Applied Cognitive Expertise: Networking Event

On Monday 4 April 2016 the Applied Cognitive Expertise held its first networking event at Cardiff Metropolitan University. The day was an opportunity for researchers, both inside and outside the university, to disseminate and discuss a range of diverse topics in an informal and relaxed environment.

Sessions were held on Distraction and language; Decision-making and reasoning; Emotion, mood, and cognition; and Hedonic cognition. Within those sessions, for example, Dr Robert Mayr talked about how native languages sound foreign, Dr Nick Perham informed us how a deficit in processing order information may explain some features of dyslexia, Dr Niall Galbraith explored how jealousy and paranoia are (not) associated with data gathering, Dr Andy Watt explained how decision-making in psychiatry is not as optimal as it should be, Professor Phil Reed examined how schizotypy and internet use are related to each other, Dr Deiniol Skillicorn focused on a novel Stroop methodology to explain cognitive control deficits schizotypy, and Dr Martin Graff regaled us with decision-making in online dating. To round things off, Professor Bob Snowden gave us an insight into the cognitive underpinnings of psychopathic individuals replete with fascinating anecdotes of his research experience.

We are very grateful to all those who presented and attended and hope to organise a similar event next year.

ACE event photo

Some feedback from the event:

Professor Phil Reed from Swansea University felt that the “day achieved three main things: 1) it allowed me to make some contacts with people doing similar work to me, so that we can develop research collaborations; 2) it kept me up to date with research in the local area, and a bit beyond; and 3) it was a good research conference in itself”.

Professor Bill Macken from Cardiff University said that “the Applied Cognitive Expertise networking event organised at Cardiff Metropolitan Uni provided a broad and stimulating forum for discussion of the of ways in which the methods and concepts of cognitive psychology could be usefully applied to a variety of ‘real world’ settings and problems. As a showcase for the range of research expertise in the area, it will hopefully provide a starting point for valuable collaborations in the future”.

Dr Martin Graff from the University of South Wales commented that “the day enabled me to discuss and make contact with several colleagues from different institutions sharing research interests to my own.  I have now had the opportunity to contact delegates with the idea of conducting further research in cognate areas”.

Dr Simon Dawson from Cardiff Metropolitan University initially was “a little sceptical to attend as many aspects were not directly related to my field of expertise. However, with the high calibre of speakers, well designed presentations and regular breaks to interact made the day worthwhile. There was a clear synergy between each speaker, highlighting the sterling efforts the psychology department had put in organising this event. This has opened ideas for potential collaborative research within areas I had not considered before. Looking forward to the next event”.

Professor Bob Snowden from Cardiff University “was really pleased to get a chance to hear of these activities taking place on our doorstep.  I hope the enterprise of the Applied Cognitive Expertise Network can continue to bring together scientists and practioners from our region to form strategic collaborations and exchange ideas”.

 

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Student Research: The Poster Conference

Research provides the foundation for understanding psychological phenomena that anyone interested in our discipline will read or hear about. It also provides skills and techniques to explore and understand social phenomena and also to ascertain whether claims about the world are valid, reliable and ultimately true.

This week witnessed we held our inaugural Poster Conference in which Level 6 students presented posters of their final year research projects to members of staff and also Level 4 and 5 students. It was a fantastic opportunity for them to show their enthusiasm and knowledge of their chosen project to an eager audience who may be participating in those studies (Level 4 and 5 students) or marking their work. Further, it gave an opportunity for Level 4 and 5 students to see what kinds of studies can be undertaken within our department which should provide plenty of food for thought when considering their research projects over the next two years.

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To round off the event, our keynote speaker was Dr Katherine Shelton from Cardiff University who spoke about her research looking at the background and needs of young people who have been homeless.   The timely talk was an excellent example of how psychology research and theory can be applied to better understand important social issues and how this can lead to better support for people in need.

Katherine

At the end of the day, staff and students enjoyed mince pies and mulled wine to celebrate Xmas and the end of term.

