Don’t be afraid to make decisions

I’ve been thinking about what I want to do in the future, and I’m sure many others are in the same boat. It’s certainly not easy deciding what career path to choose. A while ago, I was grateful to have the opportunity to interview someone who has been through her own decision making journey and is now doing a PhD.

Federica Biotti is a PhD student currently conducting research under the title: Understanding face processing deficits in Developmental Prosopagnosia. Her interests are mainly in Facial/Emotional Recognition and Prosopagnosia (also known as ‘face blindness’); which is a condition whereby an individual is unable to recognise familiar faces. Federica-BiottiIt can also include the impairment of recognition of object and animals. Federica is interested in the underlying causes of these deficits, and the relationship between the recognition of faces and objects.

“Once you establish the causes and the symptoms, it’s easier to develop a programme or strategy which can help people.”

Federica’s journey began in Milan, where she completed her Undergraduate degree and Masters. Her campus was outside the city centre (unlike City). However, she said this meant that there were fewer distractions. Federica did not start her PhD straight away when she arrived to the UK. Instead, she completed an internship with Dr Geoff Bird, who is currently an Associate Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Oxford. Completing her internship on emotion expression in Autism, Federica met Dr Richard Cook (Lecturer at City).

“He asked me if I was interested in doing a PhD with him, and I loved the subject. Of course, it was related to what I was studying at the time on emotion expression and face recognition.”

Federica currently juggles her duties of working on her research and being a lecturer. When I asked her what she found challenging within her many roles, she was very explicit in saying that time management was an obstacle when it came to getting jobs done. Her solution to this is understanding her limits, and planning her weeks in advance. This allows her to do fun things such as going traveling. Federica also talked about the importance of a well-designed study, which has enabled her to effectively balance research and assisting students.

“Even if you don’t find something, you know that the result is still interesting because it’s not due to a bad
design.”

Whilst completing her PhD, Federica has learned that many of her skills developed during her undergraduate studies, such as writing, are vital for her PhD. She found that becoming an expert in one subject area limited her time to read around other topics, and felt she neglected everything else. She advises students to embrace the time spent as an Undergraduate, as we are able to gain knowledge of everything within the field of Psychology. However, Federica is grateful that her topic is quite varied. She appreciates that there are different researchers from several disciplines of Psychology that are interested in face perception.

Federica’s advice to students:

“It’s very hard at this point as an undergraduate to decide on what you want to do and as you know, Psychology, for example, is an immense subject. Sometimes it’s not just about finding what you want to do but finding somebody you’d like to work with. You’ll like the person and of course the type of research but also, if you get along with somebody or if you have the opportunities, just take it. There is always time to change your mind. This is always true in life and there shouldn’t be a limit. In psychology, there are many different open doors, so don’t be too afraid of making decisions because they are not definitive.”

Best gift you ever received? Camera – A passion that I didn’t know I had. My dad gave me a camera when I was younger. I developed this passion for photography. I love travel photography.

Which of your five senses would you keep if you could only keep one? Vision

What would you like to invent? Transport machine – You can go from one side to the other side of the world very quickly.

Written by Sandra Ku

Never give up.

Lesley, our newly elected Communications Officer for the next Academic year, shares her life experiences and her battle with her health, the law and education.
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At the age of 7 I was diagnosed with primary autoimmune Hypothyroidism which slowed down my brain and body function. It was so severe that I had stopped growing, and had the body density of a 4 year old at age 7. I just about reached the shoulders of my friends that were the same age as me, and I was bullied at my school because I was so small. The teachers did not understand either, and I was frequently told off for being so slow. I was placed onto mainstream thyroid medication (T4) and this restored normal growth but many hypothyroid symptoms remained (fatigue, difficulty to concentrate, brain fogginess). My mother and I had discussed our concerns about these symptoms to many endocrinologists, however they all dismissed the idea that it was related to my thyroid.     

At the age of 10, I had developed a new form of postprandial hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia which caused me to suffer from severe daily hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) episodes day and night, that would almost always end up causing grand mal (unconsciousness, foaming at the mouth, muscle contractions) seizures. To prevent such episodes, I had to consume large amounts of glucose every 2 hours – my pancreas was producing 50 x more insulin than normal. This had caused a major delay in my education as I was either in hospital because of a seizure, or I was advised not to come into school because staff did not know how to support me with my rare condition. By this point, I had seen at least 8 endocrinologists who had repeatedly misdiagnosed me. It was only until I had attended a fasting at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), where I was diagnosed with a form of Hyperinsulinism.

