PhD Student Blog: My Journey to studying for a PhD

By Tanya Schrader, PhD Student in Psychology (Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research).

As a first-year undergraduate, one of our assignments was to write a reflective essay with SMART goals. My first thought was “Argh!”. My second thought was “Why, why, why?”. I’m happy to report that it turned out well and I’ve come to appreciate reflection both in my academic and personal life. Reflective practices have not only benefitted my academic work but also reminds me to acknowledge my achievements, big and small, that have aided me in my endeavours. Reflecting on my achievements has proved a valuable method to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the experiences of undertaking a degree.

 

The last time I wrote on this blog was at the end of my BPS Research Assistantship in 2017. I had my final year ahead of me and had made the decision to continue to post-graduate study. I had no idea how I was going to overcome the logistical and financial challenges, but I was determined to find a way (Did I mention that my husband is also doing a degree at Staffs?). I reflected over the many challenges I’d overcome to get into university, and the achievements I’d made up to that point. This gave me the determination I needed to stay positive and focussed.

First and foremost, I knew I needed to put everything I had into my final year. I set out my academic goals (and yes, they were SMART), put my head down and went full steam ahead. It was intense, and I could not have done it without the support of my peers and the best academic staff in the world. My project supervisor, Dr Dan Jolley, showed unwavering faith in my abilities even when I was very much in doubt. My project, which investigated the relationship between rape myth acceptance and feminist conspiracy theories, produced a significant result and I knew that this research needed to be extended. I presented my findings at the Staffordshire University Psychology Student Conference, followed by the British Psychological Society’s Midlands conference. I received valuable feedback on both counts, which informed the direction of my postgraduate study.

I put forward a PhD proposal and it was accepted. Together with my supervisors, Dr Daniel Jolley and Dr Sarah Krähenbühl, I am currently in the early stages of my program of researching the darker outcomes of conspiracy theory beliefs. We are investigating the unjust treatment of people who belong to groups that are perceived to be involved in conspiracies. In particular, if this relates to increased online and offline aggression, the justification of violent acts, and if such group membership affects people’s experiences within the criminal justice system.

Again, I find myself at a point where I need to reflect upon my journey thus far to reassure myself that I have what it takes.

As 2018 gave way to 2019, while I was planning the upcoming year and feeling slightly anxious about the challenges ahead, I received news that I was to be published!  The study that was conducted as part of my BPS Assistantship project, culminated in a paper which I co-authored with Dr Daniel Jolley, Prof Karen Douglas and Dr Ana Leite.  The paper, titled Belief in conspiracy theories and intentions to engage in everyday crime, has just been accepted for publication by the British Journal of Social Psychology. What a splendid way to begin the new year. So now, whenever the inevitable doubts creep in, I have this achievement to remind myself that I have what it takes to be a PhD student.


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

For more information about the Psychology degrees on offer at Staffordshire University please visit the below pages:

PhD Student Blog: Attending the Conspiracy Theory Research Training School

By Darel Cookson (PhD Student in Psychology; Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research).

This summer I was lucky enough to attend a training school in Canterbury (at the University of Kent), organised by the COST Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories action group, which focussed on quantitative methods in conspiracy theory research. My PhD research is investigating belief in conspiracy theories and exploring how understanding why people believe in conspiracy theories could help us develop interventions to reduce harmful beliefs. Therefore, this training school was an invaluable opportunity to develop my understanding of the research area and to work with both pioneers and fellow postgraduate students in the field.

The week did not disappoint! Each day was jam-packed with seminars from experts in the field, group-work with peers and challenging discussions and debates. Everyone was completely engaged with the topics, meaning that discussions often ended with new and exciting research opportunities we are now working on. The social schedule was bursting too, with several ideas being developed over fish and chips and a can of pop!

The social schedule also included a walking tour where we visited Canterbury Cathedral

The week kicked off with an introduction to the Psychology of Conspiracy Theories from the training school organiser, Professor Karen Douglas. Professor Douglas discussed the developments in the field, summarising that conspiracy beliefs are often a natural response to psychological needs and threats. For example our epistemic, existential and social needs can all drive people towards conspiracy theories. However, research has found that adopting these beliefs may ultimately be self-defeating.

Professor Sutton then led a seminar discussing the measurement of conspiracy beliefs and some of the pros and cons to using survey measures – extremely relevant to my work! This was followed by our first group work session, where myself and my group learned about each other’s research interests and so began our first discussion session.

