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UOA 44 - Psychology

London Metropolitan University

RA5a: Research environment and esteem

RAE 2008

RA5 (a) Textual description (Environment and Esteem)

London Metropolitan University
Department of Psychology
Significant development in the department since RAE2001 has been shaped by the merger of staff from the former Universities of London Guildhall and North London to form London Metropolitan University (LondonMet) in August 2002. Following the merger, research strengths and groupings were identified and earmarked for development and progression.  Research is now focussed in two main areas: Counselling & Health and Cognition, Development & Education comprising a mix of experienced and newly appointed staff.  Of the 12 staff submitted, 8 joined the department since RAE2001, 8 received their PhDs over the same time period, and 6 qualify as Early Career Researchers. New appointments have been made on the basis of a strong research record and the ability to contribute to the research strengths in the department.  Thus, these new appointments, many with excellent research records, have been instrumental in further strengthening groupings and forming internal collaborations, while in many cases also developing and maintaining strong international collaborations (See Section 2.0 below).
Since the merger there has been a significant increase in research vibrancy and postgraduate activity in the department.  Over the assessment period staff in the department have published over 300 journal articles and book chapters, and 10 books. Significant expansion means the department currently has c. 130 Master’s students, 14 PhD students and c. 50 Professional doctoral students (with the numbers expected to rise to between 80 and 100 by 2011).                        
Our aim is to conduct pure and applied research of internationally acknowledged excellence into the psychological processes that underlie developmental, educational and health related behaviour.  To achieve this we have established a vibrant research environment, coherent research groupings and a research-led staffing policy.  In line with the University’s strategic aims we intend to increase departmental research activity.  Specifically, to yet further develop our current research base, we aim to (1) increase research funding (2) increase the numbers of Professional Doctoral, and PhD students and (3) enhance existing, as well as establish new research groupings to reflect our continually developing areas of research expertise and Professional Doctoral provision.
  1. 1.0Research Groups and their Activities
Research activity in the department is focused around two research groups: Counselling & Health and Cognition, Development & Education with each group having a balanced mix of experienced and Early Career researchers.  Research in both groups is driven by the University’s strategic goal to offer real-world solutions to real-world problems of society; locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

