How long have you worked at the Uni? What does your role involve?
I've worked at the University almost three years. I'm a Senior Lecturer, and that largely involves conducting my own programme of research and teaching, increasingly online, and of course, contributing to the broader activities of the University and the department, in public engagement work, and promoting and disseminating my research to clinicians and non-academic organisations.
What would you most like to achieve while at the University?
I'd like to develop my research profile here with colleagues at Bath, and also across the GW4 institutions of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, so that we're more competitive with the London and Oxbridge stronghold in my field of research. We've got so much to offer here in the South West, and it's an amazing place to be, so the long term goal would be to work collectively together in this region to improve our international reputation in research.
Can you tell us a little bit about the new network that you're a part of?
I've recently led development of what's called the GW4 Neurodevelopmental Neurodiversity Network, which includes Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter. This is a broad collaborative network between top researchers at our universities in the field of neurodevelopmental conditions and neurodiversity.
We've got a contact form on the website – www.neurodnetwork.com – where people can get involved in the network, whether they're a member of academic staff that wants to engage, whether there's someone with a neurodevelopmental condition (e.g., ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia) that might be interested to get involved, and we're also keen to talk to clinicians and other stakeholders from the charity sector that might be interested. I’ll actually be doing a Minerva Public Lecture on this in March 2021, so if anyone is interested to learn more – do come along!
What piece of advice would you like to give to a student?
Be disagreeable and engage in debates in a respectful and constructive way. One of the issues we have in the university sector is that students are quite scared or poorly equipped to engage in constructive debate and to disagree with each other. They're often worried about engaging with staff and voicing their opinions on scientific matters. So, I'd encourage students to engage, disagree with each other, debate, and know you can still be friends afterwards. I think this is an important skill to learn at university, which is also really important for society more generally. They should check out Heterdox Academy for ideas on how to do this well and why this is important.
Who was your most influential teacher/educator, and why?
The first person was Professor Paul Sauseng who taught me as an undergrad. And I remember he was the first person to realise my personal potential as a cognitive neuroscientist when I was an undergrad student. I remember reading a letter of reference that he'd written for me when he pushed me to attend prestigious summer schools that I never dreamed of attending, and sobbing all the way home from campus because no one had ever taken the time to make that effort with me. So, he's definitely someone that was important. We're still good friends 10 years down the line and someone that continues to be an important part of my personal and academic development.
The second person is Sir Professor Michael Rutter at the Institute of Psychiatry, where I trained. He really emphasised the value of robust debate, scientific rigour, and following the truth, even when it might be inconvenient. Many people, both staff and students, were often really frightened to engage with him. He was known as this really mean guy. But he really wasn’t: I loved engaging with him and having a debate. I'm now relatively fearless in debating and I thank Professor Rutter for giving me the confidence to challenge orthodoxy, authority, and flawed science, which is really important and otherwise sadly lacking in our field.
What was your first job?
My first job was when I was still a child really, helping my mother deliver leaflets for Safeway supermarkets when those supermarkets used to be around. It was a tough old job carrying around all these leaflets in a shabby rucksack and delivering them around London. Reflecting upon this when I sometimes feel tired or over-worked, I'm so glad I had these experiences. Most of the work I do at the University is a privilege and enjoyable and not too bad at all relative to that leaflet delivering job as a child.
If you could start your own dream business, what would it be?
I am not really business minded. So, I struggle with this question, but it would be (maybe this is a bit dull) a University of some kind. I have all these weird and wonderful ideas about how I would use my research on social cognitive performance and mental processing to select and train the brightest and best students, which isn't something that we currently do in the higher education sector. So, it'd be a dream to create my own university to do it in this way, but it is very much a dream, and a dream that won't be realised!
Where is your favourite holiday destination and why?
This was an easy one. I love the Greek island of Rhodes where I’ve visited a few times now. It has everything I love all packaged into one amazing place. It's got history, good cheese, goats, and most importantly of all, sun. Somewhere that I'd rather be right now!
What’s your favourite book or album and why?
I don't. And in fact, I rarely read books. I'm a bit of a strange academic in that way. I also don't listen to much music. I do listen to drum and bass, the same drum and bass, over and over. I have no real musical or literature interests, which is slightly ironic given I’ve just given a talk at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.
When are you happiest?
When I'm running in the sun. Especially when I'm running with friends and colleagues where we're usually having a bit of a moan and venting about what are usually first world problems. So ironically, in moaning while running leads to me being happiest... but it has to be in the sun.
If you could meet anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be and why?
It would probably be Winston Churchill. Someone so amazing, sharp, principled, and a true leader – the sort of thing we are really lacking right now in the world.
Which one superpower would you like to possess?
I wish I could read minds! I do a lot of research on trying to understand how well people understand what other people are thinking – also known as ‘mentalising ability’, such as how this might be linked to internal bodily processes and atypical in people with autism. But I probably do not have particularly good mentalising abilities myself!
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
This one usually surprises people because I tend to come across a serious at times, but I really love trashy reality TV, and kids cartoons. The only way I relax - in addition to running - is to watch junk TV. And I'd recommend Below Deck to anyone reading this for absolute escapism to the max. It's on Amazon Prime and Netflix. So yeah, trash TV is my guilty secret or not so guilty secret! I think it's something that I'm proud of actually.