UCLan: Leading the field in psychological research

UCLan: Leading the field in psychological research
Image courtesy of UCLan School of Psychology

“Don’t become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate the mystery of their energy.” – Ivan Pavlov

In the late 1870s, Wilhelm Wundt opened the first Psychologically-focused research laboratories in the city of Leipzig, Germany. Unlike fellow scientists dedicated to the study of physics or chemistry, or indeed colleagues based in the fields of law or art, psychologists commit their life’s work to a comparatively younger discipline. There’s so much we still don’t fully understand when it comes to the complexities of behaviour, spurring our innate desire to seek answers to new questions. It therefore makes sense that there exists a long-established relationship between the teaching of psychology and psychological research, and this principle underpins virtually all activities within the School of Psychology at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Central to your learning about psychology at UCLan is the development of an in-depth understanding when it comes to the link between the subject and the importance of research. It is a commonly held belief that in order to be a good psychologist, you must first be good at research, and even a cursory glance at your module choices across all nine of UCLan’s specialised courses will allow you to comprehend just how deeply the institution’s research, as well as the work of renowned psychologists worldwide, is embedded into its courses. At UCLan, psychology students are trained to assess whole range of behaviours and attitudes, giving them the ability to devise methods to change, or measure the impact of change within their own research.

The University’s purpose-built facilities opened in 2005, and have regularly been updated ever since.  In 2016, a brand-new half-a-million-pound Brain Imaging Laboratory added to an extensive range of specialist facilities dedicated to Health Psychology, Neuropsychology and Psychobiology, Cognition (memory, thinking and language) Social/Developmental and Forensic Psychology, also including 12 laboratories committed to undergraduate student, research. These cutting-edge student labs are central to UCLan’s research-informed teaching, enabling students to learn through experience as they pursue independent research, or simply take part in research projects to gain a wider appreciation of the nature of the discipline.

To put this into perspective, while most UK psychology courses teach about Mary Ainsworth’s seminal work on Child Attachment, the majority will do so using videos of children playing with their parents, alone, or interacting with a stranger. But at UCLan, students use the Child Observation Suite to observe real children in real environments, learning to think creatively and react instantly to situations that develop before them – all of which are skills that cannot be acquired just from watching a video.  This not only allows students to understand more about the processes of development and attachment in young children, but also ensures they have the skills to observe in a range of locations on a range of different subjects.

The School’s research often receives national or international recognition, with several having had a direct impact on the shaping of global government policies. UCLan’s own Professor John Archer, for example, has just received the 2016 Scott Award from the International Society for Research on Aggression (ISRA) due to his “significant or lifetime contribution to aggression research.” John, like other Professors at the School, boasts a proven track record of informing business, legal systems, education and sport, and is also a respected member of UCLan’s Forensic Psychology research team.

Psychology students at UCLan are given the opportunity to work on the School’s ground-breaking EvoFIT system, enabling police forces around the world to construct likenesses of suspects in crimes through EvoFIT’s unique capability to evolve a face that matches memory of the suspect. The system employs techniques consistent with the way we store faces and does not, as per rival systems, require you to focus on individual features; the nose, eyes, ears etc. EvoFIT secures an arrest with one in four or five of the images produced compared to one in 19 or 20 achieved by traditional approaches.  Students working on EvoFIT have had the opportunity to present their work at international conferences, or have challenged the operational procedures of major police forces to help them capture criminals.

Image courtesy of UCLan School of Psychology

The Importance of Research 

“As a Psychology student, I knew it is important to be up-to-date with the latest research. Psychology is a relatively new and fast-moving subject; new discoveries are being made all the time, which impact on the theory taught to us as students. As a School, UCLan Psychology is incredibly research-active, and this provides great opportunities to work alongside staff whilst studying for your degree. The School is part of the the University Research Intern Scheme, the largest paid student intern scheme in the UK, which adds to the student understanding, not just of research, but the wider subject too.

“A research-active staff is a passionate and interested staff. They are motivated to constantly problem-solve and innovate; and this is an inspiring environment to be in as a student. When I was an undergraduate, these were the qualities I admired in my tutors.  By using research-informed teaching they ensure that you, like me, are provided with the most current knowledge and skills in our field.

“Staff encourage students to see the conflicts and debates around topic areas, and so develop their critical thinking skills. And by keeping them up-to-date, allow them to see the gaps in the research field, to view problems in new ways and come up with fresh ideas and approaches. In this way, research-informed teaching breeds the next generation of researchers.” – Claire Roper, UCLan Psychology Graduate

The School of Psychology at UCLan has a large staff base, and there are inherent advantages to having such a large number of specialist staff; firstly, because it enables the BPS curriculum to be covered by leading experts. The number of Chartered Psychologists, the number of Psychology Practitioners and the number of staff conducting and publishing research conveys the value of research within UCLan’s philosophy. The presence of the School’s professional MSc’s has further benefits.  Some would argue that you need more core staff, and more research-active staff to gain accreditation than you need to deliver the courses. It is encouraging to see, therefore, that those teaching on the routes towards Chartered Psychology status are the staff that can be seen delivering their expertise within undergraduate programmes, or working with external bodies to improve their research-informed practice.

Image courtesy of UCLan School of Psychology

Similarly, students have worked on a range of projects in the Health Psychology Suite, measuring and testing stress levels, understanding dietary behaviour, or assisting staff in the Schools of Medicine and Dentistry to understand the decision-making process or skills acquisition in medical professions.

UCLan is an exciting place for you to study, the £500,000 recently-refurbished Brain Imaging Laboratories are now complemented by a Development Cognitive Neuro’ Lab, and both of these facilities permit students to learn to measure brain waves and understand the link between our brains and our behaviours. Student interns, both voluntary and paid, are encouraged to make widespread use of the laboratories to assistant with the conducting of a range of exciting and innovative research projects.  Perhaps you could be the next intern? Or like previous students, win National Awards for the research undertaken as part of your learning experience.

Question: Why is half of the School of Psychology taken up with Laboratory Space?

Darwin Building, the home of the School of Psychology meets the teaching and learning needs of the School almost perfectly.  Why?  Because the staff were heavily involved in the design process, determining not only the shape but also the size of much of the learning environment. Indeed, incorporated into the building are over thirty laboratory spaces, including twelve laboratories that are Undergraduate Research Labs.  These facilities are research spaces for which students gain priority booking over staff, and enable students to learn through research enquiry wherever possible.

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