Counselling & Health Group

                              The work of this group is mainly of an applied nature and seeks to research, understand and ultimately suggest interventions to real-world community health problems.  Research is clustered around three main themes (i) understanding health behaviours in vulnerable populations (ii) health and psychopathology and (iii) health and group dynamics.  This work has been supported with grants from the Food Standards Agency, the ESRC and the German Youth Institute.
A key theme of the group is health behaviour in vulnerable populations.  Baker (with Wardle, UCL) researches dietary understanding in patients with cancer and obesity, looking at sex differences in fruit and vegetable intake, and dietary knowledge in cancer patients. In collaboration with Rees (Plymouth), she is currently investigating eating attitudes and behaviour in ethnic minority schoolgirls in London, funded by the Food Standards Agency (£166K to Baker).  Griva (with Newman & Harrison, UCL) researches health complaints, satisfaction, and cognitive functioning in patients on dialysis and with kidney transplants.  In collaboration with Joekes (Leiden) Griva also investigates cross-cultural differences in health hazards and health complaints between London and mainland European school teachers with burn-out syndrome.  Lusher in a £14K project (with Elander, PI, ex LondonMet) part funded by the medical research charity REMEDI investigates addiction and pain management issues in sickle cell disease, specifically, how pain-related and non-pain-related symptoms of substance dependence are associated with pain coping strategies and treatment for painful episodes in hospital.
Another theme of the group is health behaviour and psychopathology.  Lusher (part funded by the Society for the Study of Addiction, along with colleagues Chandler, LondonMet, and Ball, Institute of Psychiatry) investigates vulnerability factors to substance dependence.  Studies examine how genetic variants, personality traits and responsiveness to substance-related stimuli can influence an individual’s propensity to a severe dependency on drugs such as alcohol, nicotine and heroin. This work suggests that certain genes might predispose individuals toward a particular personality type, which in turn can act as a vulnerability factor to addictive behaviour, and results were reported in the leading journal, Molecular Psychiatry.  Current research also investigates attentional biases in substance abusers.  Mayers (with Baldwin, Southampton, and others) examines the use of St Johns wort in depression (through membership of Depression Alliance, the leading depression self-help group in the UK) and finds that it significantly reduces anxiety levels in the most anxious patients. This work extends the debate for the need to consider herbal remedies as a legitimate treatment option in mental health and plans are now underway to extend the work in collaboration with the UK distributors of St Johns wort and Valerian to explore sleep satisfaction in the use of herbal remedies.  Mayers also investigates the relationship between sleep and depression in young mothers and research will establish the extent to which early postpartum poor sleep is related to depression relapse within one year. Finally, Brownlow (with O’Dell, Brighton) investigates how people with autism take advantage of the development of new technologies and how they communicate in online communities. Her findings challenge previously held assumptions regarding the social competence of people with autism, with issues of diagnosis and labeling openly discussed by forum users.
The third theme of this group is health and group dynamics.  Vossler investigates family counselling and online counselling for young people.  Research (with Keupp, Munich) funded by the German Youth Institute suggests that under certain conditions family counselling strengthens the family’s ability to manage the demands of family life and to see these efforts as meaningful and comprehensible.  With (Terry, Manchester & Lueders, German Youth Institute) Vossler’s current work investigates online counselling and the outcomes of such counselling from the perspective of young people. Research will establish the therapeutic effects of online counselling; differences of online-counselling compared to face-to-face counselling; cultural differences in the way young people benefit from online counselling and the similarities and differences between the services in the UK and in Germany. Hutchison’s research (with Abrams, Kent, funded by grants from ESRC and the Black Watch Memorial and Home Fund) investigates the impact of group membership and social identification on self-definition and behaviour and the cognitive-motivational strategies people use to maintain a positive and distinctive identity. This work is currently being extended to investigate how members of devalued and marginalized groups cope with perceived discrimination and social exclusion, focusing specifically on the role of group identification. Another line of Hutchison’s research (with Jetten, Queensland) investigates the impact on psychological health and well-being of change (e.g., as the result of important life-transitions or disbanding of groups).

