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My journey towards a PhD

When I started my degree with the Open University, I was initially looking to complete an environmental science degree. I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to study at that time, but having seen a programme about environmental inspectors on TV, I thought environmental science would be interesting to study.

After couple of modules of the environmental science degree, I switched to social science as I found geology slightly boring and felt I would not enjoy studying it in more depth later in the course. It wasn’t until my last year of the social science degree that I decided, on a spur of a moment, to add psychology to my degree. This was mainly to have both subjects named on the graduation certificate. At this point, I had no experience with psychology at all but I thought it might be interesting to study.

My first encounter with psychology was a module called cognitive psychology, which encompassed mostly experimental psychology and came with a summer school. It was a level 3 course, very hard too. My first assignment consisted of an experiment, which had to be written up. I wrote, what was supposed to be my first scientific report, as an essay and this prompted a call from my course tutor, Dr. Emma Lawrence. Getting an unsolicited call from your course tutor is never good news. Dr. Lawrence told me that she had looked into my background and realised I had no prior psychology experience and it was her opinion that I should switch to another course, perhaps something in social science, as it would be hard to catch up at level 3 without previous understanding of psychology and experimental design. We talked for a while and I expressed a desire to stay on the course despite the lack of previous experience. Dr. Lawrence supported me all the way. She really didn’t have to but she went that extra mile for me.

She arranged some extra tutoring for me, suggested books and answered, what now seem pretty embarrassing questions, such as ‘what is a variable?’ I had no prior knowledge of psychology and the statistics that go along with it and I remember spending two weeks of the Easter break reading psychology books for A level students to catch up with my peers. I spent most of the year in a haze of research methods, not really understanding most of the course material, especially the stats, but it was also interesting and challenging. I remember the patience and dedication Dr. Lawrence put into getting me up to speed.

Cognitive psychology module was incredibly interesting and I enjoyed it more than anything I had done up to that point. It ended with a project and I chose to focus on hard-easy effect. This is a cognitive bias that people exhibit, with those that know more being less confident in their knowledge than those that know less. Designing, executing and writing up my own experiment in the summer school sparked a wonderful interest in psychology, especially cognitive and generally experimental psychology. As soon as I attained my BSc in social science with psychology, I enrolled on a Master’s degree in psychological research methods. I found it extremely interesting and especially loved learning about discourse analysis. For my final year I did a dissertation on the Barnum effect, another cognitive bias, also known as a personal validation fallacy, or a belief that general statements apply only to oneself when in fact they are so neutral, they apply to anyone. People also readily accept positive statements about themselves but reject negative statements whilst this reverses when they are rating others on the same statements.

Around the time when I was finishing my Masters thesis, a process I found incredibly hard but rewarding, I remembered Dr. Lawrence. I wrote and thanked her for all her hard work with me because I felt that many times we take the time to write the complaints but rarely anyone receives a thank you for the right things they have done. I always felt that I could have easily had someone else as a tutor, someone who perhaps did not feel as positive about me being on the course with no previous knowledge and that I was extremely lucky to have someone believe in me instead.

I never really meant to do more than an undergraduate degree and although I found some parts of my courses interesting along the way, it was psychology that struck a chord and became my life-long passion. Today I am doing a PhD at the University of Portsmouth, under Dr. Mark Turner, who supervised my final MSc study as well as the dissertation. The programme of my PhD is looking into individual factors that may be implicated in scam susceptibility. My aim is to develop and validate a measure, which would pinpoint individual’s vulnerability to scam offers. This would help develop more tailor made warnings and advice for scam victims. I am also extending my MSc research on Barnum effect by using it as a proxy scam manipulation planned for a study in the future, as this cognitive bias is often manipulated by scams involving clairvoyant or psychic readings.

