Thesis Boot Camp

By Molly Berenhaus

Right before the holiday season, I decided to attend the doctoral school’s Thesis Boot Camp and was pleasantly surprised by how much I accomplished and learned. One limitation was that the writing workshops mostly catered to the humanities so, in addition to sharing top tips, I’ll also be translating the strategies (on the fly) for us psych folk. I’ll also note how the strategies differ from (incorrect) implicit assumptions I’ve held:

  • Develop a routine that works for you, specifically: I’ve held onto the implicit assumption that there is a “right” way to do a PhD despite my supervisors and classmates telling me no. Despite this, I know there are others like me comparing themselves to other doctoral students and subsequently, feeling inferior. At thesis boot camp, we were encouraged to figure out what works for us
  • Try and remove any psychological barriers between you and your writing:…No one at boot camp actually said that, but I think it summarizes what Liz was trying to get across. Specifically: writing is a form of thinking. It’s difficult to form an argument until you start writing so “shut up and write!” That being said, the reason we were told previous attendees wrote as many as 20,000 words in one weekend was because it was “first draft material” or what I refer to as my “messy outline.” As we all know,  psychology articles tend to be pretty information-dense; thus, I knew that if I was going to get anything out of this intensive writing weekend, I needed to bring along some version of my messy outline and then write from that. I also spent half a day editing what I’d already written. Thus, I “only” managed to write 6,000ish words, but I still felt pretty proud of myself (for the most part).
  • On the subject of editing, dont edit while you write:Something I found REALLY helpful was the notion that multi-taking while writing is not time- or cognitively-efficient. This idea might seem like common sense, but if you’re anything like me, you rarely listen to logic when it comes to writing well, because writing a thesis is stress-inducing. Well, because the boot camp was only two days, I thought I might as well give this logical notion a whirl and by George, it worked! When I was writing content, I only let myself make tiny edits on the sentence I’d just written (because that’s how I write), and I’d try not to let myself go back and read what I just wrote (my worst, self-induced time-suck). After that, I’d only let myself do organization, content-based edits (we were encouraged to break down the process of editing into distinguishable tasks), etc and then, when I was happy with what I was trying to say, I’d copyedit.
  • Collect evidence based on facts, not emotions: we were encouraged to try out the pomodoro technique (25 mins on, 5 mins break x 3, 25 mins on, long break – REPEAT) for the morning of the first break. Liz encouraged us to base our daily/weekly goals on how much work you achieve on average during one pomodoro in addition to how many pomodoros you can realistically do in a day. I know that at least for me, if I’m feeling particularly motivated, I’ll set myself a word-count goal that is way to high. The only issue with this is that I end up disappointing myself rather feeling accomplished by the end of the day.
  • If your time management/organizationmethod stresses you out, find/make a new one: If you’re anything like me, getting through your doctorate is a mind-warp (in lieu of a different phrase). Not only is the work challenging, but, because we’re often not credited for how difficult it is to go from dependent undergrad (or whatever) to independent, kickass researcher, we end up feeling inferior to our classmates. I think this is a mind-game that more PhD students would benefit from tackling. There is no right way to do a PhD and thus, there is no right way to organize your time!

I have more notes from what I learned at Thesis Boot Camp but not enough time to write all of them up (this girl has got to finish her thesis). That being said, if you’re keen to hear more of my ramblings, I’d love to go for a coffee. If you know me, you know I’m pretty chatty. My email is mb397@sussex.ac.uk

Molly’s post was originally published in Jenny Rusted’s Lab Group blog 

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Final Year Student Retreat in January 2017

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We are organising a retreat for our final year students between 23rd and 25th January 2017 with all sort of activities. The retreat is free of charge and includes 2 days and 1 night in the lovely YHA South Downs near Lewes. All food and accommodation will be provided. The hostel is 200 metres away from Southease Station with links to Lewes, and it also has free parking spaces for those with a car (transport not included).