Cognition, Development & Education Group

                              The work of this group is both theoretical and applied in nature, and aims to understand the processes and factors that affect learning in a variety of contexts.  Research is clustered around two main themes; (i) investigating the domain general cognitive processes that underpin the development of flexible thinking and representational change, and (ii) teaching and learning in higher education. This work has been supported with grants from HEFCE and the ESRC.  
Riggs and Simpson investigate the development of the executive functions in pre-school children and adults.  In PhD work with Riggs, Simpson investigated the development of inhibitory control in children aged 3 to 11 years. In a follow up study (with McKenna, Cambridge, and others) he applied theoretical ideas from this work to adult patients with schizophrenia.  Currently, Simpson is collaborating with Prof. Diamond (British Columbia) investigating the relationship between working memory and inhibitory control in 2- to 4-year-olds. Riggs continues his work on theory of mind in children and adults.  With Apperly (Birmingham) and others, a recent Psychological Science paper presented a novel paradigm for investigating theory of mind in adults and was widely reported in the media (including the Editor’s Choice section in the journal Science).  He also continues his work on counterfactual reasoning in pre-school children.  In an ESRC funded project (£40K, co-authored with Beck, PI, Birmingham) he investigated the relationship between developments in counterfactual thinking and executive function.  Work continues with Riggs and Beck being invited to join an international interdisciplinary consortium bid to the ESF Eurocores Programme (670K Euros) investigating ‘The  Logic of Causal and Probabilistic Reasoning in Uncertain Contexts’, with psychologists, philosophers and logicians from Austria and France (submitted September 2007).  Riggs also continues to collaborate with Ferrand (Paris) on a CNRS funded project investigating tactile perception.
Lange-Kuettner (with Kerzmann, Berlin, and Heckhausen, Irvine) continues research into the effects of cognitive processing units in visual processing such as drawing and reading using both longitudinal and cross-sectional designed studies. Currently she is editing a book (with Vinter, Université de Bourgogne) on non-verbal intelligence and drawing, accepted by Cambridge University Press, and in print by 2008.
The second theme of this group is teaching and learning in higher education.  Monetta investigates coping strategies in undergraduates preparing for exams, and emotional development in adolescence.  Harrington is the Director of the ‘Write Now’ Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL, a £3.4M consortium bid over 5 years with Harrington as one of the co-applicants) and co-ordinator of the ‘Assessment Plus’ (FDTL4, a £192k consortium bid) project both of which are funded by HEFCE and based in the Psychology Department at London Metropolitan University. These large-scale projects aim to improve student achievement through a focus on writing for assessment and they are strongly research focused, being both underpinned by and actively supportive of pedagogical research of a theoretical and empirical nature.  
The CETL and Assessment Plus are collaborative, with Liverpool Hope University and Aston University as partner institutions and London Metropolitan University as the lead institution.  Key members of the consortium include psychologists, Professor Lin Norton, Psychology, Liverpool Hope; Professor James Elander, Director of Research, Psychology, Derby, and Peter Reddy, Teaching Fellow, Psychology, Aston.  The CETL employs four research active staff (3.2 FTE) at LondonMet, including a research assistant (Bakhshi, 0.6 FTE), a learning technology support officer investigating the use of web based materials to support writing development (Llewellyn-Jones, 0.6 FTE) and will also fund two PhD studentships from Januanry 2008.  The CETL also sets aside £20K per annum to fund small scale biddable research projects into writing and assessment which is open to all LondonMet staff.  The work of Assessment Plus has now been absorbed by the CETL, which will continue to receive funding from HEFCE of £500K per annum (314K to LondonMet) until at least April 2010.  Based on findings and its reputation to date, the aim is to establish LondonMet as an international centre of excellence for research into teaching and learning in higher education.
2.0 Structures & Culture
The department’s research environment has been facilitated by a number of initiatives devised to promote and develop research activity. Overseeing activity in the department is the Psychology Research Committee.  This committee is responsible for the development of departmental research strategy and for co-ordinating and overseeing the operation and resourcing of research activity within the department, including pump-priming for new research.  The Chair of the Research Committee is a member of the departmental management team (Academic Committee (AC)) at whose fortnightly meetings research is a standing agenda item. This arrangement ensures that research matters can inform and influence AC discussions and decision making, and provide for prompt consideration at management level of research issues as they arise.
To foster research activity, and to enhance the departments growing reputation, a dedicated departmental budget supports staff in international collaborative research projects, through institutional visits, workshops and conferences.  Current collaborators include Dr. Striano of Leipzig and Dr. Vinter of Bourgogne (with Lange-Keuttner); Prof. Ferrand of Paris, (with Riggs); Prof. Diamond of British Columbia (with Simpson) and Prof. Keupp of Munich (with Vossler).  External academics are also welcome as visiting researchers and recently Prof. Ferrand visited the department for 3 months in early 2007 to work with Riggs on a CNRS funded project into tactile perception (following on from work published in Output 1).
                              The department also hosts an Invited Speaker Seminar series attended by undergraduates, postgraduates and staff. Recent visiting speakers have included Prof. Mareschal (Birkbeck), Dr. Stadler (Zürich), Prof. Messer (Open), Prof. Dockrell (Institute of Education), Prof. Wilding (Royal Holloway), Prof. Ellis (York), Prof. Claridge (Oxford), Prof. Rust (City), Prof. Plunkett (Oxford) and Prof. Funnell (Royal Holloway).  Staff and PhD students also have an arena in which to promote their own research. A programme of research Work In Progress Seminars (WIPS) allows staff and PhD students to present research to an audience of teaching and research staff, and postgraduate students. Thus WIPS promote familiarity and understanding of current research activity as well as facilitating a culture of mutual support and the exchange of advice and information.

