New term, new you

By Susie Ballentyne

Over half of us make a new year’s resolution to change something about our behaviour, yet very few of us stick to our intentions. So why, with all the right sign-posting to a new decade, the fresh start, and a multitude of apps promising to help keep us on track, is it so unlikely to happen?

Over the past three years, as part of my doctoral research, I’ve been looking at the impact of social identity on change. Working with refugees for whom change is non-negotiable, it’s apparent just how much we overlook the importance of social identity when trying to get to grips with change. For those forced to migrate, much of their everyday wellbeing depends on how they manage their old identities and acquire new ones. Resilience during times of change isn’t just a matter of ‘strength of character’ but how, through the loss of old relationships and discovery of new ones, refugees can maintain a steady and familiar sense of self that enables them to cope with everyday life. 

Part of the reason why social identity has been somewhat overlooked is because, both as individuals and as a culture, we look almost exclusively at ourselves from within, either in terms of changing some overplayed personality trait (‘…this year I’m going to rein in my temper and be kinder to my colleagues’) or some character weakness we must discipline (‘…no more weekday drinking, and I’ll cut out sugar while I’m at it.’). The intention may be good, but the change is often only approached from the inside, out. But what if we start from the outside, and work in? What if we begin to look at what’s going on in the world around us, identify what influences us and then identify what we might begin to change. Here’s where social identity can help you make that change so it sticks.

Research shows us that social identity is where behaviour change happens. But what does that mean? If we start writing a list that begins: “who am I?” we quickly begin to see just how much of who we are relates to how we categorise ourselves with other people, such as gender, nationality, ethnicity, education, profession, skills, parenting roles, sporting preferences. We define ourselves in this way throughout the day, moving between different categories as we go about our daily life: parent, partner, commuter, team-member, café-customer, friend, volunteer. Each of these categories come with their own socially-constructed ‘guidebooks’, if you like, that give us some extremely important reference points: what makes us different from others; what to expect from ourselves and other people who are like us; what behaviours are and aren’t acceptable. Without these we wouldn’t have a clue about how to make sense of things around us or how to behave as we move through our day. Our social identities gives us the handholds that we grasp for direction and reassurance as we navigate everyday life.

So what happens when we want to change something? What do we do when we mentally commit to being a better environmentalist / more effective leader / new business owner / more capable parent? We tend to lose ground the moment we focus overly on “I”. We’d be much better to start by thinking about “us”. We should start by asking ourselves: “what are people like ‘us’, like?” The ‘us’ can be anything: ‘eco-minded citizen’; ‘politically engaged community member’; ‘calm parent’; ‘team leader’. As we list the characteristics of the groups we belong to, we begin to see the ‘guidebook’ that shapes our behaviour. Some maybe very positive (‘people like us [leaders] are visionary, good communicators, empathetic’), or less so (people like us [leaders] are dogmatic, ego-centric, brash).

So, when we want to think about changing how we work, or manage our relationships, these social identities ‘guidebooks’ are a good place to begin. Look through the list you’ve generated about ‘people like us’ and then you can draw a line from these to your own behaviours. Ask yourself: do I do these things? Does it help me achieve what I want when I’m in this role? Are there things here I can aspire towards? It’s also worth asking yourself whether membership of other groups, different identities, inhibits you from achieving the goals you’ve set for yourself elsewhere in your life.

By looking at change from this angle, the outside in, we can see just how much of what we think and do is directed by the identities that we conform to. When we stop looking for individual faults and differences and see how each and every day we live in an incredible web of social influence that directs our footsteps, we find we have a road map for making change happen. With this perspective we soon recognise a world full of social identities, each with their own guidebooks that we both help write and take direction from.  And as we act, so we either reinforce this guidance, or begin to shift it. So, this new term, if you’re not happy with something, start with social identity, for a change.

Susie Ballentyne is a doctoral researcher in psychology at the University of Sussex. As a social psychologist, she consults on identity for Making Change Happen and is a co-Director of Leading 4 Life. Through her research, Susie is also developing and practicing a new approach to psychological coaching based on social Identity change: Identity Based Coaching (IBC).

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We love veggies!