At age 13, my Hyperinsulinism reversed into Type 1 Diabetes. My doctor at GOSH was in great disbelief, as this had never been heard of before and was even published medically to make other doctors aware. I am told that I am the first case in the world to reverse from Hyperinsulinsm to insulin dependence – not insulin resistance which would be Type 2 Diabetes. Although becoming insulin dependent is a much less frightening experience as it was with Hyperinsulinism, I am still prone to having grand mal seizures during a hypoglycaemic episode and it does affect me on a daily basis such as tiredness and impaired cognitive function depending on what my blood sugar is and whether there have been any erratic fluctuations. Blood sugar levels can be affected whether you are ill, stressed, upset, concentrating, exercising,  and the weather can also make a significant difference. I was also unable to complete my GCSEs or A-levels due to a sudden change in diagnosis and I still have to consume large amounts of glucose. I am frequently going through 2 bottles of normal Coke and several bottles of Hypostop/Glucogel per episode and sometimes I have to ask strangers for help. 

In 2013, I was the first person in the UK to be tested positive for a genetic mutation that prevents the conversion of T4, one of the thyroid hormones, into T3, the main active thyroid hormone. In ‘normal’ hypothyroid patients, the body is usually able to convert T4 to T3. Thyroid levels are monitored through TSH, T4, and T3 levels via blood tests however it is very common practice for GPs and doctors to only look at the TSH, which can represent an extremely unreliable representation of thyroid levels. When a genetic mutation is present, the lack of conversion is not detectable via blood and therefore undetected by doctors in genetic mutations relating to the thyroid and can easily dismiss symptoms or blames another source for it. I was told that in order to maintain normal cognitive function, I am required to take T3 as well as T4. When I started taking T3, I experienced a tremendously sudden improvement in cognitive functions and this is what helped enable me to get back into education despite not having any GCSE or A level qualifications. 

I also have various learning difficulties, such as Dyscalculia and elements of Dyslexia. Dyscalculia means that it is difficult to process mathematics, even in its most basic form and the elements of Dyslexia refers to my working (short-term) memory. Having only been officially diagnosed last year, this was yet another issue that prevented me from getting the help that I needed when I was in education as there was not an understanding. The effects of my chronic health conditions may worsen my symptoms. 

This experience has not only helped me understand that many people are left being ignored and/or given the wrong medication, but it has given me the opportunity to understand certain psychological processes from a unique perspective and I will proceed to use that to help others in every way that I can. I am determined that complex health conditions (particularly invisible diseases that are often misunderstood) should not stand in the way of any goal, particularly academic goals. This had led me to become very passionate regarding learning more about the structure and function of the brain (I particularly want to explore functions of T3 and its relationship with brain activity to further understanding and improve diagnosis and treatment of patients with hypothyroidism) as they relate to specific physiological processes and behaviours.

Unfortunately, I was met with shock as I received an email at the end of my first year in university saying that I had been withdrawn from my course. Why did this happen? How? Well, at the very beginning of the year I went to Learning Success and gave all the details of my conditions, the many letters from my various doctors and GP informing how my condition affects me and that I will need adjustments during my studies. Throughout my fairly complicated background which is necessary because the symptoms of each condition can affect my studies, the summary of my condition which would be forwarded to the Psychology department and relevant staff members only very briefly described my symptoms as occasionally getting tired. Despite my best effort to correct this, I was still not given the support that I needed. My requirements, known as reasonable adjustments, was that I could be granted extensions for assignments for when I did not feel well enough. I was not given this and therefore I ‘failed’ the year because I did not achieve sufficient grades to pass the year. Instead of being given the opportunity to resit any exams or even retake the year, I was immediately forced to withdraw from my course.

Over the summer I had received multiple offers from law firms to be represented as this became a clear case of discrimination. When my story came out in the media, a lot of people came up to me telling me that they themselves had been discriminated against. Fighting against City was not just about me anymore, it was about fighting for students who could not stand up for themselves. I represented myself instead as I believed that I had to strength to, and I was given a place back on my course with a letter of apology. Fortunately I have been given the correct support since my place was given back and has been outstanding. But this does not mean that discrimination does not happen to anyone else. The Student Union elections were coming up and I decided to run for Disabled Students’ Officer so that I was able to fight for students with disabilities on a much bigger scale. I won.

