PhD Student Blog: Attending the PsyPAG 2019 Annual Conference

By Darel Cookson, PhD Student (Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research)

The PsyPAG 34th Annual Conference took place from Tuesday 23rd – Friday 26th July 2019 at Sheffield Hallam University. This year, the conference theme was to promote the health and wellbeing of delegates while they had the opportunity to meet, network and share their research with peers. I was lucky enough to attend along with fellow PhD researcher Tanya Schrader where we shared our research on belief in conspiracy theories.

PsyPAG is the Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group and is funded by the Research Board of the British Psychological Society. PsyPAG is run purely by postgraduates for the benefit of postgraduate psychology students at UK institutions. Each year PsyPAG organises an annual conference where, across three days, psychology postgraduate students meet, share their work via oral and poster presentations, provide feedback, attend workshops and keynotes, and build support systems and even collaborations! This was my second year attending PsyPAG and it was a fantastic conference where I could share the first few studies of my PhD, receive feedback from peers, and build friendships with fellow postgraduate students.

A highlight of the conference was the keynote presentations, thoughtfully selected by the organisation committee to align with the conference theme of promoting health and wellbeing. The first keynote was from Professor Sir Chris Husbands, who discussed academic careers in the 21st century. We were urged to think about what the big issues were that our research was interested in and to use this to maximise our impact. Cognitive Psychologist, Dr Dan Smith, told the story of their research, detailing a series of elegant experiments probing the relationship between the motor system and cognitive processes.

The second day of the conference began with a keynote from Professor Madelynne Arden, who discussed their impressive body of work exploring adherence to medication in Cystic Fibrosis, using a behaviour science approach to intervention research. Dr Emma Norris then shared her journey from PhD to postdoctoral researcher and discussed the differences moving from independent research in a PhD programme to working on a large multi-disciplinary project. The final keynote was from Dr Jennie Drabble, a Forensic Psychologist who also discussed life after PhD. Dr Drabble emphasised the importance of taking time for yourself outside of academia and motivated the room to help change the culture of academia from within.

A further highlight of PsyPAG 2019 was the workshop; ‘Bringing Reproduceable Science to the People – The Story of Change’ produced and delivered by Olly Robertson and Dr Jon Sutton. This workshop was focussed on how we can best communicate our research to wider audiences in an interesting and accurate way. The onus was put on researchers to take opportunities to communicate their work and we discussed how to do this with both accuracy and elegance. Then we had 5 minutes and no more than 10 sentences to summarise our PhD research and then share it with the group – quite a challenge! I took a lot away from this session and it was so helpful to receive advice from the editor of The Psychologist (albeit a bit daunting!).

Tanya presenting her PhD research

Tanya and I shared our research in the ‘Social Psychology’ symposium. Tanya kicked the session off with her fascinating work exploring the darker side of conspiracy theories. Tanya is interested in potential predictors and consequences of conspiracy belief, particularly around violence and crime. Using hierarchical regression analysis, Tanya has found that conspiracy beliefs play a unique role in predicting acceptance of violence. Tanya is clearly passionate about this subject and used several real-life examples of the potential violent consequences of conspiracy beliefs. I then presented the first two studies of my PhD, exploring the role of perceived social norms in motivating conspiracy beliefs. Currently, my research is showing that we over-estimate the extent to which other people endorse conspiracy theories and we are significantly influenced by the perceived beliefs others. My next job is to try to use this knowledge reduce belief in dangerous conspiracy theories – which is proving to be most difficult!

Me presenting my PhD research

There were several excellent presentations throughout the three days at PsyPAG and it is always exciting to see what your peers are studying. Madeleine Pownall, a first year PhD student from The University of Leeds explained a theory she is currently working on to ask; can positive self-objectification diffuse stereotype threat effects in women? Madeleine has amalgamated three theories in social psychology with sophistication and is now developing a body of research to test these ideas. It was inspiring to see such innovative ideas from your peers! Another stand out presentation was from Ed Noon from Sheffield Hallam University who is investigating how adolescents use social media, particularly Instagram and how this can influence social comparisons and thus identity development.

The organisers from Sheffield Hallam University, Suzy Hodgson, Martine Lamb and Nikki Dean Marshall, were incredible and did such a fantastic job this year, so thank you very much! I am very grateful to have attended PsyPAG 2019 and to have the opportunity to share my research.

Exterior Science Centre

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.

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