Dr Dan Heggs said “This was an excellent event, which helps bring all students together.  It fits really well with the careers conference we have later in the year, and reminds us about how psychology touches on so many areas of life.  I enjoyed the way that the variety of student projects could be seen and was really impressed by the quality of their work and range of their interests. They all did really well”

Dr Nick Perham, with help from Shamima our administrator, deserves big thanks for arranging and organising everything.

We look forward to our second Poster Conference next year.  We would also like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a wonderful Christmas and a very happy 2016!


Psychology BSc: Three years is not such a long time after all…

One of most recent graduates, Jed Clarke, was fortunate enough to work as Research Assistant with us briefly, and in chatting with him it seemed like a good idea to ask him to reflect on his time as a psychology undergraduate at Cardiff Met.

 

Looking back, I never would have thought that I would have achieved this much in the space of three years. The undergraduate degree has allowed me to explore concepts that now I love and find things in the world that I am truly interested in. My first two years in Cardiff Met were difficult but exciting. I took on a lot, including training with the Army Officer Training Corps part time. This involved going on exercises in the Brecon Beacons over some weekends and over summer. Support in my first year was always available, whether it was personal or academic. Being able to have a personal tutor during this period was excellent, as it meant that I could find my feet during the early stages of the degree.

Jed with the Army Officer Training Corps in the Brecon Beacons

Jed with the Army Officer Training Corps in the Brecon Beacons

One of the most valuable experiences I had was being able to work with Hafal charity as part of my work and volunteering module in the second year. Hafal provide services for people with schizophrenia and bi-polar disorders and I was able to get service-users involved in community projects such as gardening, and help them acquire new skills to be able to re-join the community after they had come out of hospital. On paper this seemed daunting, but it was only when I went to go and do it that I realised that they were just people with burdens (no matter what the films and TV programmes tell you).

During my degree I especially enjoyed modules related to cognitive psychology and research methods and statistics. There was something exciting about being able to discover first-hand how another person’s brain functions, and so when it came around to choosing what I wanted to do for my final year project I was immediately overwhelmed by the options available but I did have some ideas. It was only when I met up with my supervisor, Deiniol Skillicorn, that all the pieces fell into place. I had already taken an interest in schizophrenia, and I knew that Deiniol specialised in Schizotypal traits, so after some negotiation my topic ended up being about context processing in schizotypal and depressive traits (don’t let that put you off!), and it proved to be one of the best experiences I have had. Not only was the research literature enjoyable, but conducting the research in the labs was a thoroughly gratifying experience.  I was able to meet other third years properly and meet first and second years who came in to do take part in my experiment. Deiniol was a great supervisor, and Geraint Davies and other lecturers made the process personal, and much easier to deal with.

During my third year I decided that I wanted to do more research, so I decided to take on a placement for work and volunteering module working with the Digital Literacy Project part time throughout the year. This involved conducting focus groups to explore how students engage with technology when at Cardiff Met. This was particularly exciting because this was going to be included in a journal article, something I couldn’t let pass!

After I had written my dissertation, I was offered a summer position as a Research Assistant with Deiniol and Andy Watt to develop a new learning task. This was phenomenal, as this is the kind of experience that future employers/course directors would be looking for on a CV. I spent my final month at uni conducting more research, and I enjoyed being able to work in the labs for more time, as I felt my project wasn’t enough!

I have now been accepted onto an MSc in Research Methods in Southampton, something I would have only dreamed about achieving.

Jed testing some of the equipment in the PARC

Jed testing some of the equipment in the PARC

The support from the department has been outstanding, and the staff clearly have a passion for their subjects. They have tutored, taught and supported me through a character defining period and I wouldn’t have come this far without them. The degree has had some lows as well as highs, but that is to be expected during such a time in a person’s life.

