University of Cambridge, 2004-13
BA (Music); MPhil (Musicology & Music Psychology); PhD (Music & Speech Psychology)
University of Nottingham, 2013-16; Queen Mary University of London, 2016-17
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Royal Holloway, University of London
Favourite thing to do in my job: I love talking to other people about my ideas and interests. I enjoy a good debate and sometimes there's a really exciting moment when we hit on a new idea!
I love all sorts of games, quizzes and puzzles! I also like playing and listening to music, and dancing. And of course I love science -- it's a bit like a puzzle too!
I used to want to be a musician, and I spent most of my time at school practicing the clarinet and piano. During my music degree at university, I took a course on music psychology, and I was hooked! I realised that I loved thinking about how we hear sound, and how we use it to communicate with each other. I became interested in how music and speech are similar to each other, but in some ways very different. I was also interested in how the sounds of people’s voices seem to tell us things about them, such as whether or not they are friendly or trustworthy. So although musician and psychologist are very different jobs, I don’t feel as though I’ve left my past behind me — I still get to spend lots of time thinking about sound!
In my spare time, I play tiddlywinks in national tournaments, do crosswords and go Molly dancing (which is a type of traditional English folk dancing, a bit like Morris dancing!).
I'm interested in the ways people's voices show their attitudes and feelings, and the way they can use their voices to change the attitudes and feelings of the people they communicate with.
My PhD project was about politicians and the way they talk when they’re making speeches. I was particularly interested in how they use rhythm, since lots of people have suggested that politicians talk with a stronger rhythm or “beat” when making speeches. I wanted to know if this was true, and if it was, then why? Does rhythm make people pay more attention, or maybe feel more connected to the person speaking?
Since finishing my PhD I’ve worked on several different projects about communication. One of these was about listening in noisy environments — like a busy restaurant or train station — and why it might be particularly hard for older people. Another project was about music therapy, and how it might help us to better understand certain mental health disorders. I’m just starting a new project about how we make judgements about other people from their voices.
My Typical Day
The great thing about my job is that there is no typical day! I might be reading, writing, analysing, collecting data, teaching or talking to the public.
What I do at work depends on where I am with a project. If it’s early days, I’ll spend lots of time reading relevant books and articles, talking to the other scientists I work with, and drafting ideas for experiments. Then I’ll need to do lots of technical work to get an experiment set up, including recording sounds for participants to listen to, and setting up computers to record their responses. During the the middle of a project, I’ll probably be working with the participants who take part in my experiments and collecting data from them. I might also be starting to analyse that data. Towards the end of a project, I’ll be doing lots of data analysis, and starting to write up my results.
While all of this is going on, I’ll also be supervising students, and every so often I take part in events with members of the public to tell them about our research!
My favourite CHRISTMAS LECTURE memory is:
I always watched the Christmas Lectures when I was young! I remember being particularly excited about a lecture about volcanoes, because I was fascinated by explosions and lava!
How does technology threaten your privacy?
So much information is being gathered about us all the time, from what we buy online to what political party we support. This information can be used to manipulate us and influence our behaviour in all sorts of ways. These can be relatively innocent things (like persuading us to buy things we don't need!) but also much more important things (like voting in elections).
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic and smiley :-)
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
I honestly can't pick a single thing. It's always really enjoyable to teach students and talk to members of the public about my work. I love meeting other scientists and talking (and sometimes arguing!) about our ideas. I always get excited when I have new data to analyse. I'm just very lucky that I can make a career out of thinking about interesting things!
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Too many to choose from! I've been lucky enough to have amazing lecturers, friends and colleagues, all of whom have inspired me in different ways.
What did you want to be after you left school?
A professional clarinettist!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
A few times. I liked making people laugh, so I'd sometimes clown around in lessons instead of paying attention.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
That's a tough one. I like a lot of quite small bands that not many people will have heard of! But I think my favourite mainstream band would have to be The Beatles.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Hard to choose! I recently went snowboarding for the first time and survived. I was terrified but it was still fun!
Tell us a joke.
Which of King Arthur's knights invented the Round Table? Sir Cumference!