I never was able to complete my GCSEs or A levels, and a lot of people think that without those you can’t get into university. Well guess what? I graduated my Access to Higher Education with a Distinction and I got into City, University of London to study Psychology, a subject that I am deeply passionate about, which is ranked 2nd best in London. Did I let the staff members discriminate against me because of my disabilities? No. Why am I writing this? If this at all helps you feel the slightly bit more motivated, that is all that I ever wanted to do. If you ever feel like something is too much for you to handle or that something is out of your reach, do not forget what you strive for in life no matter what it is. Do not forget that you have a voice. Without the downs, there are no ups.

“There is nothing that you can’t accomplish.”

All that’s needed is your hard work and determination. I understand and can completely sympathise that sometimes it can feel too much, or maybe that you’re not sure what you want to do next. If that is the case, then take a moment to think about what makes you the happiest and what makes it all worthwhile for you. Use this time to your best advantage so that you can really reflect on how something has made you feel and why. Often this is the place that you can find where your true passions are and when you think of it, fight for it. Don’t let anybody push you down but if they do, use it as something that just motivates you even more.

“Never give up.”

Written by Lesley Bayly-Bureau

The City Psych Journal Journey

One of our amazing City Psych writers Sabrina Desai talks about her experience of being involved in City Psych Journal. We would like to thank her for her amazing article on Mental Health Stigma.

You can have a look at her piece and all the other interesting articles in City Psych’s online version: https://issuu.com/citypsychjournal 

When I initially saw the email regarding the psychology journal, I was ecstatic! The very thought of someone creating a platform to make psychology and its current topics more  accessible was awe-inspiring. I was sure I wanted to be a part of it! It was exhilarating to imagine having an academic article published in the university’s very first psychology journal. Being a part of this meant I would have the opportunity to explore a relevant topic which was interesting and I’d be able to share it with not just people from my course, but a much wider audience.

Through all the excitement and thinking of topics that were current and would be fascinating to readers, I started to wonder if it was too great a commitment? After mulling over it for a couple of hours, I reminded myself that there was no such thing as lack of time and that this wasn’t an opportunity that should be taken for granted, and so like any sane person I claimed it.

“This experience for me is a milestone and I have learned so much from it.”

Everyone that worked on the journal was amazing, I got to meet a lot of new people, who were friendly, interesting and had so many great ideas for their articles.

“What I love most about psychology, is that it’s extremely relatable to things we do in our day to day life and this journal encompassed that!”

Sabrina DesaiAt no point, did it ever seem like this journal was only for psychology students and there were so many students I met from different courses that exhibited an interest and made this an incredible experience. From talking to people about my ideas and getting feedback on my article from editors and academics- it was an amazing journey. All of us have coursework and essays to do, but think about having the opportunity to actually write about something that you’re curious about, a chance to spread awareness and shed light upon current topics that are being disregarded or need to be explored further. I consider myself lucky to have had the chance to not only meet talented people and have had an article published, but to have had the opportunity to explore topics and make psychology more accessible to individuals who don’t necessarily come from academic backgrounds.

This journal is a brilliant platform and I hope inspiring writers with a voice and interest in psychology, no matter what their course -come together next year to inspire others and explore more relevant issues. Hope everyone enjoyed reading the first issue. Here’s looking forward to issue 2.

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Naz Altinok – City Psych Journal Founder giving a speech about the journal

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From left to right: Jessika, Sig, Anna, Sabrina and Sandra

Written by Sabrina Desai

Treat it as a full time job

Despite the unpredictable weather, I was lucky enough to arrange a meeting with a very busy lecturer. Professor Tina Forster has been at City for over 10 years. Her BettinaForstermain research over the last years has focused on ‘body perception’ and how that affects processing of information. One of her the main successes at City is the development of the Cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit, which has allowed students and fellow researchers to expand on their knowledge of the brain. Tina and her fellow colleagues also established an EEG (electroencephalogram) lab at City which allows them to record changes in brain activity over time.