My advice to students that are coming onto the course — or even who are already on the course –would be that “you get what you give”. Grades don’t necessarily reflect ability, but rather how much effort you put into understanding the content and the processes involved in writing, such as critical evaluation. The myth of “I’m naturally not good enough” seems to be common amongst students, and you need to be able to challenge that throughout your degree. Don’t be put off by joining extra-curricular activities, as this will only serve to increase your motivation and better your uni experience. There is enough time in the day to work, relax and party. The challenge is being able to balance all three! I would also recommend taking on the Work and Volunteering modules, as this would enhance your CV and provide you with excellent life experiences, something that I am very grateful for. Opportunities will come, but it is your responsibility to go out and find them. I am sad about leaving Cardiff Met, but I am now anticipating a new journey laid out for me in the coming year.

Jed’s supervisor, Deiniol Skillicorn has this to say:

Jed has worked hard during his three years, and clearly made the most of the opportunities in front of him.  I was lucky to supervise Jed with his level 6 project that examined contextual processing abnormalities in schizotypy and depression.  It was a challenging project but Jed had a willingness and commitment to tackle these challenges.  This enhanced his learning experience by further developing independent thinking and problem solving skills.  These skills were put to the test when Jed joined us for 4 weeks as a research assistant working on a project to develop a learning paradigm for use with people who have a diagnosis of schizophrenia.  With the demands of level 6 study out of the way, Jed flourished in this new role.  I took great delights in seeing one of our undergraduates develop and grow over the three years of his degree and then apply these skills as an independent researcher on this short project.  I wish Jed all the best in his future and hope that our academic paths cross again. 

If you would like to find out more about our Psychology BSc (Hons) Programme please have a look at: www.cardiffmet.ac.uk/psychology


Psychology BSc Dissertation: A Gratifying Experience

It’s a strange time of year. Things feel like they ought to slow down for the summer, but it doesn’t work quite like that. As students finish their exams and coursework the process of marking then awarding grades takes place, with the important aspect of letting students know how they’ve done. This is obviously especially a concern for final year students as they come to the end of their degrees, and want to see how they’ve done. As staff, while we are marking and entering grades, there is delight in seeing how well students have done and recognising how much they have learned with us.

We asked Daniel Carr to reflect on completing his degree and his final year project, which won this year’s prize for best project:

Last week, after months of anticipation, I was informed that I would be awarded a First Class Honours Degree in Psychology! Among the emotions I felt (relief, pride, joy), I was also overwhelmed with gratitude – gratitude for having had the opportunity to undertake study at Cardiff Met.

My experience of studying Psychology at this university has always been a positive one. The teaching staff are knowledgeable and passionate, easy to follow during lectures and available to answer questions in person or via email. I found all the staff to be very personable, and I have only positive remarks to make about each lecturer individually. In particular, I could not have wished for a more suited supervisor to help me with my final year project, Dr. Jenny Mercer. Jenny’s knowledge, guidance, and friendliness encouraged my progression throughout, and I shall be eternally thankful to her for this.

Daniel Carr Dissertation

To become a practicing Psychologist has been my goal since I first pursued started in the university. Though my desired area of practice has changed (mainly due to learning about so many different topics within psychology) my passion for the discipline has only grown, and I am thrilled to be continuing my studies this year as I pursue a Masters in Health Psychology. My decision to stay at Cardiff Met was an easy one. After my experiences here as an undergraduate, I would not even consider study at another institution, and have full confidence that my development and transition into a practicing Health Psychologist will be guided by the lecturers I have grown so fond of. I would without a doubt recommend Cardiff Met to anyone wishing to study Psychology, and am humbled by the opportunity to have been taught by such admirable and accomplished individuals.

After Dan mentioned the support from his supervisor, Jenny, we had to ask her about how Dan had done:

Dan’s project was an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) study entitled ‘The Lived Experience of a Fashion Model’. I have to say that Dan was a delight to supervise because he came to me with a clear idea of what he wanted to look at – the experience of being a model. However, on a practical note he also had links in the industry – which is an important point when selecting a project – you may have grand ideas, but have you though through how you might access potential participants? The other thing (which he does not tell you in this blog) is how hard he worked. He read a lot background literature, some very challenging papers about the principles behind IPA, and was very organised (even getting ethical approval before the beginning of the final year). Also Dan was always prepared to ask me lots of questions, often coming to see me with a long list (don’t be afraid to challenge your supervisor at all times!).

