Hello everyone. Welcome to the Big Five podcast from Northumbria psychology department where we learn big facts about human behaviour and experience. My name is Dr. Genavee Brown and I'll be your guide into the minds of psychology students, alumni and researchers at Northumbria University. I'm a lecturer and social psychology researcher in the psychology department, and I love learning more about all fields of psychology. Each week on this podcast, I'll speak to a guest who's either a student, alumni or researcher in the Northumbria psychology department. By asking them five big questions, we'll learn about their time studying psychology, and hopefully learn some big facts about human behaviour and experience. Today I have the pleasure of speaking to Dr. Lisa Thomas. Hello, Lisa. How are generally Lisa Thomas is an assistant professor in the Psychology Department. Lisa is the module leader on research methods in the MSc programme. And she's also the Athena SWAN and EDI lead for the department. She also is the student mentoring coordinator, very busy lady. Today, Lisa is going to tell us a bit about her educational journey from psychology student to assistant professor. So just to get started, Lisa, why did you get interested in studying psychology as an undergraduate?
So I think I was inspired by actually my a level psychology teacher, I spent a lot of time reading and writing and really getting interested in all fields of psychology. But at the time, you know, fresh faced, I was quite keen on a forensic pathway. I loved reading about serial killers. It was that kind of that kind of stuff that interested me. And I thought, like, you know, can I do this at university? Is this something that I want to continue beyond a level? And so I applied and ended up at Sheffield University studying psychology in about 2001, I think. And so yeah, that that kind of inspirational teacher plus some interest in all the grisly side of human behaviour was was what spurred me on.
So how would you say your research interests have changed?
Yes, I mean, it couldn't be further from my initial interest. And I suppose the different way of studying people has not changed in my interest in that. But I'm fascinated by how people cope with life transitions. And so most of my research has a technological lens. So I like to understand these transitions through social media use in online communication. And so I'm a member of pack lab psychology and Communication Technology Lab. And all of the research there is underpinned by this kind of online technological focus. And so a lot of my research projects have been about using technology to communicate with others, how people build relationships, how those relationships dissolve. And so that's really been my focus for the last sort of 10 years or so I think now. So can
you tell us a bit about your educational journey? How did you find yourself going from being an undergraduate Sheffield to a PhD student at Northumbria and becoming an assistant professor.
So Sheffield, much like my A levels, I had really inspirational lecturer, Chris Spencer, who's very famous at Sheffield, and he was an environmental psychologist, environmental psychology is interested in anything to do with humans interacting with the environment around them. And so lots of lots of lectures that I was fascinated by around the idea of how students cope with the halls of residence when they transition to university. So the kind of built environment around them has a profound impact on their well being and how they navigate a lot of research environmental psychology at the time was around the use of hospitals and how the shape and design of hospital buildings could really impact patient wellbeing. And so those kinds of bits of research, I really just it was it sort of ignited a passion in me and I loved all my educational psychology lectures at Sheffield went about the process of trying to find where I could study that at masters level. And so there were two places in in the world at that time that offered an educator environmental psychology Master's course and one was New York and the other was Surrey University. Um, so for some reason I opted for Surrey and not dissing Surrey, because it's a brilliant University as well. But I think at the time I had I had family nearby and I opted to go to Surrey and so I did my MSc there in environmental psychology pretty much straight after my undergraduate so I went from undergrad to post grad pretty quickly again, I had some really brilliant lecturers and really enjoyed my time studying there and kind of enjoyed that and then thought well where do I go from here so I you know, I had a BA and MSC I still wanted to learn more, but I didn't quite know what to do. And so I took maybe two years out, I think, and, you know, just went from job to job just kind of keeping my head afloat and deciding what I wanted to do. And then I ended up working at the admissions department at Northumbria University, which, you know, it was a great place to work. And I was seeing all of these psychology students coming in and applying for further courses. And I thought, you know, I still really miss academia. And so one day I was browsing, probably something like jobs.ac.uk At that time, and there was an advert for a PhD position. And I've never even considered doing a PhD, it was all quite new to me, but it was working with Professor Pam Briggs, and Dr. Linda little. And it was a PhD around location based services, which sounds very kind of industry. And it was I suppose, so my, my PhD was all about how people felt around using location tracking. So that's anything to do with, you know, GPS on your on your mobile phone. And this was, you know, like, 2008 ish. And so GPS and knowing where people were using phones was quite a new thing, then. So my PhD was part funded by a company called tracker phone, based in Newcastle. And they were really keen to find out how employees from different walks of life precede that tracking from their employer. And so the PhD was very mixed methods. And I spent a lot of time talking to people in the field. So people that worked for hospitals, people that could be tracked by their family members using GPS, and basically tried to get a sense of how these technologies were perceived. And that was a brilliant three years doing my PhD. And then I suppose at that point, I was embedded in Northumbria. So during, during my PhD, I started a bit of teaching. And I was the module lead for the consumer psychology module, I think, in the last two years of my PhD, and that gave me a flavour of teaching and what it would be like to craft your own teaching materials, you know, do your own research and prepare to teach students and get the opportunity to set assignments and things like that. And so I really enjoyed that aspect of academia. So while you know, while studying for my own PhD, I then decided that teaching was an avenue that I wanted to pursue, but then did my PhD, still doing a bit of teaching work. And then because my PhD supervisor team was so brilliant, I developed a research kind of relationship with Pam Briggs. And as Pam was part of pact lab, as well, we started to talk about different projects and bits of work, that would be interesting. And Pam had positions for postdocs available. So it was quite serendipitous that at the end of my PhD, there were some projects that were looking for researchers. And so I applied, I managed to get a position working on a project called imprints, which stood for identity management. I always forget the acronym because it never quite translated, basically how people feel about identity management technologies and