On describing the success of this unit, Tina reflects on the inspiring work of her students. “Our PhD students have arranged Brain Awareness Weeks. They’ve organised a series of lectures and events to celebrate that week. “ These events enables students to understand that the brain isn’t just a ‘black box’ and how the brain has special functions.

Being the successful professor and researcher Tina is today wasn’t all fun and games. When I asked her about any challenges she had to overcome, she mentioned how long it takes to reach her position. She described being in education for a very long time, but was very lucky that her education was mostly free. Working to make a living alongside studying was something very obvious to her, and she admires that students are doing both to pay for their VERY expensive tuition fees. However, Tina enjoyed the journey of education and research and made her story positive; turning the hardships into lessons.

“To gain experience you will need to work with different people, like you would do in an apprenticeship. For me it was a nice opportunity but others might see that as an obstacle. Every experiment is a challenge. You never know what you’re going to get.”

The question I am always intrigued to ask lecturers at our university is why they like City. With all the top Universities and Research Institutes in London, picking one institution isn’t an easy option. Just like it was difficult for most of us to choose a University. Tina enjoys teaching and is passionate about sharing her expertise with others. She describes her job as having “3 hats on” as her varied role includes a bit of Teaching, Admin and Research.

City is a very nice vibrant community.”

Placements are something that would be ideal to assist me in reaching the career that I want to pursue. It is often difficult to choose one path to stick to, and Tina agrees that your first job is not always your last. She explains that University gives us the theoretical basis, but it is up to us to expand on our own horizons. Getting that extra experience is important for obtaining different approaches from people of all backgrounds. Tina also had job experiences that she didn’t enjoy however, she managed to change her profession. From her answers, I admire her passion and resilience to the challenges she has faced.

“Sometimes you do enjoy it in the end, but you just need some time to get through it.”

Tina’s advice to students:

“Treat studying as a full time job. It is a full time job. I know you probably all have other jobs on the side. Keep up with managing your time, your lectures, and what you need to do. Get experience outside in some way, relevant to what you want to go into as a career.”

If you could be any historical figure, who would it be? I would rather go forward to see the future. But I admire a lot of people in the past such as Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga (who’s still alive), who have done fundamental work in psychology. Or I’d love to be the first person who walked on the moon.

If the world was going to end, what would you do? Mindfulness practice – reflect and be in the moment.

What fact amazes you every time you think of it? Humans have the capability of looking forward and backward. We are time travelers.

Written by Sandra Ku

There is nothing that should stop you

Untitled1The anticipated interview with Dr Pavlos Filippopoulos is here. I had the opportunity to have a quick chat with one of City’s most liked lecturers. Many Psychology students will know him for his animated Clinical lectures. Dr Filippopoulos has previously discussed his research findings through: radio channels, the press and has appeared on television. Along with being a Senior Lecturer at City University London, Pavlos also offers psychological consultancy within Psychology and Psychotherapy.

Pavlos was involved with many things before he started to study. Interestingly, he was accepted into a medical school in Greece but found when diving into his studies, he would get bored. He realised that he was interested in: how people behave, why they behave in particular ways, how they think and what they feel. He soon found out that Psychology was the field that studies that. Since his decision to study Psychology, he has never been bored. Therefore, the discipline has not let him down. Clinical and Counselling Psychology came later for Pavlos, as he studied more in detail. The application of Clinical Psychology to a clinical practice was what fascinated Pavlos.

“I felt I was doomed, what am I going to do with my life; there is nothing that can keep me interested.”

Pavlos described himself as a clearly eager and motivated student. He admits that he would be annoying to his teachers, as he would ask questions and stay after lectures to discuss the material of the lectures. However, he hopes that he was not one of the very annoying students in his class. He explained that although he was never the top student in terms of marks, he put effort into his assignments to get a good degree. His focus was not on getting the highest marks, but acquiring as much knowledge as he could from the people that had practiced Psychology for years.

Many people would doubt their ability to become a good clinical psychologist. The reasons could span from: being too emotional, or feeling uncomfortable if a client were to cry, or not knowing what to say. I asked Pavlos whether he believed that some people would not be suited to practice Clinical Psychology.

There is nothing that should stop you from being a Clinical psychologist, if you really wish to do so.”