It is increasingly recognised that meat-based diets have a substantial environmental impact: from deforestation for grazing land, to methane produced by livestock, to increased water requirements. All of this adds up to a very significant carbon footprint, with UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports stating that we need to make huge reductions in meat-eating to avoid dangerous climate change.
As a result, switching to a plant-based diet is now seen as one vital strategy in combating climate change and environmental degradation.
One recent study in Nature found that a global shift to a “flexitarian” diet is needed, with the average UK citizen eating 90% less red meat, and five times as many beans and pulses, as we do currently.

A couple of months ago we asked School members whether they would support a switch to providing only plant-based (vegetarian and vegan) food by default at catered School events. The results were overwhelmingly in favour: 92% said Yes, 4% maybe, and just 4% no. As a result, we introduced a new School Sustainable Catering Policy, which will significantly reduce the environmental impact of our catered events. In a nutshell, this policy means that any food provided at School events will be 100% plant-based.

We also asked whether vegan options should always be provided alongside vegetarian. There was clear support for this: 92% said yes, 8% maybe, and 0% no. A number of vegan colleagues commented that there is often not enough food for them, because non-vegans also enjoy eating the vegan options. Therefore, we also recommended that a minimum of 30% of our food orders were vegan.

Whether you are halfway through Veganuary or you just want to eat more plant-based food at home, check MeatFreeMondays for recipes and other flexitarian ideas! 

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Posted in Green Tips

Ten things I learned from being editor of the British Journal of Social Psychology

By Prof John Drury

On 31st December 2019) I stepped down from being editor of the British Journal of Social Psychology (BJSP), a post I occupied for three years, shared with Hanna Zagefka (Royal Holloway University of London). The occasion has prompted me to review some of the things I learned (or views I developed) from the role.

Before I do that, it is worth explaining what being an editor entails. The following applies to BJSP but is also true of many other academic journals. The basic bread-and-butter job of the editor (also called ‘chief editor’ or ‘editor-in-chief’) is triage. This means that when submissions come into the journal, the editor decides whether they should be considered further or rejected there and then (‘desk-rejection’). If the editor thinks a submission merits further consideration, they forward it to one of the journal’s associate editors. These are the people that invite the reviewers. The reviewers might be people listed on the journal’s editorial board as ‘editorial consultants’, but more likely they are anyone the associate editor regards as most appropriate and willing to provide expert refereeing for the particular submission.

So, if you are considering any of these roles, you might find useful some of my thoughts on editing a journal.

1. Co-editing is good

In the past, a single editor-in-chief was the norm. Today, shared editorships are becoming more common. Sharing the editorship is helpful for a number of reasons. First, you benefit from each other’s experience and judgement. In my case, Hanna’s decision-making presented solutions to numerous tricky problems that I struggled over. Second, and more practically, sharing the load allows breaks from triage and enables holidays without a backlog building up.

2. Reviews are not decisions; associate editors use their judgement to make decisions

Editors receiving reviews should use these reviews to make their judgements about a submission. You may be surprised to learn, however, that for some journals (not ours) the editor stands back, and exercises little of their own judgement. They treat the reviews as if speaking for themselves. This means that for a ‘revise and resubmit’ they automatically send the revision out for review again. In my view, this is sometimes a waste of time. Even where a significant revision is required, if the editor has the expertise to judge whether the author has made the necessary changes (and can determine that these changes have not adversely affected the rest of the paper), a second round of reviews is not necessary. If the editor needs the extra expertise then send it out again, but otherwise the editor’s job is not to stand back but to think for him- or herself.

3. Manage your associate editors

It follows from the point above that it is necessary to appoint associate editors with the range of expertise sufficient to cover the types of papers that get submitted to the journal. So you need to find out what kind of thing gets submitted, what kinds of topics are submitted most often, and who in the discipline has knowledge in that area. There is another consideration, however. When I look at the lists of associate editors for some journals, I think either the journal doesn’t have many submissions, or those associate editors are burned out. At BJSP, we managed the issue of the workload of associate editors by appointing a large number of them, to spread the load. This makes it more likely that your associate editors will get to their allocated submissions in time and that they will give them the care and attention they need.

4. Triage is emotional labour

Just as it’s exciting to find promising and interesting submissions in the editor’s inbox, there is an emotional cost to handling the rejections. As authors ourselves, we know the pain of a rejected paper. We know the time and effort that has gone in. At BJSP, in common with many journals, the desk-reject rate at triage is around 50% (and the total rejection rate closer to 85%). That’s a lot of disappointing news to give.