2.1) Research Infrastructure, Facilities, Training and Support
The department has five dedicated research laboratories for specialised bespoke research equipment, several individual cubicles for data collection and a suite of observation rooms with one-way observation mirrors. Seven technical support staff are employed including three dedicated departmental IT technicians who are responsible for the departmental intranet, computer maintenance, and bespoke research software programming, as well as a wood and metal workshop technician for the manufacture of bespoke research apparatus. There is a multi-media PC suite, with several video recorders, VHS digitisation equipment, Mangold Interact Video Analysis System, and Adobe Audition for the editing and analysis of auditory stimuli. Furthermore, there is Superlab and ERTS (Experimental Run Time System) software available for reaction time / accuracy experiments that can be used with EEG and ERP equipment.  A departmental library / resources room contains an extensive psychometric test materials collection.

2.2) Facilities for Postgraduate Research Students
All postgraduate research students have standard office facilities with a networked desktop PC, free access to photocopying and access to technical support staff. They have full use of the departmental test materials collection and research laboratories. The University annually audits the provision of these facilities. Research supervision is provided for each student by a Director of Studies and a second internal supervisor. The students’ progress is regularly monitored by the University wide Research Student Progress Group (RSPG). Both the students and their Directors of Studies are required to make independent annual reports to the RSPG.  All PhD students are funded by the department to attend one conference per year and have access to all University research wide facilities including use of the Graduate School, and the facilities in other departments (of particular relevance to Psychologists is the new Science Centre for Health & Human Sciences).

2.3) Staffing Policy
Research activity is managed, in part, via the University’s Performance, Appraisal, Development & Award Scheme (PADAS).  The Research and research-related activities (e.g., publications, conference presentations, grant applications etc.) of individual staff throughout the year are appraised by the Head of Department and monitored at University level by the Human Resources Department and the Research Office.  Appraisals can lead to financial support for research activity
                              New staff members are appointed on the basis of their research record, and how well their interests fit with the departmental plan for research growth. This has resulted in some excellent early career or junior research appointments (e.g.,
Hutchison, Lusher, Simpson & Vossler) and has helped to maintain cohesive, coherent and vibrant research groupings.
                              All new members of staff are allocated a research mentor who helps advise on funding, research management and publication matters.  To enable new staff to develop a program of research, the department (a)
provides a reduced teaching and administration work load for new staff during their first year to facilitate maintenance of research momentum, (b) encourages new staff to participate in the research WIPS, and (c) provides funds for attending workshops (e.g., on grant writing and securing external funding), conferences and visits to other institutions.  To actively develop their skills for the supervision of research students, staff are encouraged to attend the University’s Research Supervision course (18 months part-time) which is a University requirement for inexperienced MPhil/PhD supervisors.
                              A key staffing priority is to increase the number of research experienced staff with research interests that underpin our developing Professional Doctoral portfolio in areas such as Counselling, Health and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

