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Ralph Pawling – Clinical Psychology – Bangor

Case study, Further Study, Postgraduate Study August 13, 2009

Ralph Pawling - Clinical Psychology - Bangor

Age: 24
Degrees and University: BSc in Applied Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University. MSc in Foundations of Clinical Psychology, Bangor.

What do you do? I’m a part time PhD student in the School of Psychology here at Bangor and I also work for the School as Editorial Assistant for a periodical psychology journal. My PhD is looking into the way in which humans unconsciously mirror the emotions and arousal levels of people around them as part of everyday social interactions. I’m interested in the systems in the brain that allow us to mimic in suitable ways — reactions like a friend’s smile, a potential partner’s dilated pupils, or any opponent’s frown.

While I do my PhD, I’m also working on the editorial team for a British psychology journal that’s edited within the School. My role is to run the process of peer reviewing each article; making sure that is goes to the correct editor and then is reviewed in good time by suitable researchers. Finally, I oversee the submission of successful articles to the publishers, ready for them to be complied to form an edition of the journal.

Why did you decide to go into this sector? After doing my undergraduate degree I was fascinated by neuro-psychology, particularly the role of emotions in controlling ‘cooler’ aspects of brain functioning, like our ability to reason. When I took my MSc I got a chance to work in one of the larger research labs at Bangor, while I did my thesis project. I got a real taste for computer-based research and for creating cognitive tasks. I chose the position I’m working in now because it offered me the chance to make my own tasks, and to use pieces of equipment I’d never tried before, like eye-trackers and Electromyograms. Working for the journal also lets me gain some experience in a different area and having the two things working in unison means I never get bored or feel stuck in rut at work. I should also come out with a wide range of skills.

How did you find out about this particular course? I had read about taking PhDs at Bangor and I had already checked out the department before starting my MSc. Bangor Psychology Department is one of the leading ones in the country with academics who lead their field internationally and I was keen to be part of that sort of research environment. I was also attracted by the lifestyle, which meant that I lived in a beautiful part of the country, but was still able to easily access the attractions of Liverpool, Manchester and Dublin. The PhD I took was advertised within the department and as a Masters student I got to hear about it through the university email.

Would you undertake further training to progress in your career? The more I learn about neuro-psychology the more I consider taking a further qualification in the area. I had originally wanted to work in clinical psychology. However the area of Clinical that most excites me is brain injury. I’m quite tempted to train as a neurologist after finishing my PhD, although it would be a big commitment and mean a lot more time spent studying. Alternatively, I haven’t ruled out taking a course to train in scanning techniques and then specialising in neurological scanning, using techniques like fMRI or PET scanning.

What do you like most about what you do and are there any downsides? I love the progression of a study from the initial planning stage, through to the final data analysis. I enjoy working around other people, so the testing stage where I get to interact with the participants is always a nice break from being in the office. Staying up-to-date with the research going on outside of the university is also a lot of fun as we tend to do this in group lab meetings. I love sitting there thinking I’m getting paid to sit here and discuss something which is to me a real passion. It certainly beats being an accountant or something for me!

The hours are flexible, which sounds like a good thing. But when you’ve got really into a project, you get to the end of the week and realise you’ve put over fifty hours in the lab and office. At the time it feels great because the work is driving you, but it wipes you out a bit!

What skills do you think you need to succeed? You need a certain level of self-motivation to do a PhD. There’s no one there making you hit deadlines, or finish up bits of work, so it’s very self-driven. You also need to be pretty organised because three years feels like an age, but time flies.

What advice would you give graduates coming into this sector? If you’re interested in doing research in psychology don’t be scared to get in touch with people in your area and get your name out there. Go to seminars and conferences, email tutors at universities where you’d like to do research, or who have interests you share. You need to be self-motivated as a researcher, so you need to show the people who can give you positions how excited you are about working in research.

Is there anything you would like to add? I really recommend doing an MSc. It’s a big financial commitment but in a department like Bangor’s, where there is a lot of cutting edge research going on, it’s a great time to get experience in a lab, and get your name out there. The project I worked on as my MSc thesis wasn’t necessarily in the area I was really interested in researching, but it gave me the chance to show people in the department that I have drive and a spark for research. It opened doors into other labs and was instrumental in helping me get to the position I’m in now.

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