5. Give rejected authors something constructive

At the triage stage, rejections occur for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, papers are rejected because authors are not familiar with the culture of research publishing. The editor has a responsibility to help these aspiring authors learn something, even if it’s simple things like the presentation of statistics. In fact, the same is true of more experienced authors who might also get rejected at this stage. It is incumbent on editors to include in the rejection letter something constructive that the authors can use as they take their work forward.

6. It’s hard to spot top papers

One of the pieces of advice I remember receiving in a discussion about improving the journal’s impact factor was to identify early those papers that are likely to be well-received. But this turned out to be much harder to do than you might imagine (at least for me). Quite a few of those submissions that I thought would likely get a lot of interest were rejected by the associate editor (and sometimes even desk-rejected), and one or two of those that I thought only just scraped in were among those most highly cited.

7. Think carefully about special issues

Another piece of advice we received was about special issues. It is widely thought that these are typically highly popular and highly cited. If you are an editor considering a call for a special issue, I suggest you check the data from your journal. While for some disciplines and journals, special issues always work, for others the articles in special issues actually get fewer people reading and citing them than normal articles. The lesson here is to think carefully about the topic of the special issue. Is it one that large numbers are interested in or not?

8. Keep an eye on the website

In the old days, of course, the triage role of the editor would be all there is, more or less. But since the journal will now have a website, and online versions which will be the principal way that readers access articles, in my view it is important to keep an eye on how the journal is being presented online. The job of managing the website will fall to the journal publishers, of course, but editors will be the best judge of content and so will have views on the prominence of content across the site.

9. Run a social media account

Twitter is now clearly an excellent way of raising the profile of particular articles and indeed the journal as a whole. The publisher will probably have their own Twitter account, but your name and profile can help in all promotion drives and can result in greater interest in the journal from both readers (measured in both downloads and impact factor) and authors (measured in number and quality of submissions).

10. Typesetting is not proof-reading

Many journal publishers do not provide a full proof-read of the articles they publish. At all stages, associate editors and authors should be alerted to any presentational issues in their manuscript, and authors should check all drafts and proofs very carefully. Sometimes typesetters introduce new errors into a manuscript, so vigilance is required.

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Posted in Faculty research, Uncategorized

Psychology Student Mentors

By Alexandra Schmidt

Who are the Psychology Student mentors?

Student mentors are both undergraduate and postgraduate students, who have been trained to provide information and support to other students in the School of Psychology. 

We can offer information and support on a range of academic issues, help you find your way around campus, develop study skills and point you towards events or online resources available to support you. For example, we can help with essay structuring, preparation of lab reports, revision tips and planning, time management or presentation skills. The student mentor team includes an international student, a mature student and 1 PhD student, so we hope between us to be able to cover anything that comes up for you.

What makes you different from an Academic Advisor?

We are different from academic advisors as we are all students ourselves and have gone through similar experiences and worries. We are familiar with the assignments you’re working on and are able to provide tips and advice based on very recent experiences of assignment and revision stress.

What made you want to become a student mentor?

I became a student mentor as I have a genuine interest in helping people. This goes for people who might need more help or have come across difficult times, but equally for someone who is already doing well but would like to improve on their performance. 

I remember in my first year especially, there were many times I would have liked to speak to someone about uncertainties regarding assignments, when I felt things weren’t progressing and were starting to feel like they were getting on top of me.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give as a student mentor?

When you are stuck or overwhelmed, it’s easy to think that everyone else is coping much better and therefore you might not speak to anyone about your worries or you may not feel like you can ask for help. But most often, that’s not the case and other people are feeling a similar way. Therefore, try and use opportunities to speak to friends and peers, organise study groups, speak to your tutors or come and see the student mentors! Mentors are good listeners and when you come and see us, all our time is focused on you and what you have come to talk to us about. 

Thinking back to your first year, is there anything you’d like to pass on to those who are about to begin their Psychology degree?

My fellow mentors have said that they would have liked to have known how to make the most of assignment feedback.

My advice is to take time to read and understand what your marker has written and if you need further clarity, book some time within a markers’ office hours and ask your marker for more information on what they have written.