The following day Dr Nefes delivered a brilliant seminar discussing his recent research using Rational Choice Theory, demonstrating how conspiratorial theorising can be used rationally in line with people’s political opinions and perceptions of threat. As I am from a psychological, rather than sociological, background it was really interesting to learn about sociological theories and my group were particularly fond of our research ideas developed in this session! We also had an engaging seminar in the afternoon by Dr Cichocka, about conspiracy theories and intergroup relations. We discussed theory development and mediation and moderation models which I think helped everyone with their current research ideas!

Dr Krouwel delivering his seminar on conspiracy beliefs and political orientation

On Wednesday, Dr Krouwel led a session focussing on politics and conspiracy beliefs; specifically the comparisons of left and right and moderate and extreme political views. Dr Krouwel was extremely generous with his time, answering all of our questions and helping us develop interesting and testable hypotheses. On Thursday we had the privilege of listening to Dr van-Prooijen discuss his recent paper on using evolutionary psychology to explain the origins of conspiracy beliefs. This new perspective is fascinating and the ideas bred from this session were definitely innovative and exciting.

By Friday I was feeling inspired but also quite sad that the week was almost over as the research group had become friends. The final seminar was led by Professor Uscinski and this focussed on the politics of conspiracy theories. Here we learned a lot about the role of partisanism in belief in conspiracy theories. Discussions then continued into Kent University’s excellent student union bar!

The training school was extremely useful for my research, particularly the focus on current research and methodological issues within the field. It was also great to collaborate with other postgraduate students and discuss and refine our research ideas. I am extremely grateful to the COST research group and Professor Douglas for organising the summer school and I am looking forward to working with the research group in the future.


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

For more information about the Psychology degrees on offer at Staffordshire University please visit the below pages:

Funded PhD opportunity in the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, Department of Psychology

We are delighted to welcome applications for a funded PhD opportunity in the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, Department of Psychology, for an anticipated September 2017 start date.

The PhD project is titled The role of social norms in reducing belief in conspiracy theories and will be supervised by Dr Daniel Jolley (Principal Supervisor, Lecturer in Psychology), Dr Robert Dempsey (Lecturer in Psychology) and Dr Rachel Povey (Associate Professor in Health Psychology).

Project Background:

Belief in conspiracy theories is widespread in society. Whilst belief in conspiracy theories may fulfil needs such as control (e.g., Whitson, et al., 2015), they are potentially dangerous; exposure to conspiracy theories reduces people’s engagement in a variety of behaviours, including vaccinations (e.g., Jolley & Douglas, 2014a, 2014b). Examining tools to address conspiracy theories is therefore timely. Broadly speaking, this novel project will therefore build on existing research by exploring the relationship between perceived social norms and conspiracy beliefs and develop interventions that will help combat the effects of conspiracy theories.

This PhD project has three phases:

  1. a systematic literature review,
  2. empirical studies understanding the psychological mechanisms underlying social norms and conspiracy beliefs,
  3. the development of attitudinal and behaviour change interventions (e.g., improving vaccine uptake).

This three year funded PhD and includes a fee waiver equivalent to the home/EU rate and a tax-free stipend of £14,553 p.a. over the three years of the project. In addition to their PhD studies, the successful applicant will also deliver up to six hours per week of teaching or teaching-related support and will join the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research which provides a supportive research environment in the Department of Psychology.

We recommend that you make contact with the Principal Supervisor (Dr Daniel Jolley, daniel.jolley@staffs.ac.uk), to receive the full project outline and/or to enquire about this PhD opportunity.

Applications

Details on how to apply (alongside qualification requirements) for the funded PhD opportunity can be found here. Applications (a CV and a covering letter) need to emailed to the Staffordshire University Graduate School by 4th August 2017 (details and the email address for the Graduate School can be found here).


The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research is home to research activity in the Psychology Department at Staffordshire Centre. The Centre is home to a number of research-active psychologists who are engaged in research across a wide range of psychological subdisciplines. The Centre has two overarching research streams: Health and Behaviour Change and Applied Perception and Cognition.

The Centre provides training for PhD students, Research Masters degrees, as well as Professional Doctorates in Clinical and Health Psychology (click here for more details). The Centre also provides bespoke training to private and public organisations, as well as expertise for consultancy research opportunities. For more details about the Centre, its research activities, events and consultancy, please visit our website (click here).