We have created a programme full of activities that range from employability (CV writing, presentation & interviewing skills, and 1-2-1 CV drop-in sessions) to well-being (procrastination & mindfulness), which will be facilitated with the help of the University Careers Centre and external consultants. This will also be a great opportunity to meet faculty in a more informal environment. We have arranged sessions focused on how to do a dissertation, from data collection to writing up, which will be very helpful for your next term. Some former students will come and talk about what they are doing now, and how studying psychology at Sussex has helped them. And there will be time for fun too! We hope you like murder mysteries… 000345_south_downs_lounge_002

You can view the full programme here

If there are any other activities that you would like to see in the programme, we want to know! Please, fill the expression of interest form and let us know which day you would prefer to go and which activities interest you the most. This form will help us get an early estimate of the numbers so we can organise everything accordingly. If you are interested in coming to the retreat, please, complete it. Would you like to pick your room and/or your roommates? you can do it in the room allocation spreadsheet.

000345_south_downs_dorm_011Although the retreat is completely free, we are asking for a £25 deposit to reserve a place. The deposit will be fully refunded upon attendance. You can pay your deposit here: Psychology Student Retreat. The last day to register is Friday 9th December by 6pm (the last day of term).

Please do follow the links and register your interest ASAP to help us coordinate the event. If you have any questions about the Retreat, Megan Hurst (M.Hurst@sussex.ac.uk) and Dave Smalley (davidsm@sussex.ac.uk) would be happy to answer them.

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JRA Memories

By George Britton

 

Once I found out that I got the JRA award, I found myself explaining what the scheme is, and what I was going to do, to countless people.  The reality of the project is only sinking in as I carry it out. In the process I have met lots of researchers, attended lab meetings and carried out fieldwork in an exotic location (Eastbourne). I also got to attend a social group for LGBT residents of Brighton and Hove over 50, called Older and Out. They were friendly, interesting and they even gave me lunch. Not every project combines this direct involvement with the community and lab-based psychology, so I feel very lucky.

My main tasks in the eight-week period were to gather pictures of objects and to show them to people aged 60 to 80 who don’t have any severe memory problems. For every object they recognise, the participants will tell me any memories they have of it. The memory could be nothing more than a name (“that’s a  kettle”) or they could have a different quality- the memory of the specific kettle that was in your house. This kind of memory can have all sorts of details, including where it was kept or used and who used it. The objects are common household items from the 50s and 60s which people in our target age range are likely to remember, mostly photographed at the excellent How We Lived Then museum in Eastbourne. For example, a teasmade (have you heard of it?) would have been present in almost every house in the UK at one point, but they’ve been out of fashion for a long time. When presented with this kind of object, there’s a chance that memories which hadn’t been recalled for decades could come back. I’ve found that almost everyone I talk to has something interesting to say about the project, or some useful object to suggest that I hadn’t thought of. People love to reminisce about their favourite things anyway, making the theme and purpose of the project quite easy to engage people with. So the JRA is a good for conversation and applying for post-grad courses.

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I’m around halfway now, and I have gathered my pictures and set up to start interviewing. At every stage I find seemingly small tasks are more complex and time-consuming than I estimate, but knowing that I’m doing something both beyond and for my own education has the strange effect of making it enjoyable anyway. Applying for ethical approval and recruiting participants are good examples of what I’m talking about. I can’t imagine many people would Photoshop over 100 images onto a neutral background just for the fun of it! I think the skills and organisation needed to deal with these tasks are best learned from getting involved, which is partly why I applied for a JRA in the first place. It’s going to make my third-year project smoother and more enjoyable, because I won’t be confronted with all the admin and practical issues for the first time.

Hopefully, my project will actually contribute to a further research program that investigates the role of various brain structures in the recollection of memories in people who are suffering from Alzheimer’s-related dementia. Pleasant reminiscence for people whose memories are intact, can become a surprise relief from the confusion of dementia in those with Alzheimer’s Disease. This is a cool aspect of my JRA; not only does it concern the treatment of a society-wide and worsening medical problem (maybe helping to improve quality of life for sufferers in the process) but it could contribute, even in a small way, to our understanding of human memory.

 

George was a Junior Research Associate in The Episodic Memory Group led by Dr Chris Bird during the summer.

You can read other stories about the JRA scheme here: 

My summer as a Junior Research Associate by Alex Earl

Dan Goodwin: Junior Research Associate by Dan Goodwin

Experience with the JRA scheme by Ruihan Wu

Clara Wilson’s JRA experience by Clara Wilson

 

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Assessment & Feedback FAQs

We start a new audiovisual section to answer some of the most frequently asked questions. The Director of Teaching and Learning of Psychology, Dr Alison Pike, and two of our undergraduate students, Leila Davis and Judith Luxmoore, explain the assessment and feedback processes.

