especially on those earlier in their career.
One thing I couldn’t do without
Nature, all things gardening and the dream that one day I will own a herd of alpacas!
Educating Rita based on the stage play by Willy Russell. The unfolding of this story is inspirational and a reminder that given the right opportunities and support, people can be capable of so much more than they thought possible. Rita’s realisation that there surely must be a different song to sing in life captures for me the thrill of learning.
One proud moment
Winning the BPS book award in 2017 for my textbook Child Health Psychology and being presented with the prize at the BPS Annual meeting in Nottingham. As chance would have it the award session followed on from an excellent talk by one of the keynote speakers, Professor Stephen Reicher, who had taught and inspired me when I was an undergraduate Psychology student at the University of Exeter, back in the day!
One nugget of advice for aspiring psychologists
Follow what you enjoy and ask the research questions that you think are important; don’t be deterred by others’ scepticism and embrace interdisciplinary topics. I conducted my PhD looking at the effect of psychosocial aspects (in particular, stress) on the common cold and flu, after my supervisor cleverly pointed me in that direction. It’s such a fascinating area and hijacked my attention and passion in research. I have lectured on the topic of infection for over 20 years and often receive less than enthusiastic responses when I refer to infection as one of the most important areas to consider in health psychology; given recent events, responses might be different this year.
I only recently discovered Podcasts and eagerly devour a good hour of listening on my morning run in the New Forest. My favourite has to be BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, which provides an interesting range of music selected by the famous interviewee, interspersed by insightful discussion about their life and career. I’ve learnt so much from listening to these interviews and soundtracks of people’s lives; a recent one I’ve enjoyed the most is the interview with Sinead Burke, disability rights activist and teacher.
One alternative career path
My original reason for doing a degree in Psychology was to enter a career in hotel management... Clearly, I changed my mind but a hint of that still runs through my veins. My alternative career path now would be to run a writing retreat centre; those alpacas might feature quite heavily in this venture.
One brilliant thing about my job
As an academic this has to be the flexibility to conduct research in whatever area I choose and to have a work pattern that suits me. This means I can change direction in my work if I want to, enabling me to be creative and to follow lines of research that excite me, so life never gets dull. This is a great privilege and one I have to remind myself not to take for granted as so many other professions don’t have this flexibility.
One thing psychologists should be proud of
As Psychologists, the impact we have had and future potential impact on a whole range of factors at the level of the individual and society. As a health psychologist I would say particularly the impact on improving people’s health and helping them cope with chronic illness. We have very tangible outputs from our work, whether you are working directly with people in treatment, building psychological theory and models of behaviour or developing interventions. Despite frequent and historical opposition to psychological input, the profession continues to evolve and produce influential work.
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