World Suicide Prevention Day 2015: New research with people with Bipolar Disorder

Rebecca Owen, PhD Student

Rebecca Owen, PhD Student

Rebecca Owen, a PhD Student co-supervised by Dr Rob Dempsey (Lecturer in Psychology, Staffordshire University), reports on her current research investigating the role of psychosocial factors:

With this week being National Suicide Prevention Week, I thought it might be interesting for psychology students and the general public to see how a topic as sensitive as suicide is tackled from a psychological research perspective. Our work is investigating experience of suicidal thoughts, feelings and behaviours or attempts (also known as, “suicidality”), in people with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Despite numerous suicide prevention efforts from various sources including, the NHS and charities such as Samaritans, suicide remains the leading cause of death amongst men aged 15 to 44 in the UK. Every four minutes someone makes a suicide attempt and every hour and a half someone dies – so it really is an epidemic.

2015_wspd_banner_englishSuicide tends to be investigated in terms of risk factors. Research studies will try to identify factors which put an individual at a greater risk of either becoming suicidal or attempting to end their life. Common risk factors include gender (being male is typically associated with greater risk), age, employment status, marital status, a previous suicide attempt and a mental health diagnosis. Although these factors can help to predict who might become suicidal, they don’t really tell us anything about why someone became suicidal. For example, simply being male and unemployed doesn’t give us any explanation of the underlying psychological processes and pathways which led to the development of suicidal feelings.

This is where our work comes in – we’re interested in finding out more about these underlying psychological processes. For example, feeling hopeless, feeling defeated and trapped within a situation, feeling like you can’t cope. By understanding more about these processes, we hope that we’ll be able to better inform psychological interventions which specifically aim to change these processes in order to reduce suicide risk in bipolar disorder.

This type of research is a relatively new area in the field of bipolar disorder, so we started off by conducting an exploratory qualitative study with 20 participants (click here to view the paper’s abstract). We found that factors which protected against suicidal behaviour included, (1) thinking about the impact that suicide would have upon family members and friends, and (2) having a strong social support system. We found that triggers for suicidal thoughts included, (1) experiencing mental health stigma, and (2) feeling like a burden to other people.

Participants sought: Do you have a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder?

These qualitative findings have informed a larger, quantitative, questionnaire based study which we are currently recruiting volunteers for. Recruitment for the questionnaire study will close by February 2016. If anyone would like any more information about our work or would like to take part, please get in touch with me directly by email at Rebecca.owen-6@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk or by phone on 0161 275 2593.

World Suicide Prevention Day 2015


Fully Funded PhDs in Psychology at Staffordshire University!

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University are pleased to be offering four fully funded PhD Studentships. These studentships will involve conducting a major research project (see below for details) as well as some light teaching duties.

Staffordshire University's £30 million Science Centre, home of the Psychology Department

Staffordshire University’s £30 million Science Centre, home of the Psychology Department

The studentships include a fee waiver, a tax-free stipend of £14,057, and six hours per week of teaching duties.

Interested parties are recommended to contact the respective Principal Supervisors for further details about their studentship. Further details about the application process for these PhD studentships is available here.

Please note that the closing date for applications is Monday 14th September 2015.


1. The design, development and evaluation of a diabetes prevention programme

Principal Supervisor: Dr Rachel Povey (email R.Povey@staffs.ac.uk).

Diabetes is a significant health issue within the UK, with over 3 million diagnosed and an estimated 590,000 as yet undiagnosed with Type 2 diabetes (Diabetes UK, 2015), costing the NHS approximately £10 billion per year. As Type 2 diabetes can be preventable, the NHS, Public Health England and Diabetes UK have recently launched a national Diabetes Prevention Programme, which will be piloted in seven sites around the UK.   The proposed PhD studentship has been developed through ongoing collaboration between PSE researchers and Public Health England (PHE). It will be supervised by Dr Rachel Povey, Dr Chris Gidlow and Dr Naomi Ellis and will involve the development, support and evaluation of aspects of the Diabetes Prevention Programme. Although this will be driven, in part, by the needs of PHE, the first months will be spent defining the PhD based on the available opportunities, in addition to the student’s own ideas, experience and expertise

Supervisory Team: Dr Rachel Povey, Dr Chris Gidlow & Dr Naomi Ellis.