Your dissertation is an opportunity to explore in more detail a topic which you select and are interested in; it allows you to demonstrate the research skills that you have acquired during your degree. It is hard work, but it can also be the most rewarding part of your studies. So as you enter the summer vacation start to plan and think of potential ideas….you never know, it could be you writing this blog next year!


PsyPAG at Cardiff Met

This summer the Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group (PSYPAG) held its annual conference at Cardiff Met. Conferences are an integral part of academic life, and offer a chance to meet people and present work and ideas. One of our final year PhD students attended and presented at the conference. Here is what she had to say:

Hello!

My name is Iva and I am a PhD student from Cardiff Met. My research focuses on offenders’ rehabilitation. In particular I am interested in offenders’ motivation to engage in custodial activities such as education classes.

I was very pleased to learn that the conference this year was to be held at Cardiff Met, especially as the dissemination of research findings is important as it contributes to knowledge and treatment in forensic psychology. What is even more exciting is that PsyPAG concentrates a wide array of research, presented by those who are developing new ideas.

Cardiff Metropolitan was host to the 2014 PsyPAG Conference

Cardiff Metropolitan was host to the 2014 PsyPAG Conference

PsyPAG is a distinctive conference as it allows post-grad students to share their research at any point of their PhD, and I love conferences like PsyPAG where so much can be learned from colleagues with the same interest but also from others. I have learned loads from this year’s PsyPAG, especially health psychology. The health psychology presentations helped me widen my horizons and think critically about my research. For instance, I was able to relate some of the issues of effective treatment of patients to offenders’ interventions based in the community.

It was not all hard work however! There were two social events. The first was a BBQ on the River Taff at the local rowing club. We were able to enjoy a summer evening eating by the side of the river. Great fun! The other social event was the conference dinner at Cardiff City Hall. What an impressive building! There was only one complaint: not enough sauce on the sticky toffee pudding! Both the BBQ and the dinner were great opportunities to chat to different new researchers from universities across the UK.

Overall, I cannot recommend the PsyPAG conference enough. It is a unique opportunity for every researcher, including Master’s students and PhD students, to present their research at whatever stage they had reached. The PsyPAG conference at Cardiff Met was thought-provoking, educational, interesting, with lots of stimulating discussion, and with lots of fun during the social events. It must have been a huge effort to organise, so I’d like to thank everyone for making it happen.

If you are interested in finding out more about PsyPAG or submitting an abstract for next year’s PsyPAG conference in Glasgow please consult the PsyPAG website: http://www.psypag.co.uk/.


The Department of Applied Psychology at The Royal Welsh Show

The Royal Welsh Show is the ‘Glastonbury’ of events for anyone involved in farming or horticulture in Wales! This year over 237,000 people attended the show ground at Llanelwedd, Builth Wells – including two of our lecturing staff, Jenny Mercer and Debbie Clayton.

Dr Jenny Mercer and Dr Debbie Clayton at the Royal Welsh Show 2014

Dr Jenny Mercer and Dr Debbie Clayton at the Royal Welsh Show 2014

Debbie and Jenny were invited to take part in a talk about care farming on the Natural Resources Wales stand along with Lorraine Brown the current chairperson of Care Farming UK. The purpose of the talk was to introduce the concept of care farming, give examples of how it used in Wales and illustrate the benefits of such an approach.

Care farming is defined as: the therapeutic use of farming practices, which provide health, social or educational care services for one or a range of vulnerable groups of people. Jenny and Debbie have been involved in research in this area for a few years, and discussed their findings about the functions and benefits of volunteering in care farm settings and a project with young offenders utilising an animal programme. Both studies showed positive outcomes for health and wellbeing, and make an important contribution to the evidence base for such activities which are also referred to as ‘green care’.

Jenny commented, “We were delighted to take part in this event which brought together practitioners, farmers and members of the general public. There is much excellent work being done in this sector, and we hope that by utilising psychological research to illustrate the benefits of such practices it will further strengthen the case for interventions involving farms and outdoor spaces.”