It was a tough question for Pavlos to answer. However, he said ultimately if it is something that a person wishes to do, then they should not let anything stop them from pursuing their wish.

I was curious to know what Pavlos thought the best and worst parts of his role is. The hardest part for him is having to make difficult decisions that will put someone in a challenging position. For example, if he has to ask a student to write better on an essay, knowing that they may take it personally. I had never thought about how lecturers feel about giving criticism on essays. However, Pavlos said that communicating to a student that it is in their best interest is difficult. On the other hand, the best part is getting to study with the students. Pavlos believes that every time he gives a lecture, he studies with the students as he learns things as we consider things together. Also, Pavlos enjoys his clinical work as every case he has is different.

“Supposedly this country would say I teach you, but every time I ‘teach’ you I study with you”

Pavlos’ advice to students:

My students, here at city? Go for it guys. You are excellent students, by far the best students I have come across. So the world is yours, fully. Go out there, conquer it and shape it for your children.

Favourite colour ? Blue. It reminds me of a clear sky or blue sea.

Motto in life? Still alive; so let’s make the most of it.

Would you rather have the ability to be invisible or read minds? Both.

Written by Dionne St Rose

Do Whatever You Need to Do

I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas break. I certainly did. Before the term ended, I was able to meet Dr. Lauren Knott for an interview. Dr. Lauren Knott specialises in the field of Memory. Lauren’s PhD topic was on

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Dr. Lauren Knott

investigating the recollective experience of remembering and false memory production.

Anyone who studies Psychology at a graduate level knows how popular (and competitive) Clinical Psychology is. Initially Lauren was interested in Clinical and Forensic Psychology. Her dream whilst studying was finding a role where she could merge the two fields. Her work on false memories in her undergraduate degree led her to complete a doctorate on the topic as well.

Lauren enjoyed her university experience, and made a strong social network that she is still in contact with today. She said looking back that her University was very strict and rigid. The challenging aspect was that she didn’t have any contact with the lecturers.

“I never said one word or sent one email to any member of staff the whole time that I was there. We didn’t interact or speak.

Luckily, at City, University of London the lecturers are all very friendly and supportive. Lauren agrees that the allowance of communication with lecturers is beneficial to any students’ study; and admits that her University environment was not as friendly as it could have been.

After reflecting upon the highlights of her role at City, University of London, Lauren says that there are two major things that she enjoys most. As a Programme Director, Lauren enjoys striving to improve the experience that City students have. She also works on the feedback that arises from student representatives, in order to develop and improve the programme as much as she can. As with any academic, Lauren also enjoys her involvement in research. At the moment, Lauren and her colleagues are writing a book to be published on Memory and Law. She enjoys getting to explore a wide breadth of research: memory law, collaborative memory of jury members, and how this affects their decisions, and also studies on memories from childhood.

As I am currently contemplating whether to complete a Masters, I was interesting in Lauren’s opinion on gap years. Lauren suggested that gap years can be beneficial. Sometimes further education may not be something that students can do straight away due to: flexibility and time, or income and their financial situation. However, Lauren was determined to complete her education all in one go.

“I would just be aware that things move fast. Sometimes you need that break, but also you have to think about what your career needs.”

Lauren’s advice to students:

The world of academia is changing. In my undergraduate degree, a 2:1 or 1 was all you needed to go on to the job you wanted to do. Now it is so competitive. A Psychology degree is a great degree to have due to the transferable skills you gain, but there are so many students with a Psychology degree. So what I suggest is come to University with expectations that you are going to need to get work experience or charity work; whatever it is you need to do. You have to think employability, and not just focusing on your studies. You’re coming from A-Levels and University is very different. Academia and University degrees involves a lot of independent study. That’s one thing, we are seeing a shift in expectations.

If you could learn any language what would it be? Spanish

Do you prefer BBC or ITV? BBC

Favourite Fruit? Satsuma, because it reminds me of Christmas

Written by Dionne St Rose

It’s not just a 9 to 5

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This week I interviewed Dr. Katy Tapper, who specialises in Health Psychology. Katy’s PhD research was about aggression in schools, and her Post-Doc was on health eating in schools. Katy reflected that the reason she stayed in the area of Health Psychology was because there were many things about that appealed to her. Health Psychology can be applied, or experimental work can be carried out. Theories can be made and developed, and can also be related to topics such as social inequalities and government policies.