0:27 — What are the marking criteria and where do I find them?
1:16 — Who marks my work?
2:01 — What will the feedback look like?

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How storybook illustrations impact word learning

By Zoe Flack

My research area is developmental psychology. In particular, I am investigating how different aspects of storybook reading with preschool children can help (or hinder!) word learning.  Luckily, children like hearing stories, and adults enjoy reading them.  But in addition to the enjoyment factor, children also learn new words from the storybooks they hear. This means that storybook reading is a great activity to help children increase their vocabularies—which has many benefits, especially for school readiness.

Research has shown that storybook illustrations are important. For example, we know that children learn words better if illustrations are realistic.  We also know that children look within illustrations for the things they hear in the story: so if the story mentions a girl dropping an ice-cream, children will look at the ice-cream in the illustration.  But when there are multiple illustrations displayed at once, how do young children who haven’t yet learned to read know which illustration to look at while listening to a story?

Children’s storybooks are designed with eye-catching illustrations, and many books display multiple illustrations per page (see e.g., The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers contains 6 illustrations on pages 7-8).  Even if children understand that the left page is read before the right page, they will not necessarily know when the reader moves from one page to the other.  At its worst this may mean children are trying to search through the wrong illustration for clues to make sense of new vocabulary, or that they search through more visual information than necessary.

We tested this in the WORD Lab with 3½-year-old children.  We read children three stories from a set of storybooks, arranged in one of three ways.  Storybooks with two illustrations displayed at a time (i.e., one illustration on the left page and one on the right), one illustration displayed at a time (i.e., left side blank, one illustration on the right) or with one large illustration. We included the large illustration format to check that image size could not account for any effects we found. The large illustration format (A3) was the twice the size of the other books (the two illustration format is two A4 pages, so has the same surface area).

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Set within the books were two novel objects, which were named and depicted twelve times throughout three books.  (Research shows children can learn about 1-2 words from a storybook at this age.)  After hearing their three storybooks read, children were asked to identify each of these objects twice from an array of other similar novel objects.  This is a standard testing method for word learning research of this kind with children of this age.

Children who were read the two page illustration versions of the storybooks learned significantly fewer words than those who were read the one illustration, or the large one illustration storybook versions.  In our study, children in the one illustration conditions had fewer illustrations to search through to find the relevant information.

Since these children can’t read, it is likely they learned fewer words because they did not know where to look. We wondered if providing a supporting gesture to guide children toward the correct page might help.  So we read another group of children the two illustrations books, but this time we used a sweeping gesture to highlight which page we were reading from.  These children performed as well as the children who had seen the one illustration storybooks in the first experiment. This suggests that simply guiding children’s attention to the correct page helps them focus on the right illustrations, and this in turn might help them concentrate on the new words.

Our findings fit well with Cognitive Load Theory, which suggests that learning rates are affected by how complicated a task is.  In this case, by giving children less information at once, or guiding them to the correct information, we can help children learn more words. We are excited by the findings, which could also shed light on discrepancies between research comparing print storybooks and e-books, since e-books often present just one illustration at a time.

We have some exciting ideas for follow up studies, so, if you know a child aged 3-4 who might like to visit us to hear some stories or play some games at WORD Lab, please sign up here.

 

Zoe is doing a PhD with Dr Jessica Horst in the WORD LAB. This post is based on the presentation Zoe gave in the School’s PhD Presentation Conference in June 2016, where she won the best presentation award.

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What is the role of shared identities in the aftermath of floods?

By Evangelos Ntontis

As a PhD student at the School of Psychology of Sussex University, I recently had the honour of winning the 2016 PhD poster conference. Of course winning is accompanied with writing a blog for the School’s website, so I’ll take this short space to briefly write about my overall research.

Currently I am starting the second year of my PhD and my interests fall within social psychology. I am a member of the ‘Crowds and Identities’ research group led by John Drury, and our focus is on large-scale events that usually involve crowds (be it riots and protests, migration and refugees, mass emergencies and disasters, collective action etc.).