Further information about care farming can be found at: http://www.carefarminguk.org/


“A very positive reaction and lots of questions”: Presenting at The British Psychology Society Welsh Branch Annual Student Conference

Our final year students have all been busy completing a research project that is the culmination of the skill and knowledge they have developed over the course of their studies. The dissertation is a chance for students to really focus their talents on a topic of their choosing and as academics it is really rewarding to see projects flourish over the course of the year. Some of our students are keen to enhance their research profile and this year some of our final year students attended The British Psychology Society Welsh Branch Annual Student Conference (this year hosted at Aberystwyth University) to present their research.

One of the attending students, Claire Thomas, presented her research which is a qualitative exploration of the views of retirement among farmers in Wales. In this blog post Claire describes her experiences of the conference:

“I will admit it was a daunting idea at first to consider sending off an abstract to the BPS to apply to present at the Annual Student Conference. An abstract is such a short summary of what proved to be a lengthy dissertation, but I was keen to promote my research as I am so passionate about it.  I was also aware that presenting at a well-regarded conference at this stage of my career could only be a positive.  I also had the support of my Dissertation Supervisor (Dr Shirley Hobbis), the Project Co-Ordinator (Dr Nick Perham) and the Programme Director (Dr Dan Heggs) which gave me encouragement to submit an abstract.


I then received an email confirming my paper had been accepted for presentation and that I was to prepare a 10 minute presentation to provide an overview of my dissertation. That for me was the hard part. I am very passionate about my research area and it was very hard to condense my enthusiasm and hard work into just a few minutes!  However following several re-writes and some careful presentation planning I succeeded.


On the day I was fortunate enough to be going with a friend from university but I also met lots of fellow psychology students at the conference. Although the day is busy, because we were spending a whole day together I came away feeling like I knew them very well.  I was very lucky to have a lot of people turn up to my presentation and to be asked a lot of questions.  Looking back it is hard to remember what I said exactly but it went very well and I received a very positive reaction and lots of questions. So many questions in fact, I received emails about it the following few days.  It was really pleasing to have so much interest in my dissertation!

If you are thinking about applying for this conference, then just go for it.  While it was nerve wracking at times, it was a great opportunity and I’m really glad I took part. Networking, talking to lecturers and students from other universities and presenting all give you a boost in confidence that will only benefit you as you go on from your final year.  Good luck!”

 

Claire Thomas presenting at The British Psychology Society Welsh Branch Annual Student Conference Photo Credit: @BPS Welsh Branch

Claire Thomas presenting at The British Psychology Society Welsh Branch Annual Student Conference
Photo Credit: @BPS Welsh Branch

Following her presentation Claire has been approached by academics and organisations with an interest in her work. The retirement of farmers is an issue that is generating some concern at the moment and Claire’s research has provided a valuable insight which is generating some interest!  Claire’s supervisor, Dr Shirley Hobbis, has also found working with Claire an educational experience:

“I have been Claire’s supervisor for her Final Year Project. Her work gives insights into the farming community and during this time she has taught me a lot about the intricacies of modern day farming. It has been a real pleasure to work with Claire this year – her enthusiasm has been unbounded and the commitment she has demonstrated will, I’m sure, stand her in good stead for her future career. All the Best Claire”

It is really encouraging when our undergraduate students are so enthusiastic about their dissertations and as Dr Nick Perham describes below the conference is a perfect first academic conference for students:

“The British Psychology Society Welsh Branch Annual Student Conference is a fantastic environment for final year undergraduate students to present their ideas, data and interpretations to a host of engaged and inquiring minds. As nerve-wracking as this experience can be, every student I have spoken to who has participated, has enjoyed and welcomed the experience. It provides an informal setting to disseminate ideas, boost confidence and network with people who are likely to populate some of the academic departments around the UK and the world.”

We are proud of all of our final year students who develop so much during their time with us and when they exceed as Claire has done we are prouder still! Well done Claire!