2. Applying the social norms approach to improve dietary behaviours amongst high school students

Principal Supervisor: Dr Robert Dempsey (email Robert.Dempsey@staffs.ac.uk)

Rates of obesity and the consumption of unhealthy, “junk”, foods are rising amongst young adolescents. This PhD project will involve the development and evaluation of a social norms-informed intervention to promote healthy eating amongst high school children. The intervention will be based on the Social Norms Approach, an intervention strategy used to elicit positive behaviour and attitudinal change by challenging commonly held misperceptions of peer behaviours and attitudes. Social norms interventions have been primarily conducted in the USA and have focused on reducing substance use by university students, with few studies investigating the presence of normative misperceptions of healthy eating amongst young adolescents and whether these misperceptions can be challenged via normative feedback.

Aims:

  • Conduct a systematic literature review of existing studies.
  • Develop a social norms-informed intervention which can be used in-class (using a cluster randomised controlled design) with input from children from the intervention site.
  • Investigate the extent of normative misperceptions of peer healthy eating behaviours and attitudes amongst high school students.
  • Conduct a small-scale study (a cluster randomised controlled trial) to investigate whether the social norms intervention has a significant impact on normative misperceptions and healthy eating behaviours and attitudes.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness and acceptability of the intervention (using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies).

The successful candidate will be expected to make an original contribution to the design of the project and be capable of working independently. This is an exciting project which is ideally suited for a bright, motivated and enthusiastic graduate with interests in health psychology, behaviour change and in evaluating the Social Norms Approach.

Supervisory Team: Dr Robert Dempsey, Dr Rachel Povey, & Prof Tony Stewart.


3. The role of attention and negative emotion in the production of false memories

Principal Supervisor: Dr. Louise Humphreys (email L.Humphreys@staffs.ac.uk)

Research suggests that memory is enhanced for emotionally negative events (Humphreys, Underwood, & Chapman, 2010), yet negative emotion can lead to heightened susceptibility to false memory (Porter et al., 2010). Whilst research has examined the role of attention in emotional memory (typically results show that emotional stimuli capture more attention than neutral stimuli and are preferentially attended to despite other task demands), few studies have addressed what role attention plays in emotional false memories. Van Damme and Smets (2013) is one of only a few studies that have examined this. They found that negative valence inhibited central false information but increased peripheral false information, suggesting that attention is drawn to emotionally arousing features (with fewer resources available for processing peripheral details). Based on these findings a measure of attention should show differences in attention allocation between central and peripheral details. However, to our knowledge no research has directly measured the role of attention in false memory production.

The role of attention in emotional false memory will be examined by 1) manipulating attention at study, and 2) measuring attention using eye-tracking methodology. This research has important implications for the courts, where false memories are a perennial problem. Presenters of fact (e.g., barristers, solicitors) as well as triers of fact (e.g., judges, jurors) need to become aware of factors that can influence people’s susceptibility to false memories. This research aims to examine attention to emotionally negative events, and how this impacts on people’s susceptibility to false memories.

Supervisory Team: Dr Louise Humphreys & Dr Sarah Krähenbühl


4. Portraits of Pain: The use of pain drawings to meaningfully communicate pain experiences

Principal Supervisor: Professor Karen Rodham (email: Karen.Rodham@staffs.ac.uk)

There is evidence that pain drawings may be a method by which people in pain can meaningfully communicate, understand and potentially alter their pain experiences. This study follows a protocol established and tested by Loduca and colleagues (2014) in Brazil, which incorporates pain portraits into the rehabilitation process. Understanding more about a person’s experience of pain will facilitate the development of more individualised and patient-centred treatment plans.

We are currently completing a feasibility study exploring how best to incorporate the Pain Portrait process into a UK NHS-based pain management programme. The PhD builds on this feasibility study.

Aim: To explore whether replicating and implementing the pain portrait process in clinic in the UK can:

  • help patients communicate and cope better with their pain;
  • help staff understand more about their patients’ pain experience
  • improve patient outcomes
  • provide insight into cultural (UK-Brazil) differences in pain experiences

Supervisory Team: Prof Karen Rodham, Dr Amy Burton and Prof Tony Stewart.


Further details about our courses in Psychology can be found here. Please click on the following links for further details of Staffordshire University’s research centres in Psychology, including our Centre for Health Psychology and Centre for Psychological Research.