Feedback is so important as it does not only tell you where you can improve but also what went well. This will really help focus your efforts when preparing your next assignment.

For me personally, looking back I would have liked to have told myself to get to know as many fellow students as possible.

This is one of the greatest insights that I’ve come out of the course with. I met so many interesting people in my 3rd year who I have really enjoyed spending time with on and off-campus. I wish I had got to know them earlier.

My advice also goes to students in other year groups too, for example, as a second-year student choosing modules and supervisors for third year, it can be really interesting and helpful to speak to someone who has gone through the modules you’re considering. Similarly, this applies to your wider development, for example, when you’re trying to decide on whether to take a year out on either placement or study abroad. Or if you want to apply for the Junior Research Associate (JRA) scheme and want to talk through the application process with someone who’s already completed it. You’ll get first hand (informal) info on what it was like which will put you in a better position to make the right choices.

Student mentors have either done these things or can put you in touch with someone who has.

Where to find us

During term time, we run weekly drop-in sessions where you can come and have a chat with us with a cup of tea and biscuits.

Please email us on if you have any questions or if you wish to arrange a 1-to-1 meeting.   

Ali Schmidt was an undergrad student mentor during the final year of her BSc in Psychology with Clinical Approaches at Sussex, and she is currently the PhD student mentor.

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

By Charlotte Rae

As part of the University’s Green commitment, the Psychology Green team led by Dr Charlotte Rae is working on an action plan to tackle sustainability within the School of Psychology. In the meantime, we have started this blog post series to share tips on how to be greener while at Sussex. We hope you find it useful.

We are keen that all members of staff and students at the School are able to contribute to our green initiatives, so if you have any ideas please drop Charlotte an email ( We’d love to hear your thoughts on what green changes you want to see!

We all know we should recycle as much as possible. But it’s easy to forget that before we consider recycling, we should first reduce our consumption, then reuse any materials, before we recycle it at the end of any useful life. This 3 Rs’ mantra highlights that recycling should be the last resort, rather than our first option.
When you do come to the point of recycling, there are bins stationed throughout Pevensey corridors for the most commonly recycled items, such as paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, aluminium cans, and glass.
For other items, this SEF webpage lists your options for recycling on campus, and this map shows the locations of points to recycle specialist items such as crisp packets, tetrapaks, and batteries.
What about hard to recycle items, such as contact lens packaging and pens?
A new student society, Leave No Trace, are a student-run recycling society, who have a regular stall at the Tuesday market in the SU. They will collect your hard-to-recycle items and take them to The Green Centre for recycling. Check their facebook page for the dates that they will be at the Tuesday market. They will accept the following items:

  • Clean aluminium foil
  • Beauty packaging
  • Biscuit packaging
  • Bread loaf plastic bags
  • Contact lens packaging
  • Crisp packaging
  • Milk bottle tops
  • Pens
  • Pringles
  • Textiles (bras, bags, belts and shoes)

Do you have a Green Tip or an idea for a School sustainability initiative? Send it to Faculty Green Officer Charlotte Rae.

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Posted in Green Tips

Tackling hate – from parliament to campus

By Carina Hoerst

Two weeks ago was National Hate Crime Awareness Week. What started in 1999 as a reaction to attacks on the Black and LGBT community has become a big event and takes place every year since. Today, it seems to be more important than ever. The UK is currently witnessing an increased level of hate crimes. According to most sources, it has doubled since 2013. Within this increase, it seems as if specific news events trigger spikes of sudden increases in hate crimes. Awareness is an important first step, yet we need to go further and understand the processes behind this pattern, allowing us to combat hate crimes more efficiently.

First of all, what do we mean when we speak of “hate crimes” in this context? The legal definition says that any attack, perceived by the victim as based on prejudice against race or ethnicity, religion or beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, and transgender identity is defined as hate-motivated. In order to counteract those attacks, we need to know what makes them most likely to happen.

On the 23rd of June 2016, the UK held the referendum on whether to leave or remain in the European Union. The unexpected result to leave was followed by an immediate rise in hate-related attacks by 57%. Since then, subsequent peaks were recorded by the Metropolitan Police. For example, there was a spike in June 2017 which seemed to be linked to the London Bridge attack. How can we explain these patterns?