My PhD project focuses on flooding and the role of shared identities in the response and recovery of communities. Putting it simply, a vast amount of research has shown that belonging to and identifying with groups is good for our well-being, since it provides a sense of belonging and we are more likely to offer and receive more support from other group members. Also, from studies of events like earthquakes and bombings we know that the shared experience of adversity can unite people with no previous affiliations and they come to see themselves as sharing a common identity and group. Applying these principles and findings in flood-hit communities, we are investigating if and how the shared community identity arises, the role of identification with the broader community and its effects for the provision of support to those in need, the heightened expectations of future support, as well as the impact on individual well-being and perceptions of the community’s ability to recover efficiently.ctis-_dweaanpni

I focus on the city of York, which was affected by floods in December 2015. I visited York for one week and interviewed York residents in order to get a better idea of the situation, and the poster described my first complete interview study which is currently being prepared for submission in a peer-reviewed journal. Our participants reported that a sense of unity was felt during the floods because of the shared experience of the floods, because of experiencing common problems which led in having shared future goals, as well as because of identifying with those affected, even without sustaining any damage. People also reported various types of social support that were provided to those affected, like practical support, emotional support, coordinated support which individuals themselves would not be able to accomplish, and heightened expectations of future support.

We also need to emphasize the important role of rhetoric for the recovery process of communities in the aftermath of disasters. During the emergency events people come together and form groups, which as we saw can have individual and collective benefits. However, it can take a long time for communities to fully recover, and certainly the problems do not disappear straight after the waters recede and the emergency responders leave the affected area. Groups and the sense of collectivity need to persist over time so that all types of social support keep flowing towards the affected residents. This can be achieved through invocations of the community and the collective, as well as through broad community group boundaries that will include both affected and non-affected residents. Thus people who identify with the community will tend to see others as fellow community members regardless of their status, which will make the provision of support easier and with prolonged benefits for the recovery process.

Overall, these findings are a good first indicator of the positive role that shared identities can have during the recovery period, and a solid ground for us to move on and investigate those identity processes from more methodological approaches such as surveys and ethnographic analyses.

With regards to the poster itself, I need to say a big Thank you to Khalifah Alfadhli and John Drury for their useful tips. To Khalifah for constantly scolding me and persisting that I reduce the amount of text (and it was really difficult for him to be satisfied, especially when taking into account that it was an interview study with lots of extracts!), and to John for insisting that I use more background pictures.

 

If you want to know more about poster presentations, you can read a post by Ellen Thompson, the 2015 PhD Poster Presentation winner, here: Do multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) lead to anxiety and depression in later life?

 

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Language, Cognition and Gender

by Prof Alan Garnham

This summer we published an E-book with Frontiers Media:

Garnham, A., Oakhill, J., von Stockhausen, L., Sczesny, S., eds. (2016). Language, Cognition and Gender. Lausanne: Frontiers Media. doi: 10.3389/978-2-88919-892-4

The E-book is a compilation of papers from a Special Topic we edited in two sections of Frontiers in Psychology: Language Sciences and Cognition. The Special Topic was, in turn, a showcase for research conducted as part of an EC-funded Marie Curie Initial Training Network (ITN), Language, Cognition and Gender in the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013, grant agreement n° 237907), together with a small number of closely related papers submitted in response to a call for papers for the Special Topic.screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-15-54-23

The Frontiers review process is a complex, iterative, one. However, we think that, in the end, we have done a good job of bringing together papers that are not only on related topics but which are, for the most part, by a group of researchers who interacted closely over a period of four years.

The ITN, which ran from 2009 to 2013, was spearheaded by Lisa von Stockhausen (then at the University of Heidelberg) and Sabine Sczesny (University of Bern). We secured funding at the third attempt, so if you are applying for an ITN, and getting positive feedback (but not funding!) it is worth persevering. The ITN included 10 European universities in the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, together with 12 associate partners in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The research conducted within the ITN was organized into four work packages, addressing the questions of:

  • how languages shape cognitive representations of gender
  • how features of European languages correspond with gender equality in European societies
  • how language contributes to social behaviour toward the sexes
  • how gender equality can be promoted through strategies for gender-fair language use.

At Sussex the grant funded one Early Stage Researcher (PhD Student, Eimear Finnegan) and one Experienced Researcher (Postdoc, Paolo Canal).