how we can use things like biometric authentication to, to prove who we are. So again, at that time, things like biometric IDs and things were were quite topical. And I spent some time over that postdoc speaking to various user groups, so older adults, refugee groups, sort of disability groups in the northeast, trying to understand how they felt about these kinds of technologies becoming more every day, and getting a sense of how they would be accepted. And so that was a fantastic opportunity, because I worked with a lot of different universities, a lot of different kinds of people. And it just again, solidified how much I wanted to work in this environment. And then after the Innocence Project, we, we moved on to something called the real lives project, which was a little bit closer to sort of my own, I suppose research interests today that the real life project was about identity on film, and how people would choose which bits of information to present about themselves. So we talked a lot about Goffman in the, you know, the front stage backstage sort of dilemma. And that that postdoc position was really useful to solidify kind of my research interest in this idea of transition. So I did some research with university students and spoke to them about how they move from sort of school to university life, and how they use their social media profiles to kind of craft who they are or who they present themselves, as, you know, that was some really, really interesting work. And that because the project was with quite a lot of creative, I managed to work with filmmakers, you know, all sorts of different kinds of academics. And so, again, just got a sense of how interesting and varied postdoc life can be. And they were two big ESRC projects, those two postdoc projects. And so I, you know, I had experience a knowledge of that kind of big funding, and realising the scope of how many different people you could work with, and that and that was great. And so each of them lasted a couple of years, those postdoc positions, and then when they were coming to an end, I said, Right, okay, we need to get off the postdoc bandwagon. It's been a while. But I think those two research posts really stood me in good stead to build my confidence and skills. And then I applied for a lecturer position. Maybe a year later, I think at Northumbria and got the job. I've been here ever since. That was a number of years now. And since then, I've been working in the department as a lecturer and teaching and working on small bits of projects as and when I can. Yeah,
that's quite the journey. So I'm going to ask you to put your Athena SWAN hat on now. As a woman in science, in, in the research world, in academia, what kind of advice might you have for students or for other researchers, or people in academia, maybe early career researchers who are starting their careers about what it's like to be a woman in academia, and if there are barriers, and if there are strengths or resilience that women particularly have in this career,
I mean, I have to say, sort of early on, when I started out, imposter syndrome was a big thing. And, you know, I think it's kind of talked about a bit more now. But you know, 10 years ago, you're starting out on on projects, working with really experienced academics and feeling like a very small fish in a big pond. And I think the thing that I've learned over the years is to surround yourself and work with and collaborate with people that you get on with well, and that has normally sparked the most productive pieces of work. And so as I say, Pam Briggs and Linda little, we're kind of, you know, two strong female role models doing my PhD, but the department here is got an amazing bunch of men and women that are very open to collaborations and project ideas. And so I think that, you know, that would be my, my kind of guiding principle of seek out people that you can you get on with and you think you could work with on these things. But I think having people that you're comfortable sharing your concerns, as well as your kind of celebration is is important.
Yeah, definitely. Have you, do you think you faced any, any barriers as a as a woman in science,
I don't think necessarily, as a woman, I think I've been given equal opportunity for, for a lot of the things that have come my way. I think sometimes it's difficult to present yourself as something fresh and exciting when you've been at an institution as long as I have. And so you know, you're working with similar people, they see your face every day, and then trying to promote yourself to, you know, get positions like lectureships it's difficult to, I suppose, sell yourself and if you're going to a different institution that didn't know you. And so I think it's always been difficult to try and present yourself in that way, when when you're part of the furniture, yeah. But but in terms of gender and any hurdles, I personally don't feel that I have had any, but I am acutely aware that other people do experience those. And that's why, you know, I'm, I'm second in the role to the Athena SWAN chair and psychology department. But there's been a kind of strong record of women leading that position and wanting to make things better for the department.
So you have many roles in the department and your research through with with in conjunction with back to lab, where do you hope to go from here in terms of both your career and your future research?
So in terms of career I hope that I can continue at Northumbria and build kind of strong relationships with with other colleagues across Northumbria and you know, more widely so I really find most interest with collaborations with with people, you know, beyond just our department, and I think my research I'm getting to a point where I'm working with some really great student interns and research assistants and things, and just continuing to really tackle projects that I'm interested in. So at the moment, I've got a project running, which is interested in how women have renegotiated their spaces, their boundaries during the COVID pandemic and beyond. So very interested in those kinds of dynamics and how we sort of segregate our personal and professional lives and how that impacts on our well being. And actually, the the research to date shows that women have been sort of most impacted by those kinds of pandemic changes. So that sort of thing going forward would be of value and interest to me. But I think more broadly, you know, a lot of my research does focus on new parents, mothers, student mothers, and so tying in some of the Athena objectives, with my research interests, and just trying to understand a bit better the space that that women are navigating in academia and beyond.
Excellent. We wish you the best of luck in that work in that and is there a place where people can stay up to date with your research?
Yep, my Twitter handle is at Dr. L. Thomas.
Perfect. All right. I'll include that in the show notes along with some links. For example, to jobs.ac.uk in case anyone out there is interested in getting their PhD. If you would like to learn more about Northumbria psychology, you can also check out our psychology department blog at Northumbria psy.com. You can also follow us on Twitter at Northumbria Psy. If you want you can follow me on Twitter at BrownGenavee. If you would like to be interviewed on the podcast or know someone who would please email me at Genavee.firstname.lastname@example.org Finally, if you like the podcast, make sure to subscribe to our podcast on your listening app and give us a review and rating. I hope you've learned something on this voyage into the mind. Take care until next time