3) Strategy over the next 5 years
                              The University is committed to increasing its overall research activity in the next 5 years.  To this aim it has planned a multi-million pound investment in new research Professors, ‘young blood’ lecturers and University funded PhD studentships.  In line with this aim, the department will consolidate, strengthen and further develop research activity in the two groupings focusing on real-world solutions to real-world problems that benefit the local and wider community.  The Counselling & Health group will see a significant expansion and increase in research activity in applied and clinical environments.  Over the next 5 years a number of current Master’s courses will convert to, or offer post-MSc Professional Doctorates.  This will significantly increase the number of research active students in the grouping and the department as a whole, and also help to ensure that research underpins teaching of the taught postgraduate portfolio. By 2011, there will be four Professional Doctorate programmes (Counselling, Health, CBT and Occupational) with approximately 80-100 Professional Doctoral students in total, contributing to focused themes of research within each sub-area.
                              Within the
Cognition, Development & Education group the CETL will continue to receive funding (£314K to LondonMet) until at least April 2010 aiming to improve student achievement through writing and assessment.  It will also fund LondonMet Psychology staff on small scale (~£20K) teaching and learning research projects to provide pilot data for larger scale Research Council grant applications.  Two CETL funded PhD students start in January 2008, and funding exists for further studentships in subsequent years.  It is a departmental aim to firmly establish the Psychology department at LondonMet as an international centre of excellence for research into teaching and learning into higher education.  Research will also continue in cognitive development, with staff investigating the development of the executive functions and how this development relates to knowledge acquisition and representational change.  We aim build on the international reputation of this sub-group by attracting additional staff with track records of research in this area.  Bids will be made to the University for ‘young blood’ research lecturers whose areas of expertise complement those of existing staff.
Finally, and more generally, although the department has seen a significant increase in research activity as measured by the quantity and quality of publications, post-graduate activity and collaborative research projects, in future it aims to attract more external funding for research.  We have made a bid to the University for a Research Chair (June 07) and as mentioned above will make a bid for ‘young blood’ research lecturers in due course.  These new appointments will play a key role in future research income generation.  



Indicators of Peer Esteem

Dr. Anna Baker (0.6 FTE, twice absent on maternity leave)
  • Member of BPS Health Section Training Committee

Dr. Konstadina Griva (Early career)
  • Member of the European Health Psychology Society within which she was a founding member of the Collaborative Research and Training Committee

Dr Paul Hutchison (Early Career)
  • Awarded an ESRC Post-Doctoral Fellowship in 2003
  • Grant reviewer and rapporteur for the ESRC
  • Co-organizer of a European Association of Experimental Social Psychology Small-Group Meeting, University of Exeter, July 2005 (‘18 years on: Progress in Social Identity Theory’) and co-organizer and chair of a seminar at the BPS Social Section Conference, Liverpool, 2004 (‘Social identity and intragroup processes’)

Dr. Katherine Harrington (Early career)
  • Director of the HEFCE-funded Write Now Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), which promotes student achievement in writing and supports a comprehensive programme of pedagogical research to provide an evidence-base for the practice of the Centre (grant of £3.4 million over 5 years)  
  • Invited speaker at numerous HEA events as well as a conference on Writing in the Disciplines held at Queen Mary, University of London (2006)  

Dr. Chris(tiane) Lange-Küttner
  • Organiser of workshop, with Dr. Vinter, on drawing at the 17th European Conference on Developmental Psychology, Tenerife, 2005
  • Grant reviewer for the European Science Foundation and the Irish Research Grant Council

Dr. Giovanni Moneta 

  • Awarded a Harvard Business School Research Fellowship 2003
  • Member of the International Advisory Board of the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health; Guest Editor of a Special Issue on Flow Experience across Cultures in the Journal of Happiness Studies
  • Member of the Scientific Committee of the 3rd European Conference on Positive Psychology, Braga,  2006

Dr. Kevin J. Riggs

  • Editorial board member of L’Annee Psychologique; Consulting reviewer for Developmental Psychology (APA); Grant reviewer and rapporteur for the ESRC
  • Invited speaker (Developments in children’s counterfactual thinking) at the BPS Developmental Section Conference, Plymouth, September, 2007
  • PhD examining, Aberdeen, Birmingham, London.

Dr. Andreas Vossler

  • Member of the extended editorial board of the online journal ‘Forum Gemeindepsychologie’ (Forum Community-Psychology)
  • Organiser and Moderator of Conferences as research fellow at the German Youth Institute (7 Conferences between July 2001 and April 2005)
  • Expert-interview on German radio – ‘Discussing traumatic events with children – implications and guidelines in relation to tsunami’,  January,2005