The ITN was inspired by the observation that gender inequality remains a contentious issue in many societies, despite legislative, and other less formal attempts to tackle it. It is perpetuated, in part, by gender stereotyping. It is also an issue of considerable interest to EU policy makers. Furthermore, we know that language contributes to gender inequality in various ways. For example, gender-related information is transmitted through formal and semantic features of language, such as the grammatical category of gender, through gender-related connotations of role names (e.g., manager, secretary), and through customs of denoting social groups with derogatory as opposed to neutral names. Both as a formal system and as a means of communication, language passively reflects culture-specific social conditions. Furthermore, language can also be used to express actively, and can potentially perpetuate, those conditions. Tackling these issues successfully depends on a proper understanding of their cognitive and societal underpinnings, but also on understanding the effects of attempted interventions. It was with these points in mind, that we proposed the ITN, to address a range of questions about language and gender inequality.

The ITN explored these questions both developmentally (across the life span from childhood to old age) and in adults. The contributions to the E-book present work conducted across a wide range of languages, including some studies that make cross-linguistic comparisons. In keeping with ITN LCG’s multidisciplinary approach, the contributors to the E-book include both cognitive and social psychologists and linguists. For the most part the contributions report original research, with a wide range of methods, from surveys to electro-physiological studies. Most of the contributions address questions about either the cognitive representation of gender or the use and effects of gender-fair language. They present a range of complementary studies, which make a substantial contribution to the understanding of these important issues.

 

Alan Garnham is Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Sussex.

Jane Oakhill is Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Sussex

Lisa von Stockhausen is Professor of Psychology at the Universität Duisburg-Essen 

Sabine Sczesny is Professor of Psychology at the University of Bern

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What’s in a name? A Call to Abandon the Use of the Term ‘Abnormal Psychology’.

By Cassie Hazell

Universities have a duty to provide quality education and training to those who want it, and create a community that reflects all the best parts of society.  Consequently, universities and their students have worked hard to stamp out prejudice and discrimination.  Although, unfortunately instances of sexism, racism and homophobia may still occur within our higher education institutions, the wider community agrees that this is unacceptable.  University policies are clear as to the seriousness of such actions, and firm (I hope?) about the consequences.  But, what about mental health discrimination?

Yes, I am sure many universities will argue their discrimination policies cover this – yet the linguistic norms used to teach students about mental health demonstrate otherwise.  While universities are generally places where the boundaries of current knowledge are questioned and challenged, this is one domain where they are more than a little ‘behind the times’. only-us-logo

I invite you to enter the phrase ‘university and abnormal psychology’ into a search engine; now scroll through the pages that it returns.  You will see just how many institutions offer modules, courses, and degrees labelled ‘abnormal psychology’.  Some of the world’s most prestigious universities are on that list.  But what even is ‘abnormal psychology’?  If you take a deeper look at the course content, you will find that they purport to teach their students about mental health (also more sympathetically known as clinical psychology).  How can these courses teach their students about the latest research, when the course title is stigmatising and fundamentally wrong?

The dictionary defines abnormal as: “deviating from what is normal or usual, typically in a way that is undesirable or worrying”.  The suggested synonyms are rare, freak, deviant, weird, unexpected… as well as a host of other offensive terms.  Ignoring the issue of stigma for a moment (although I believe this is the most important issue), I hope to prove to you that the use of this term to describe mental health is inaccurate.

Abnormal could be taken to mean that mental health problems are rare or unusual.  This is false.  The Time to Change campaign in the UK reports that 1 in 4 people will experience mental health issues.  I would argue this figure is actually far too small.  The ‘1 in 4’ figure is based on the results of the 2009 UK National Household survey; but only those with a recognised disorder were included in this analysis.  Many people experience mental health difficulties without a clinical diagnosis (Baumeister & Morar, 2008) – so it is highly likely that there will be a lot of people experiencing mental health problems that were not counted.  Also the effects of the recent economic crisis on mental health (Karanikolos et al., 2013) is likely to inflate this figure even more.  Consequently it is probable that more than 25% of the UK population will experience mental health difficulties. So, are mental health problems rare? I don’t think so.

