Professor of Experimental Psychology
Department of Experimental Psychology
Tell us a bit About your role
What do you do?
I teach, do research, and contribute to administration and governance in my department and my college.
How did you get to where you are now?
By a series of happy accidents, good fortune, and fuelled by inspirational role models and mentors along the way. I never expected to go to University – I’m first generation post-16 education in my family. One teacher in particular encouraged me to think about University and from that spark, I ended up a psychology student at the University of York. I then had my passion. I loved it all, but quickly became fascinated by how humans learn and process language. Three years later, I didn’t want to stop so there followed a doctorate and some very happy and intellectually stimulating years as a post-doc, and then my first lectureship, all at the University of York. Itchy feet coincided with me seeing the advert for my current job and the rest is history. This has been exciting and challenging as well as exhausting and rewarding, often all at the same time!
How does your role fit into the wider landscape of the Medical Sciences?
I’m a Professor in the department and so do all the things associated with that. My research connects with the Medical Sciences through an interest in human cognition – how people learn, understand, remember and communicate, and how this can go wrong for people who struggle. My work also takes me beyond Medical Sciences, touching on core themes in social sciences and the humanities too.
What is the most meaningful aspect of your work?
Meaningful to me? For research – it’s still with designing and running experiments that tell us something fundamental about children’s learning. It’s rare that I collect data myself, but the challenge and fun of this is lived vicariously via my research group who do all the hard work and make the discoveries. And for teaching – as much as I love research, I wouldn’t be without my teaching, especially those around my duties as a Tutorial Fellow. Oxford is special in how we work so closely with undergraduates. Getting to know them, sharing the happy times and the less happy times, and watching them grow both intellectually and socially to find their voice is an utter privilege.
Can you tell us about something you’ve done, contributed to that you’re most proud of?
Related to the above, I am proud of my contributions to teaching and encouraging --- proud in a cumulative sense when I take stock and look back over the years, rather than one particular project or initiative. This makes me realise that what we do as tutors and supervisors does make a difference to individuals – just as how those who supported me at critical times has transformed my life. Recently, our research has been recognised by an ESRC Celebrating Impact Award. This reflects how from the firm foundations provided by our basic research we’ve promoted connections with teachers and educational professionals. This has helped us all to work together to inform how children should be taught to read. Without the ability read, young people are lost and their futures can be bleak. So this work makes me proud too.
What changes would you most like to see in the Medical Sciences in the next 100 years?
I hope for more connections to broader questions in social sciences and the humanities both in terms of translation and basic science. Take reading as an example. About 15% of young people leave school with inadequate reading and language abilities. The impact of this on physical and mental health is enormous, as are the costs to individuals, families and society more broadly. Reading really is a public health issue but is rarely thought of in those terms.