Both of my parents were psychologists, so naturally I determined not to study psychology when I graduated high school. Instead, I enrolled in a journalism degree and aimed to get a job in which I could review movies and/or food in an exciting overseas location, preferably New York. I got tired of fighting my psychological heritage, however, and soon after enrolled in a psych science degree at UQ. I fell in love with social psychology and by the time I finished my undergraduate degree I was chomping at the bit to start a PhD. I’m still a huge movie fan and foodie, but now I channel those interests into my love of social psychology. I’m currently developing two projects that investigate people’s relationship with food and the psychological effects of zombie films compared to alien invasion films.
Obviously a pre-requisite is to be fascinated by people and how they interact with the world around them. There are also number of personal characteristics that I see in researchers I admire, like an innate curiosity, a desire to ask questions and answer those questions in meaningful ways. Good researchers in my experience tend to be creative in the kinds of questions they ask and how they go about operationalizing and communicating those questions. I also believe it’s important for researchers to have an interest in discussing their research. Ultimately, it’s about having a passion for understanding, influencing, and communicating with people.
I often say that my approach to research tends to be a bit ADD; I’m always finding things that interest and excite me and that I would like to investigate further. At the moment I’m finishing up some projects from my PhD, which focused on how people react when they lack control over their lives. People often find loss of control to be aversive and try to resolve this psychological threat through a variety of means, such as aggressing against other people, accumulating money, or seeking control by knowing the future (e.g., they might be more likely to visit a psychic).
Other things that I’m currently studying are why video games make people aggressive (and how to break the link), why being discriminated against makes people eat junk food, how watching others achieve their goals might stop people from achieving their own goals, whether hope can motivate social change, and how the people around us can literally “fuel” us to perform at our best.
I spend roughly a third of my year overseas. One of the best parts of the academic life is the opportunity for travel afforded by conferences and international collaborations. I love meeting new people and going new places, so I’m absolutely thrilled that I’ve landed a job in which I can do the work I love but also satisfy my need for variety and new experiences. Recently after working in Europe for a month I flew back to Brisbane for 24 hours, packed off to Thailand for five days, and arrived home on the afternoon that I graduated my PhD.