The media reported that racists got “emboldened” by the referendum result. During the referendum, Brexit was presented by some as being against “foreigners” and “foreign” control. We think that after the Brexit referendum, a minority of xenophobes amongst the population perceived the nation as backing their ideology and actions, similar to what happened after the 2016 US elections. With the referendum result, they now saw the majority as sharing their values and identity, which led to the perception of support for their actions. Xenophobes became empowered to conduct attacks on people that were seen as “non-British” and “non-White”.

However, hate and xenophobia levels not only seem to remain high, but further peaks occurred. Nationalist rhetoric of those that represent the country, published polls forecasting voting behaviour, hate posts on social media, as well as the actions of hate-groups on the internet seem to foster, if not trigger, this.

Prejudice and hate crimes are not restricted to exist “somewhere else” but can likewise exist on our doorstep. The University of Sussex is known for its liberal and welcoming environment and a policy that strongly supports respect and diversity. Nevertheless, it is a place where people from over 100 nations with different cultures and religions come together, and campus is not an exception to other places; here, as much as elsewhere, there are people holding xenophobic attitudes. Students that become a victim of hate crimes deriving from those attitudes can suffer from psychological consequences which can be as severe as physical ones. Hate affects people’s well-being which can not only lead to strong emotional responses but also to a decrease in academic performance.

We need to understand hate crimes better. We need to understand their pattern, what triggers them, and why they decline as well as rise. In my PhD research, in order to understand how xenophobic attacks increased, I will be drawing upon models of empowerment – the dynamic process by which power relations change. Perceived power or efficacy can lead to the legitimization of a movement, and people´s idea of “what is right” can influence their behaviour. I will apply this framework to examine the empowerment of xenophobic white identities, focusing on those who view themselves as victims of the establishment and immigration policies. Furthermore, by comparing spikes in hate crimes, I will examine patterns that emerge, for example in regard to the target group and the circumstances that might have encouraged offenders to conduct hate-motivated attacks. This knowledge will not only further the understanding of the processes behind hate but also contribute to tackling it – from parliament to campus.

If you are a student affected by any kind of hate-motivated attacks, the University of Sussex institutions are there to help.

Carina is a PhD student under the supervision of Professor John Drury. She is researching the spikes in hate crime since the Brexit Referendum. This post was originally published on the Crowds and Identities Blog.

Find out more about our research on Social and Applied Psychology.

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Professor Rupert Brown’s Retirement

Professor Rupert Brown

This coming Thursday we are celebrating the career of Professor Rupert Brown with a special colloquium. Rupert joined the recently unified department of Psychology at Sussex in 2004 and has since been an essential figure for the School both in terms of his academic work as well as his involvement in the coordination of our REF2014 submission as Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange. For the last three years, he’s been writing a biography of Henri Tajfel, one of the most influential European social psychologists of the 20th Century

Rupert’s relationship with Sussex dates back to the late 1970s when he joined the social psychology group, then within the School of Social Sciences, on a temporary contract. When he returned almost 30 years later from the University of Kent, where he had been Head of Department, a few things had changed. Most notably, the three psychology groups, which until that time had been spread across campus, had merged into one single department within the School of Life Sciences. It was precisely this union that attracted Rupert. Kent was a smaller department largely dominated by social psychology, and he liked the idea of working in a more diverse department: “it was part of being in a much broader intellectual environment which I found stimulating,” Rupert explains. 

When the department of Psychology became an independent School ten years ago, Rupert took up the role of Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange. “Being the DRaKE here for four years was great, mainly because it brought me in contact with everyone in the School,” he tells me. However, the job didn’t come without challenges and he and Pete Clifton, then Head of School, had some very distressing conversations with colleagues in the lead up to the REF2014 submission. In the end, their efforts paid off and Psychology at Sussex was recognised as one of the top 10 School of Psychology in the UK in the last REF. 

For the last three years, Rupert has been a Leverhulme Senior Research Fellow, which has enabled him to devote time to research the life of Henri Tajfel. The idea of writing Tajfel’s biography started 20 years ago, but the pressing responsibilities of academic life prevented Rupert from taking up this project until recently. Tajfel was his PhD supervisor and Rupert had always found him fascinating: “he had all sorts of flaws and was a hopeless PhD supervisor, but he was also a genuinely inspirational man.” Five years ago, Rupert was awarded the Tajfel Medal by the European Association of Social Psychology, and the idea resurrected: “I realised that if I was going to do it, I ought to get going with it because a number of the key informants about his life, his widow, some of his very elderly colleagues, some of the French orphans he cared for after the war, they were all in their 80 and 90s, and I couldn’t afford to hang about.”  