Another understanding of abnormal could be that those with mental health problems are somehow different from the rest of the ‘normal’ population.  The flaw with this assumption relies on the understanding that mental health issues can be reduced to a dichotomous entity – you are either ‘abnormal’ or ‘normal’, you are either a ‘freak’ or ‘ordinary’.  This does not reflect reality.  For example, taking the dichotomous approach, we could describe someone as being either happy or unhappy.  But in practice people can be just a little bit happy, or their happiness could fluctuate over the day.  In line with this thinking, the most recent understandings of mental health argue that mental health can be best understood as part of a spectrum or continuum (e.g. Cuijpers, de Graaf, & van Dorsselaer, 2004; Tylka & Subich, 1999; van Os, Linscott, Myin-Germeys, Delespaul, & Krabbendam, 2009).  Everyone has a place on the continuum, with the potential to move either up or down the scale.  If we all have the capacity to be at both the most and least extreme points on the continuum, then how can mental health be viewed as ‘them and us’?  Either we are all freaks or none of us are.

A final possible implication from the term ‘abnormal’ is that the development of mental health problems is an anomaly.  In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest that mental health problems can be interpreted as a reaction to stressful or traumatic life events.  This is supported by an overwhelming pool of evidence demonstrating the link between stressful life events and the development of mental health difficulties (e.g. Carr, Martins, Stingel, Lemgruber, & Juruena, 2013; Kraan, Velthorst, Smit, de Haan, & van der Gaag, 2015; Lindert et al., 2014; Nielsen, Tangen, Idsoe, Matthiesen, & Magerøy, 2015).  Evolution has taught us the value of reacting to extreme stress on a cognitive, emotional and physical level so that we can learn about ourselves, and the world (Baldwin, 2013).  As many people will experience a trauma at some point their life (Lukaschek et al., 2013), it is then plausible that the event will trigger mental health difficulties for some people.  What is so surprising about that? only-us

The most pertinent problem with the term ‘abnormal psychology’ is its inherent stigma.  Mental health stigma can stop people from seeking help or support (Corrigan, 2004), cause feelings of shame (Corrigan & Miller, 2004), worsen mental health symptoms, and reduce treatment adherence (Livingston & Boyd, 2010).  I believe using the term ‘abnormal psychology’ within universities is discriminatory.  Its continued use will teach students that prejudice is acceptable, and increase self-stigma amongst those students experiencing mental health problems.

I am aware that I have been predominantly negative thus far – I hope I can reassure you that change is possible.  At the University of Sussex (where I study), as recent as last year the Psychology department offered an elective called ‘Abnormal Psychology’.  However, lecturers and students challenged this, and the course title has now been changed to something that is more accurate and less stigmatising (the course is now called ‘Clinical Psychology and Mental Health’).

The aim of this blog is somewhat a ‘call to arms’.  If you are part of a university that still uses the term ‘abnormal psychology’, why not challenge it?  You may be able to see through the fallacy of this terminology, but I can assure you there will be others who won’t.  The continued use of the term ‘abnormal psychology’ will only reinforce the lie that people experiencing mental health difficulties are to be feared.  This is not an issue of political correctness; it is an issue of social responsibility.

If you are able to bring about change in your university I would love to hear about it.  Please feel free to tweet me @MissCHazell.  For more information, the British Psychological Society has a great resource on language in relation to mental health: http://www.bps.org.uk/system/files/Public%20files/guidelines_on_language_web.pdf

Also I am a big supporter of the Only Us campaign.  They embody everything I have tried to say here – they believe “there is no them and us; there is only us”.  Check them out on twitter: @OnlyUsCampaign

 

Cassie Hazell is currently in the final year of her PhD with the University of Sussex, supervised by Dr Clara Strauss, Dr Mark Hayward, and Dr Kate Cavanagh. Her PhD looks at the effects of a guided self-help cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) for people who hear distressing voices (also known as verbal auditory hallucinations).

