2017 ATSiP Conference: Technicians, VR and Qualtrics

By Martha Casey

At the end of June I attended the ATSiP conference at UCD in Dublin. ATSiP stands for the Association of Technical Staff in Psychology, and is an organisation made up of people like me from universities across the UK and Ireland. This was my third year attending; last year the conference took place in Birmingham and the year before in Stoke on Trent.

Martha trying a VR headset

It’s always interesting to meet other technicians. Our presence in psychology departments is mandated by the BPS, who won’t accredit degrees if they are taught in departments without dedicated technicians. This means that our skills and our jobs vary wildly between institutions, since we are required to be there to help with whatever that organisation specialises in. At universities with less research focus, technicians are often involved in teaching and demonstration, while at other institutions, technicians might specialise in programming, or study for theory-heavy PhDs alongside their practical work. Moreover, as the state of psychology, and the methods by which we collect data, evolve and develop, our roles have necessarily changed. This was one of the themes of the conference this year; we heard talks on the consequences of restructuring, as well as the stereotypical characterisation of technicians as “bottle washers”. In many universities there is confusion about what technicians are for, and our work can be invisible, overlooked, or misunderstood. On the other hand, it’s rewarding that we get to work in so many different areas, and one of the great things about this yearly conference is the exchange of information and ideas.

 

Amongst the discussion of the job itself, we also learned about many new kinds of software and equipment that have huge potential for the work we do here at Sussex – including Gorilla, a new online survey and experiment builder, and Connect2, a lab management system. Most excitingly, we heard a talk on the use of virtual reality in experiments, an exciting new development. VR has many uses both in data collection and in a therapeutic context. For example, exposure therapy for phobias using VR has been enormously successful, as VR is almost completely risk-free but realistic enough to trick the brain. Additionally, many VR headsets now come with eyetrackers or even FMRI sensors built in, meaning we can run more elaborate scenarios – with better ecological validity – and still gather data by these methods.

We were also taken on a tour of the Qualtrics offices in Dublin, which as you would expect from a fast-growing tech company, were very fancy. As well as an interesting talk on the new functionalities Qualtrics will be adding soon, including data analysis, we were given canapés, Guinness (they have a bar onsite!) and some adorable cupcakes.

Overall, and as always, the conference was a great experience. I’m already looking forward to attending next year – and to implementing what I learned this time around.

 

Martha is one of the Lab Technicians at the School of Psychology. You can read more about her job as a technician here.

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