“It is a broad field, and there is lots of interesting literature to get stuck into.”

One of the best parts of the job for Katy is ultimately the research, and being able to study things that she is interested in. Katy articulates that teaching Health Psychology is a nice opportunity for her to read around areas that she wouldn’t directly be researching in. Katy also likes project supervision, as she gets to know her students better. The worst part of the role for Katy is marking exams. Although the Health coursework is interesting to mark as everybody does something a little bit different as they have to invent their own health intervention. Katy admits that marking exams scripts are not as fun, and that generally academics in the field feel they don’t get enough time to do their own research as they have a lot of general admin work at times.

I often worry whether I put enough time into my own studies, so I was interested to see how many hours a week Katy works. Katy replied that the hours she works varies, and it really depends on what deadlines she has that week. Some weeks Katy would work evenings and weekends, if she is trying to meet a particular deadline. There will be other weeks where, maybe it is not so intense and therefore she can work more flexibly.

As I have interviewed a few academics now, naturally I was beginning to wonder if there are common similarities between them in their success in the academic field. I asked Katy for her opinion and she revealed that people who go into academia have a high interest in what they study, and therefore it is not just a 9 to 5 job, it is something they really enjoy doing. She also mentioned that a lot of academics like the freedom to work in what they are interested ini

“I’d say academics don’t tend to like being told what to do very much. I guess it attracts people who like to organise things how they want to.”

Katy’s advice to students:

“My advice would be to read a lot. Something that would definitely improve a student’s writing is to read as they possibly can and I think that would then come out in their writing. Also, try to study things that you enjoy, and perhaps even if it is something that you don’t enjoy so much – try and find something about it that you can relate to your own life. Everyone does so much better if they study something they are interested in and enjoying.”

What is your favourite clothing shop? Hush

Beach Holiday or a city break? Beach holiday, although I do love cities.

Favourite movie genre? Real historical events but dramatized. For example: “Fair Game” and “The insider”.

Written by Dionne St Rose

Make Decisions Early

brenda-toddAs Developmental Psychology was the research area that first made me realise my interest in Psychology; I was excited to interview Dr. Brenda Todd, who specialises in Developmental Psychology. Some of the research areas that Brenda is interested in are parent-infant communication and lateral biases in behaviour, particularly the left cradling bias.

Brenda started University as a Mature Student, and studied Applied Psychology at Sussex University. Although Brenda was not sure what she wanted to do when she was studying. She had two sons and knew she already had an interest in Developmental Psychology. One of the things that attracted Brenda to Developmental Psychology was the potential for helping people when they are young, whether that was by ensuring good systems are in place or on an individual level.

I guessed that there would be some challenges in Developmental Psychology as it can contain sensitive topics. The most challenging aspect of the job for Brenda comes from gently supporting the parents and educators so they can give the best help to the children they are looking after. Sometimes the parents that Brenda works with have very difficult circumstances to deal with. For example, one of the groups that Brenda has worked with most recently were refugee parents, and Brenda helps people to do the best job that they can as parents. The best part of the job for Brenda is when she sees that her help is appreciated and is working.

Another part of her role that Brenda loves is supporting her students and hearing their outcomes. Her PhD student Sarah Tommessen has recently received her award, and now is in employment. Brenda is very proud seeing that after all the work they have achieved together; her student is now ready to take on wonderful work. Brenda also had exciting news about her research topic on gender differences in toy preferences. Brenda has someone from the Disney Company coming to see her to talk about her research. She has also been mentioned in an article in the New York Times, and a German newspaper quite recently.

“The research has had huge media attention, and yet it is quite an easy study to do but it has hit public sensitivities. Everybody is interested whether they are parents or not, they’re curious about where those differences comes from.”

Brenda is incredibly excited about the growing interest in her studies. However, she mentioned that her opportunity to work with mothers that have been trafficked into the countries, and their babies who were under 6 months old is what she is most proud of. As it was wonderful to see their ability to be good mothers in the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

“I think that is my most memorable study. Together with my student Sarah Thompson, we have done the most good.”

At the end of the interview, I asked Brenda if she had the chance would she start she all over again, and choose a different career path. Brenda replied no, as she doesn’t believe she could resist. Brenda used to be a Company Director for a Marine Salvage Company and although she has enjoyed the variety of her working life, the only thing she would change is switching to Psychology a bit earlier.