I feel that my journey up to this point would not be the same, had I not had the pleasure to have Dr. Lawrence as my tutor and I will always think fondly about her. As a result, I am doing something I am really immersed in and which I truly enjoy. When I started my degree with the Open University, I was initially looking to complete an environmental science degree. I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to study at that time, but having seen a programme about environmental inspectors on TV, I thought environmental science would be interesting to study.

After couple of modules of the environmental science degree, I switched to social science as I found geology slightly boring and felt I would not enjoy studying it in more depth later in the course. It wasn’t until my last year of the social science degree that I decided, on a spur of a moment, to add psychology to my degree. This was mainly to have both subjects named on the graduation certificate. At this point, I had no experience with psychology at all but I thought it might be interesting to study.

My first encounter with psychology was a module called cognitive psychology, which encompassed mostly experimental psychology and came with a summer school. It was a level 3 course, very hard too. My first assignment consisted of an experiment, which had to be written up. I wrote, what was supposed to be my first scientific report, as an essay and this prompted a call from my course tutor, Dr. Emma Lawrence. Getting an unsolicited call from your course tutor is never good news. Dr. Lawrence told me that she had looked into my background and realised I had no prior psychology experience and it was her opinion that I should switch to another course, perhaps something in social science, as it would be hard to catch up at level 3 without previous understanding of psychology and experimental design. We talked for a while and I expressed a desire to stay on the course despite the lack of previous experience. Dr. Lawrence supported me all the way. She really didn’t have to but she went that extra mile for me.

She arranged some extra tutoring for me, suggested books and answered, what now seem pretty embarrassing questions, such as ‘what is a variable?’ I had no prior knowledge of psychology and the statistics that go along with it and I remember spending two weeks of the Easter break reading psychology books for A level students to catch up with my peers. I spent most of the year in a haze of research methods, not really understanding most of the course material, especially the stats, but it was also interesting and challenging. I remember the patience and dedication Dr. Lawrence put into getting me up to speed.

Cognitive psychology module was incredibly interesting and I enjoyed it more than anything I had done up to that point. It ended with a project and I chose to focus on hard-easy effect. This is a cognitive bias that people exhibit, with those that know more being less confident in their knowledge than those that know less. Designing, executing and writing up my own experiment in the summer school sparked a wonderful interest in psychology, especially cognitive and generally experimental psychology. As soon as I attained my BSc in social science with psychology, I enrolled on a Master’s degree in psychological research methods. I found it extremely interesting and especially loved learning about discourse analysis. For my final year I did a dissertation on the Barnum effect, another cognitive bias, also known as a personal validation fallacy, or a belief that general statements apply only to oneself when in fact they are so neutral, they apply to anyone. People also readily accept positive statements about themselves but reject negative statements whilst this reverses when they are rating others on the same statements.

Around the time when I was finishing my Masters thesis, a process I found incredibly hard but rewarding, I remembered Dr. Lawrence. I wrote and thanked her for all her hard work with me because I felt that many times we take the time to write the complaints but rarely anyone receives a thank you for the right things they have done. I always felt that I could have easily had someone else as a tutor, someone who perhaps did not feel as positive about me being on the course with no previous knowledge and that I was extremely lucky to have someone believe in me instead.

I never really meant to do more than an undergraduate degree and although I found some parts of my courses interesting along the way, it was psychology that struck a chord and became my life-long passion. Today I am doing a PhD at the University of Portsmouth, under Dr. Mark Turner, who supervised my final MSc study as well as the dissertation. The programme of my PhD is looking into individual factors that may be implicated in scam susceptibility. My aim is to develop and validate a measure, which would pinpoint individual’s vulnerability to scam offers. This would help develop more tailor made warnings and advice for scam victims. I am also extending my MSc research on Barnum effect by using it as a proxy scam manipulation planned for a study in the future, as this cognitive bias is often manipulated by scams involving clairvoyant or psychic readings.

I feel that my journey up to this point would not be the same, had I not had the pleasure to have Dr. Lawrence as my tutor and I will always think fondly about her. As a result, I am doing something I am really immersed in and which I truly enjoy.

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