Favourite Thing: I love working with the children and adults who take part in my research. It’s exciting when behavioural interventions and treatments are successful and you see children who were having lots of problems improve. I also like getting to grips with a whole lot of data and solve problems with it. Sometimes it’s nice to sit and work through a logic problem, it’s satisfying to work out the right way of doing something.
Cheadle Hulme School (1992-1997), Ridge Danyers College, Cheadle (1997-1999)
University of Cardiff (1999-2003): BSc Applied Psychology and Kings College London (2005-2008): PhD in Psychology
Great Ormond Street Hospital (2003-2005): Assistant Clinical Psychologist, working in clinic for social communication disorders (e.g. autism); Kings College London (2005-2007): Researcher on brain imaging study of children with ‘psychopathic’ traits; UCL (2007-2009): Researcher looking at children with autism in education
Goldsmiths, University of London
Lecturer in Psychology
Me and my work
Investigating why some children develop serious behaviour problems, and what interventions and treatments work best
I use lots of different approaches to think about why some children develop serious behavioural problems. I usually work with children whose behaviour problems means that they can’t get along in mainstream school, and they attend special schools for children with behavioural and emotional problems.
I do a lot of work directly with children in schools, testing their abilities in memory, literacy, understanding emotions and language. I also ask parents and teachers to give reports on children’s behaviour and abilities. I use this information to track progress over time – we can see whether our treatment ideas have worked.
I’ve also done some work using brain scanning to look at differences in the structure of the brain, and the reactivity of the brain to emotional faces. We asked children to lie very still in an MRI scanner and respond to pictures of faces and scenes of ‘danger’. This work showed that some children’s brains are less active when they see ‘scary’ things compared to others – this lack of fear response in the brain might mean that these children find it more difficult to understand fear and upset in other people.
My Typical Day
I could be working in schools, giving a lecture, supervising my own students, doing interviews for new students, or sitting quietly with a lot of data and a computer.
On any day, I could be going into schools to work with children; talking about bullying or getting information about children’s abilities and behaviour. One of my studies is currently looking at how children whose peers think are bullies see their world compared to children who aren’t bullies. Bullies aren’t usually very popular in a classroom, and this might be because some of these children aren’t very good at understanding other people, or because they haven’t learnt less aggressive ways to behave.
When I’m not in school, I will be back at University. I am the Admissions’ Tutor for Psychology, and I have to make sure that we are offering places to good students. I also get a lot of queries from potential students that I like to reply to quickly. It can feel pretty stressful applying to university, and I don’t want to create any more stress!
I also teach undergraduate and master’s students. My favourite subject to teach is my own – talking about people who are ‘psychopathic’. I teach students about brain differences in psychopaths and why their behaviour can be so dangerous and difficult to change. I teach groups of between 8 and 125 students, so we could be having a small group chat, or I could be giving a big lecture.
What I'd do with the money
Bring Brain Science to schools! I will set up schemes to bring PhD students (and me) into schools to teach sessions on brain science
For a while, I’ve wanted to set up a scheme that will allow postgraduate students (MSc and PhD) and lecturing staff to visit their local schools to hold sessions on brain science. This scheme will work with primary and secondary students, and will give students a better idea about how their brains work, what their brains actually do, and try and dispel some of those stories about brains that just aren’t true. Brains really are brilliant – we wouldn’t be doing very much at all without them, and I want all school children to be able to take power over their own minds and brains!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Fierce, but friendly.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
oh lots. I *really* like Belle & Sebastian, Those Dancing Days and Edwyn Collins
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Travelled from a conference on Psychopaths in Montreal in Canada to New York by train. It took 12 hours, and it was great.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I’d like an extra hour in the day. um, and then another one. And I’d like to be able to drive.
What did you want to be after you left school?
I wanted to be a journalist. I only discovered Psychology (and science) in sixth form.
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Often… mainly for wearing coloured nail varnish and not wearing my uniform properly.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
After I finished my PhD, I went to live in America for a while to work at the University of Pittsburgh. I learnt to do some very cool brain imaging things, and made lots of great friends. Travelling is a great upside to being a scientist.
Tell us a joke.
How many Psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? None, the bulb just has to really *want* to change.