Brenda’s Advice to Students:

“My advice would be to make decisions early, be confident about what they would like to do with their Psychology degree and not wait until the end as I did. To think about which groups of people they would like to work with, but also be really open about where a psychology degree can take you. The wide range of employment that you can get with a Psychology degree.”

Do you prefer sunrises or sunsets? I like the energy and excitement of a sunrise.

If you could change anything about yourself what would it be? Would like to be taller.

Favourite movie genre? Old fashioned black and white movies.

Written by Dionne St Rose

Dehumanisation – Something We Are All Capable Of

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City Psychology Society first guest speaker of the year was Dr. Lasana Harris. After a captivating talk, Dr. Harris gladly agreed to an interview. He would describe himself as an Inter-disciplinary Researcher, as he incorporates aspects of different fields such as Social Psychology and Philosophy into his research.

His talk was about dehumanisation, also known as dehumanised perception. The idea behind this is very simple, when we encounter other human beings we feature space map and infer. Feature space mapping is looking at the contour, size and shapes of objects and matching this up with similar dimensions already stored in our brains to figure out what the object is. It’s the same with human beings – for example we can use height, size, eye and hair colour to identify one human being from another. Dr. Harris explained that human beings are unique as we go one step further and infer to figure out what the other person is thinking.

A very reassuring theme is that professionals do not always begin their academic careers in the degree subject which you would expect. Dr. Harris completed his undergraduate degree in Media and Communications and wanted to be a journalist. However, through coming into contact with a developmental psychologist. He began to realise that Psychology did interest him.

Although Dr. Harris gave us a nice example of how Disney capitalises on the notion that we can humanise objects, and can infer emotions from objects given the right context. During question time it became apparent that our students were concerned that the media negatively use the notion of dehumanisation in news channels. For example, the news channels often has a ‘them versus us’ attitude on anything negative – which may lead the audience to dehumanise people who are need in of help. One student asked Dr. Harris if he believes that we can use what has already been researched to bring about a social change. His answer was that the context of what is shown on television has a powerful impact, and all the media does is reinforce the negative impact. However, Dr. Harris suggested that social change is possible as cultural shifts happen naturally. For example, the ‘hated outgroups’ from 80 years ago are no longer hated due to a change of social attitudes.

“Living in a social environment is very complicated. I think what separates us from other species is that fact that we can switch emotions on and off. All species will kill for food, but the want and act of killing for the sake of it is only found in a few species.”

Although dehumanisation can be seen as a negative in many cases, Harris showed the audience that the practical applications of dehumanisation can be positive. For example, doctors have to be able to have empathy towards their patients, and be able to dehumanise during surgery. For example, it may affect their performance if they are thinking about: how worried the patients family are, and how much pain the patient will be after the surgery. Another practical application which was quite striking for me is how the army often teach the soldiers -knowingly or unknowingly – to dehumanise the people that they may eventually have to face in combat.

I was interested in knowing what the most exciting thing for Harris was, as he has completed many years of research. Harris responded that the most exciting time for any researcher is when they are running their first initial analysis to check whether their hypothesis is correct. As many psychology students would agree, when conducting our own experience a significant effect is not always found. However, Harris pointed out that although there are many setbacks in the life of a researcher, it is very interesting when something unexpected pops up out of the data that you wouldn’t expect would happen.

Further expanding on the idea of having setbacks in research; I was curious about the secret to dealing with these setbacks without becoming too discouraged. Researchers encounter much more setbacks than students in the form of: papers and grants being rejected, and people not hiring you and so on. Dr. Harris’ advice was to not take criticism too harshly nor personally.

“You have to have ‘thick skin’. Don’t take criticism too harshly, don’t take it personally, you should use it to improve yourself. There’s always something from a criticism you can learn.”

On a more positive note, I wanted to know what kept Harris motivated to continue conducting research regardless of setbacks. He shared that the best part of his role is being able to give talks, as he loves storytelling, and his talks are his way of storytelling to the audience. Which I believe is the secret to giving inspiring, memorable talks.

Harris’ Advice to Students:

“Research experience, that’s the most important thing. Get as much research experience as you can. Take relevant classes and get the research experience.”

