23 November 2016
Dr Alan Gow from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, has won the British Psychological Society’s Public Engagement and Media Award.
Dr Gow’s research focuses on the identification of lifestyle and behavioural factors that predict healthy ageing, primarily cognitive ageing. That is, the factors that may protect or harm the ageing brain.
Dr Gow is mainly interested in factors which are malleable, such as activity and exercise, social networks and support, and the jobs people have done. As they are amenable to change, these factors are potential targets for interventions designed to reduce or delay the effect of ageing on cognitive abilities, and so have applied value in an increasingly aged society.
This award is made each year by the BPS Education and Public Engagement Board to a psychologist engaged in communicating high-quality research, or the legacy or impact of the discipline, to the general public.
Alongside his research, Dr Gow is involved in a number of public engagement activities, ranging from talks with older people’s groups to performances at the Edinburgh Fringe as part of Edinburgh Beltane’s Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas.
In August 2015, Dr Gow contributed to the first episode of the BBC Radio 4 series "How to have a better brain", presented by Sian Williams.
Dr Gow also co-chairs the Young Academy of Scotland’s Research the Headlines blog alongside Dr Sinead Rhodes. Using the blog, researchers discuss the way in which research is portrayed in the media (the good and the bad), to help the public understanding of research and the process that takes this from “lab to headline”.
With funding from the British Academy, the group launched a competition to engage schoolchildren and undergraduate students with research and the media.
Dr Gow said:
"One of the things we as researchers in Psychology are fortunate to have is that people are generally interested in, well, people. That gives us a great opportunity to communicate our research to a broad range of audiences but also an important responsibility as many of the things we explore represent the big questions about psychological health and wellbeing.
For me that communication is something I’ve tried to embed within my job rather than seeing it as separate. When I heard about the award I was genuinely, though very pleasantly, surprised. I’ve been fortunate to have many opportunities to share my passion for my research with the support of many colleagues and collaborators, so this recognition is for them too."
Dr Carl Senior, the chair of the BPS Psychology Education and Public Engagement Board, said:
“We have never had such a large number nominations for this award and the panel was simply flabbergasted at the quality of these submissions.
It was a unanimous decision that Dr Gow's activities truly engaged the public by placing psychology firmly and centrally within their awareness.
If public engagement is key to the continued development of Psychology then Alan Gow is clearly leading the vanguard of such development.