“Henri Tajfel: Explorer of Identity and Different” was published last Friday 18 October 2019

The book deals with Tajfel’s life from his birth in Poland to his academic career as a social psychologist, but it also details how Tajfel’s ideas evolved from his early studies on perception through to his latest studies on intergroup relations. This was a new experience for Rupert, who had to learn new research methods and become a biographer, interviewing people about events that took place several decades ago, diving into archives where he discovered new details of Tajfel’s life in Poland and France, and looking into more controversial areas of Tajfel’s life, including his inappropriate behaviour towards women. The work was very much like that of a detective and Rupert has made a number of discoveries about Tajfel’s family in Poland and his life during the war and after. However, the most interesting aspect of the book, which makes it very different from conventional biographies, is the time that Rupert spends in explaining how some of Tajfel’s experiments actually worked. 

For example, Tajfel argued that when you superimpose a category on otherwise neutral stimuli, it is functional for the mind to make the differences between the categories seem a bit sharper so that we can make faster decisions. In an experiment, Tajfel gave participants cardboard sheets with various lines of different lengths and asked them to estimate how many centimetres long the lines were. In some of the conditions he labelled the short lines A and long lines B; when he did that, people exaggerated the differences between the A-lines and the B-lines by making the short lines shorter and the long lines longer. “Well, take this same idea and call these white faces and black faces” explains Rupert, “and from there you can get into stereotyping, prejudice, and all the other things he was always interested in.” 

Intergroup relations, prejudice and social perception have also been the centre of Rupert’s research activity, but his interests have evolved since his return to Sussex. In the late 00s the University organised a research ‘speed dating’ event for people with similar research interests, which had been previously collated by the Research Office: “The bell would ring and you had to go to the next table, you sat down and opposite you would be another colleague, and you had five minutes to introduce each other and to tell each other what you were about.” As a result of this evening, Rupert met a colleague in Law who was interested in hate crime, which matched his own interest in prejudice. She retired not long after that, but Rupert began working with her successor, Mark Walters with whom he started the Sussex Hate Crime Project funded by the Leverhulme Trust. In the same evening, he also met Michael Collyer (Geography) and Linda Morrice (Education), which led to collaborating on an ESRC project on refugee resettlement, studying how these refugees managed to adapt to life in the UK and how their host communities adapted to them in the first five years after their resettlement.   

Listening Rupert talk about Tajfel’s experiments or his own research, it is easy to appreciate how passionate he is about his work, but also his ability to make complicated topics easy. “I always loved teaching, I love the big set-piece lectures, but the teaching I really liked best was in small groups,” he says “when you get a really lively group, who are interested and ask awkward questions and spark each other, that genuinely turns the teaching session into something quite stimulating.” 

He is, nevertheless, looking forward to retirement and spending more time with his grandchildren. His involvement with refugees will also continue as a volunteer with a charity in Canterbury helping a Syrian refugee family to resettle in the UK. From everyone from the School, we wish him the best in this new phase of his life. 

Find out more about our research on Social and Applied Psychology.

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My thoughts after my first month as an intern at the School of Psychology

By Chloe Ilsley

So I’ve completed my first month of being an intern for the School of Psychology and wow, it’s gone by so quickly but first, let me explain…

The university has a scheme called ‘FGS Summer internships’ which provides 2nd year First Generation Scholar students with internships in and around the Sussex area in a number of different fields. The initiative is designed to help individuals gain experience within a sector they wish to enter when they later graduate. This year, and for the first time, the School of Psychology participated in the scheme. They advertised for an individual who would help to plan and coordinate events taking place in the upcoming Welcome Week.

summer intern 2019
Chloe at her desk in the School of Psychology Office

I couldn’t believe how perfect it sounded as I’m a Psychology with Education student and this opportunity was a combination of both of my disciplines. I immediately wrote a cover letter explaining my interest and edited my CV. I proofread, passed it onto someone else to proofread and checked again before I was brave enough to send. Am I the only one who has that little bit of nervousness as soon as the application is sent? 

