Ali Mair, Alumni, School of Psychology

Ali Mair

After graduating from the University of Leeds, I took a couple of years out of academia to try different things. I returned in 2012 to do a PhD at City, University of London. Prior to starting my PhD, I didn't have a lot of research experience outside of what I'd done as part of my two degrees at Leeds, so I had contacted some senior researchers working in areas that interested me and asked if I could provide voluntary research assistance for one day a week. My offer was taken up by Dr Marie Poirier at City, with whom I worked on a couple of different projects between 2011 and 2012. I did this voluntarily for about 18 months alongside a regular office job 4 days a week (which was totally unrelated - admin for a publishing company), and a few months into this arrangement I was offered paid work as a Teaching Assistant on an additional day a week. During this time I was able to develop ideas for a research proposal, and also build relationships with staff in the department who subsequently became my PhD supervisors. In 2012 I submitted my research proposal for a university-funded PhD scholarship, and was successful. This enabled me to complete my PhD with a stipend and access to departmental funding for running experiments. I also got a lot of experience teaching undergraduates. I was lucky that, just as I was getting to the end of my PhD, a job came up at the University of Hertfordshire, to work as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in an area closely related to the topic of my PhD (using wearable cameras to support everyday memory in older adults). I started at Hertfordshire in 2016, and began getting experience of applying for funding as there wasn't much departmental money available. Two years into my three-year contract at Hertfordshire I began to apply for externally funded postdoctoral fellowships - I applied for four at once, and didn't get past the first stage in three of my applications, but was successful in the fourth.

A degree from the School of Psychology has benefited me in the workplace as firstly, I really enjoyed my time at Leeds, and when I took two years out after graduating, I missed university and that's why I decided to go back! Having subsequently spent time in other Psychology departments, I found that having degrees from Leeds was professionally well-regarded, and I'm sure that having those on my CV has provided me with opportunities. I found the courses I took at Leeds to be intellectually stimulating and to provide a strong foundation for further study. The lecturers I had were inspiring, particularly during my MSc, and the assessments were really good for promoting critical thinking and academic independence (e.g. there was a real variety in the assessments we were set, again particularly during the MSc. During the BSc we had a LOT of lab reports to write, and this may be an unpopular opinion but it REALLY helped me learn how to write, as well as more general research skills). Also, something I didn't really notice at the time because I didn't have experience of other institutions - I think the fact that the department had its own resources (computer room, lecture hall, shared spaces for meetings) really promoted a sense of community - although that's more something I enjoyed about my time there rather than something that has directly benefited me in the workplace.

If I could, the advice I would give to myself now whilst studying would be I should have managed my time better during my BSc! I had to work part-time to make ends meet, but work got in the way of studying, particularly in 2nd year, and I had to do a lot of catching up in 3rd year. That said, I think having other experiences outside of your studies is really important for giving you perspective and preparing you for whatever you do after your degree, so it's a delicate balance and one that you have to weigh up carefully. I would also tell myself to take as many opportunities as possible -- try and get some research experience over the summer by asking staff if there's anything you can help with, even if you don't know what you want to do later on. Don't be shy about it, because you might be useless to start with but that's how you learn. And enjoy learning for the sake of learning, rather than just trying to pass your modules. Retrospectively you will realise that lots of your experiences (even the bad ones!) feed into the options that are available to you and the choices you will make further down the line. It's impossible to see it at the time, but your degree provides you with much more than the certificate you get at the end (although that is also very helpful!)