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A busy week

By Dr Sarah King

This is a fun but busy week for the Director of Doctoral Studies (DDS), the job I have recently taken over. I have been meeting all the new PhD students and signing their forms to approve the stats and methods courses they are taking to support their PhD studies. Today was my first Research Degree Committee, a formal meeting where we discuss all things PhD related and make School level decisions. Today we discussed how to make sure everyone fills in their attendance records, whether we should set up a formal PhD mentoring scheme, and the best way to advertise and market our PhDs. But, for this week the best is yet to come… Tomorrow it is the annual PhD post9946er conference, which the whole School turns out for. I have always really enjoyed this event, it’s an opportunity to really find out what people around the School are doing. For the students transitioning from first to second year this is often their first opportunity to present their research outside of their research group, and they get to do so in a friendly and supportive environment. There is a poster prize awarded democratically by attendees. The winner will hopefully be relaying their experiences of their research and the poster session on a future blog. The poster conference is followed by the Great Psychology Bake Off where not only do we get to carry on talking all things Psychology, but we get to do it over incredibly tasty cakes, biscuits and other treats. Finally on Thursday the Psychology Colloquia is taken up by research talks by those second years (going into third year) who weren’t able to present earlier in the Summer. It is weeks like this that I am reminded why I agreed to take on the DDS role. There is nothing more satisfying than watching a new generation of researchers enjoying and talking about their work, and now I’m paid to do it!

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My experience studying Psychology at Sussex

By Ruihan Wu

For the past three years I have been studying a BSc Psychology with Cognitive Science at Sussex. For the next two years, I will be doing a master programme in the area of neurodevelopment disorders, first at UCL and the second year at Yale. If I say that I have never doubted myself, I would be lying. Before this summer, every time I saw students in their graduation gowns, I felt not only excitement but also panic because I was not sure if I was competent enough to face my future. When I eventually attended my graduation, I felt calm and peaceful. This is the most precious thing Sussex has given me: the confidence to realise my dream.

Getting a degree and good scores in the UK was not an easy thing for me as an international student. After I graduated from high school, I did consider studying abroad, but it was not my first choice. The reason that made me challenge myself was my passion for psychology. At that time, I learned that Sussex had one of the UK’s largest schools of Psychology, and that it was located in Brighton, one of the most beautiful seaside cities in England. I have never regretted my decision.

Ruihan on her graduation

Ruihan on her graduation day

When I first arrived at uni, I knew that this was an exciting beginning, but that the road ahead was full of difficulties. The first one was my lack of English and academic abilities, which soon became my greatest disadvantages. Frankly speaking, before I came to the UK, I had never used English apart from in classes, and when I arrived here I found out that the educational system in the UK was very different from my country. In China I had only learnt English for exam-oriented purposes rather than for communication skills or personal interest. So I am really grateful to Ms Lynn O’Meara, an advisor in Student Life Centre, who helped me register in a course on Academic Development and Better Writing to improve my English and academic skills. We have been in touch ever since; her constructive advice and encouragement have given me greater confidence in overcoming difficulties and really helped me a lot.

My second difficulty was the lack of basic knowledge in my subject area, and the limited opportunities before uni to access knowledge about psychology and research. Fortunately, even though some of my course mates had already taken psychology in A-level, some had not. All the lecturers and tutors tried their best to meet everyone’s expectation and offered in-time feedback and resources to make sure we were all on track. It is not always possible to understand everything in a lecture, but the faculty, both during their office hours or on the forum, were always available for students, which was really helpful. No matter what kind of questions, they always answered patiently and told us where we could find more information. I especially want to thank my academic advisor Dr Ryan Scott who was really supportive. His suggestions about academic development and his encouragement meant a lot to me, and helped me overcome many difficulties. During the first two years, therefore, I got a relatively comprehensive insight of different psychological schools of thought, and found that autism spectrum conditions (ASCs) is the area in which I am most interested and on which I would like to focus in the future.

In the third year, an extensive range of modules was available, and I could tailor my own course and follow my passion. In terms of the final dissertation, each student can be supervised by one of the leading researchers. I used to be worried about my third year empirical project, but the solid research and knowledge foundation that I gained in the first two years were really helpful. I really want to thank my supervisor, Prof Jane Oakhill. She not only allowed me to do the topic that I was interested in, but also gave me lots of helpful suggestions on literature review, proposal writing, material preparing, experiment conducting, data processing and analysis, and report writing. During the spring term, Jane was very busy, but she still managed a regular meeting to help me keep the project progress on track and never missed responding my emails.

Throughout my degree, no one has ever pressed me in my study, but whenever I needed help there was always specialist support for me. The knowledge and skills I gained in Sussex make me feel confident to face and create my future, which is the most valuable thing. I have never regretted choosing Sussex and majoring in psychology; and I will never regret to follow my passion and commit my life to ASCs.

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