The interview

It wasn’t for another week or so until I had an email inviting me for an interview. I can remember feeling excited and a bit nervous – I knew I wanted this position and I spent the days leading up to the interview convincing myself I was the only possible person for the role and that the interview was the time for me to get to know my future colleagues. The day of the interview, I had a few hours in the morning to get ready and think about what I wanted to say. I sat and reflected on my past work experiences and looked back on the lessons I’d learnt. It was a pep talk that I went back to when, later on, I was sat in a room with a panel of 3 people in front of me.

My first day

It was a bizarre feeling walking into the building knowing I was there for work and not for revision (incoming flashbacks of exam time). I was greeted with hellos and handshakes and made to feel very welcome. A highlight of the afternoon was a farewell staff party for Tom Ormerod – I say lucky because I got to taste some delicious cake (not because our Head of School was leaving, I think I need to make that clear because I would really like a good reference at the end of this experience :)).

A new job is a big change

I know everyone says that a new job is a big change, and they are right – it really is! But I can’t dwell on that because this will be a great chance to learn some valuable skills. Despite having worked for a few years, all my previous experience has been customer-facing, which means I’ve never worked a 9-5 job. It’s the first time I’ve had my own desk!

Apart from the new working environment, I’m also learning to get used to a different way of managing time. The office I work in operates on flexi-time, which is refreshing as I am free to be independent with the structure of my day. This flexibility is also reflected in the way my workload is allocated – throughout the week, I have been given many tasks to do but I’ve been able to prioritise them how I see fit. It’s a great experience working in a trusting atmosphere like this one.

What have I learnt so far?

I appreciate that I am in a very interesting position, being a student and an employee at the same time. This internship provides a great platform for the School to hear a student voice and I want to make sure as much student feedback as possible is used to make all current and future psychology students studies as good as possible. It is surprising how quickly I have seen how much time and effort goes into the School of Psychology Student Experience, something that as a student I had never realised before. I believe this appreciation for the entire faculty will continue growing as I progress.

As you may or may not be able to tell, I am very excited about the next few weeks. I am enjoying testing my abilities adjusting to a new working environment and I’m loving how many projects I’m currently involved in. I am looking forward to the ever-approaching Welcome Week and the beginning of the new teaching term, I cannot wait for the hustle and bustle of new students arriving on campus and seeing everyone enjoy the events we’ve been planning all summer. 

Posted in Undergraduate

Time flies…

By Tom Ormerod

So, after five years as Head of the School of Psychology, I come to the end of my term.  It has (mostly) been a genuine pleasure to hold the role, and there cannot be a better School of Psychology anywhere to lead.  I have loved working with colleagues, and feel genuinely proud of our students and the things they and my colleagues have achieved.  When I arrived five years ago (from Lancaster, where I was Head of School for six years, via a brief sojourn at Surrey), I was apprehensive about how I would be received. My anxieties were reinforced when a social network analysis of research topics and links within the School revealed four tightly knit clusters with lots of interaction between them, and me as a complete outlier! My fears have proved unfounded: I have never felt like an outsider for a single day, such is the strength of the school community.

Tom opening his card at his leaving do

What’s it like to be a Head of School? It is undeniably busy. In term time, my diary has on average 24 hours of meetings per week, of which at least 12 are scheduled by people from outside the school. As Head of School, I am a member of the University Leadership Team, and this takes up a lot of time and energy. In addition, there are lots of unscheduled things like student and staff complaints to handle, unexpected visitors and dignitaries to greet, people wanting advice about promotions, dead seagulls to remove from the toilets (advice to the incoming Head – always keep a pair of Marigolds in your office: you have to do the jobs that no one else would want to), etc.. The best bit of the job is the problem-solving. There is nothing quite as satisfying as being able to deal with a problem and have someone leave my office much happier than when they arrived.  The worst bit? Apart from the interminable emails, 5% of the people bring 95% of the extra workload, and there’s not a lot one can do about it because it’s just in their nature! But overall, the good bits far outweigh the bad bits.