What makes you bored? Doing the same thing continuously for a very long time.

Favourite season? Summer! I’m from the Caribbean.

Are you usually late, early or right on time? Right on time. Maybe a little early, but never late.

Written by Dionne St Rose

Not Enough Time in the World

danai_dima-200pxThe term is moving fast. Deadlines are piling up this month, and we all can’t wait for the festive season to begin and term to finish so we can hibernate until the new term. However, amongst all the class tests and deadlines, I was excited to do my first interview with a lecturer at City. We turn up to lectures on a daily basis (well, most of us do) and we hear about the research that our lecturers have conducted in the past. However, we don’t always have the chance to find out what it was like for our lecturers to study at university. 

As a fairly new lecturer to City and my current Biological Psychology lecturer in year 2, Dr Danai Dima has made my Wednesday 9am’s (sigh) much more enjoyable with her enthusiastic teaching. Dr. Danai Dima is currently a Cognitive Neuroscience lecturer at City, and has been interested in Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience from a young age as she enjoyed maths. Her main interests in Psychology developed from her love of reading Oliver Sacks books on neuroscience. She obtained her Bachelors from her home country Greece, and completed a Masters in Integrative Neuroscience and a PhD in Germany and London. It’s safe to say that she’s an expert in her field with the world class training she has received.

After travelling all over Europe studying and conducting research, Danai reminisced on her Bachelor’s Degree in Greece when I asked which was her favourite place to study. ‘I’m going to be a bit cheeky here. I did my first degree in Greece and there are some pros and cons’. Danai explained that her first degree involved a high demand for good memory as she described that studying involved learning a lot of models. ‘University is free in Greece for your first Bachelor’s Degree, but you don’t do any research like you can do in the UK. So here, you have a lot of people who do world class research and your projects can be much better’. Danai further agreed that in the UK we get what we pay for when it comes to university: ‘world class research and world class lecturers’. Even though university rates are known to be high in the UK, we can sometimes forget that high amounts of money are spent on funding research that enables us know more about how we function and how we can resolve issues in fields such as Mental Health.

‘Psychology changes all the time. It’s still an infant. Every day in a baby’s life is like a year in psychology. So if you’re not up to date, then you don’t get the correct world view of psychology.’

As you could imagine it was very difficult for Danai to choose a favourite research project out of the 30+ published research papers she has been involved in. ‘You end up thinking that your favourite project is the one you’re currently working on’. She is currently working on machine learning (i.e. using brain scans) in differentiating between disorders such as Bipolar patients with Depressive patients, as it can take up to 8 years to get an accurate diagnosis. On working with ENIGMA (Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics Through Meta-Analysis), a consortium involving a network of research establishments, her work involves investigating how the brain ages and how structures change as we develop throughout our lives. 

‘I can never publish a paper on my own because we never have all the expertise. It’s not only a time limit but also a capacity limit because there’s not enough time in your lifetime in years to study.’

Danai has worked at City in the Psychology department for the last 6 months so she describes herself as a ‘newbie to City’. She describes that having a nice work environment is vital in her work, and City students are ‘nice and polite’ which makes the job easier. Working with her colleagues is a ‘lot of fun’ and the work ethic of students makes her enjoy being a lecturer. ‘Ask me again next year, who knows?’

At university, people often ask us what we want to do after completing our degrees, but it’s not often as straightforward for everyone. Danai confessed that the first role or job you try may not necessarily be the career you want. After spending time on becoming a clinical neuropsychologist, she didn’t enjoy the year in training. ‘Sometimes our ideas become romanticised and you can always make mistakes. But usually life is not as strict and you can always change what you want to do’.

Danai’s advice to students:

‘Support your peers. I know it sounds silly, but you will get the best advice usually from your peers. Like the ones that are one or two years above you. There should be a lot of love between you because you are all in the same boat. You are a big cohort and it’s really difficult to become friends with all of you. But help each other with notetaking. Don’t suck up to the big ones. It doesn’t matter so much. Be nice to each other. Sounds a bit cheesy, I know.’ 

What is your favourite TV show/series? Crime series (currently watching ‘The Missing’)

What is the first thing you notice when you first meet people? Their voice

What’s your favourite day of the year? My birthday (it’s in December)

Written by Sandra Ku