What has been achieved in the past five years?  I took over in August 2014 from Pete Clifton who had done a magnificent job in leading the department of Psychology into becoming an independent School. This was a hard act to follow, but I was incredibly lucky in having a team of directors and subject leads who really have functioned as a team to guide changes in the School. Since 2014, the School has doubled in terms of student numbers and in monetary turnover. We got our Athena Swan bronze, in the process greatly increasing the number of female professors and women in senior roles. Our research income has also doubled, and we continue to produce large numbers of 3* and 4* research outputs, and will be in a great position for REF 2021. Our PhD students and research staff continue to provide a strong research culture within the School. The appointment of a group of teaching fellows (now lecturers/senior lecturers, since the titular distinction is being removed) has enabled us to cope with increasing student numbers while enhancing the learning experience they receive.  Innovations such as the placements scheme, retreats and houses are the envy of the other schools and are largely down to these highly committed colleagues.  We have radically reshaped professional services in the school, and have the best group of professional services staff I could possibly imagine, with all of them taking a leading role in enhancing the student and staff experience across the School. I think the thing I am most pleased about is that, despite the growth and concomitant increases in workload, we have maintained a collegiate, caring and professional spirit in the school. I wanted to name-check individuals in this blog for their particularly notable contributions, but I realised that the list would include almost every member of the School! These achievements are a result of the whole School working together professionally and collegiately.

Not everything has worked out as I had hoped, and there is still much to do.  Our strategy for growth was based on raising revenue to persuade the University to invest in a refurbishment and additional space for Psychology. Although the need is now recognised by the centre, we are still some way from any action on this front. We also need to do something about our NSS, particularly around assessment and feedback, which despite innovations and enhancements continues to hold us back in the league tables. Robin Banerjee takes over as Head of School at a very challenging time for Higher Education (well, a very challenging time, full stop!).  He will need the very high levels of support you have shown me during my tenure.  

Wishing Tom good luck for the next stage in his life

What’s next for me? After my sabbatical I will continue as a Professor of Psychology in the School, doing teaching and research (and admin I guess!). When I first arrived, I held one-to-one meetings with faculty, and in those I realised the huge potential for collaborations with colleagues, but I just haven’t had time to follow them up.  So, lock your doors if you don’t want me annoying you with collaborative research and teaching ideas! I’m really looking forward to having time to talk to people, join in with research groups, and generally make a menace of myself!  Finally, thank you to everyone who has been so welcoming to this stranger parachuted into the school five years ago.

Best wishes


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Posted in History of Psychology at Sussex

Psychology in the Media: June 2019

The month of June started with an article about Ian Hadden’s research on the Times Education Supplement: “Positive writing “boosts poorer pupils’ maths scores”. Ian and his PhD supervisor Dr Matt Easterbrook investigated whether self-affirmation writing exercises could improve the performance of low socio-economic status school students. Their study found that a series of short targeted writing exercises can reduce the attainment gap for students from low-income families by 62%.

Only five days later, on the 10th of June, the 2019 Active Learning Network conference took place on campus. The event, organised by Dr Wendy Garnham, attracted a large number of professionals interested in active learning who were able to network and discuss innovative pedagogical methods.

New research led by Dr Silvana De Pirro from the Sussex Addiction Research and Intervention Centre (SARIC) shows that drinking just one pint of beer or a large glass of wine is enough to significantly affect an individual’s sense of feeling in control of their actions. The study has significant implications for alcohol limits and safe driving. Since their research paper was published at the end of June, several national and international journals have covered this important discovery, including The Daily Mirror and The Daily Express, as well as specialised publications such as DevDiscourse, Slashgear, Medical Xpress and Scienmag.

June was also a good month for our developmental psychologists, and several of them were contacted by journalists to provide their expertise:

The Guardian interviewed Dr Jessica Horst for an article on the latest Teletubbies’ film, which came out last month. On the article Again again! Why the Teletubbies film may not be all that it seems, Jessica explains the role of contextual repetition on child development.

Max Lui interviewed Prof Alison Pike for his article in The Guardian Escaping my messy childhood: ‘There were apple cores down the sofa and slugs in the sink’, where he recounts his experience of growing up in a chaotic household.

Prof Sam Cartwright Hatton was interviewed by Claudia Hammond in an All in the Mind feature about Sam’s Flourishing Families Anxiety Clinic on 25 June. The episode is available to listen to and download on BBC Sounds.

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Posted in Psychology in the Media