Dr Nicky Hayes, President off the BPS
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‘I would like to help to reunify the Society’

Ella Rhodes meets new Society President Dr Nicky Hayes to hear about her plans for her time in office as well as the changes she's seen over the last 50 years of work in the field.

02 August 2022

By Ella Rhodes

Nicky Hayes tells me that she has no grand vision for her time as president. ‘I don’t have great ambitions for the Society because I’m one of many. The Society is run by its trustees, so I don’t have personal ambitions for what I want the Society to do, and I think that’s important.

'When the BPS was smaller the president could do that, but now we’re large I think that approach is inappropriate because we need more consistency in how we’re run. I would like to help to reunify the Society and also to go out externally and speak for the Society.’

After an undergraduate psychology degree at Leeds University and some time spent working in residential child homes, Hayes took a PGCE for teaching in further and higher education. At this time A-level and GCSE psychology were new pre-degree qualifications. Hayes said her time working in large old-fashioned children’s home in the late 70s taught her the value of the importance of basic psychology being more widely known.

They’d give children a punishment of an early bedtime first thing in the morning for misbehaving – but by the time some other member of staff came along in the eventing to hoik that poor child into bed early it wouldn’t have any effect.’

'I would like to help to reunify the Society and also to go out externally and speak for the Society.’

Hayes told me that many of her further education students were adults who had not done well at school and had been told they were stupid, but that they were drawn to psychology because it was a new subject for them.

‘There was a lot of joy in teaching psychology itself, the insights, the students having revelations. I took an M.Ed in curriculum theory, and wrote my first textbook in the early 80s, but I had an awful struggle to get it published because psychology was new then and they didn’t think there was a market for school psychology. There was no support for teachers either, so I got involved with the Association for Teaching Psychology, which was a group of us who shared resources, formed local groups, and established the ATP Annual Conference, which continues to this day.’ 

After a few years, Hayes was tasked with making better links with the British Psychological Society. She joined the Membership and Qualifications Board with an aim to raise the profile of A-level and GCSE psychology – not an easy task at first.

‘The board I joined in the mid 80s was largely composed of elderly professors who were very sniffy about this “inferior” form of psychology. It did change quite a lot in the time that I was involved, but in the first few meetings you did feel you were a voice in the wilderness to some extent!

‘I had the firm support of Colin Newman who was Executive Secretary of the Society at the time which meant we didn’t get marginalised despite those attitudes. And of course, there were academics who were positive about it, so fairly soon we had managed to form a Special Group for the Teaching of Psychology, which eventually became DART-P (the Division of Academics, Researchers, and Teachers in Psychology).’

In the early 2000s, after a PhD and research job, Hayes relocated to the remote Scottish Highlands where she continued to write and had an eight-year stint as a café owner which she described as ‘financially disastrous’. In 2015 she returned to work with DART-P editing its journal, and joined the BPS Psychological Testing Centre, editing the magazine Assessment and Development Matters.

Nicky Hayes is perhaps best known for the many psychology books she has written – her first textbook was written on a typewriter in 1982, and since then she has written many other textbooks, as well as books on topics including neuroscience, social psychology, management, research methods, qualitative research, and applied psychology.

While Hayes has always been a keen reader, she said she never thought she would end up writing. ‘There’s that aphorism that was attributed to Albert Einstein, though I doubt he ever really said it, that if you can’t explain what you mean to a child of six you’re a charlatan. I’ve always taken that as an important message. To write clearly you have to be able to get to the heart of an idea and put it in a different way.’

Hayes said that when writing textbooks her notional reader was a 16-year-old who didn’t enjoy reading. ‘In my original further education work I had a lot of people come in to do psychology who had failed at school and weren’t very confident. They were the sort of people I was writing for, so I needed to write in a way that was very easy to read.’

When asked about why she wanted to become president, Hayes said she felt it was about responsibility. ‘The Society has been, and still is, in a process of transition. When I joined we had around 6,000 members and now there’s more than 60,000 – your structures have to change, everything has to change, but we also need to be able to maintain continuity when dealing with change.’

Currently Hayes is working on a book on the history of psychology, something which has brought to mind the many changes she has seen in psychology over the last five decades. ‘I’ve lived through a third of psychology’s life and when I first joined it was all about rats and stats. The emphasis was all on numbers: if you didn’t have them you didn’t have anything. That’s why they started a qualitative research group in the in the late 90s, and I was part of that.’

When Hayes first studied psychology there was a huge emphasis on animal learning. ‘It was even compulsory to do an animal experiment as part of the course. I didn’t like the idea of doing it, but eventually I got stuck in a room with a couple of hamsters and some Skinner. One of the hamsters was fine, it was on a schedule and would hammer away at its lever, but evidently the other one hadn’t read the right books. It just curled up in the corner and went to sleep! It taught me a lot about real research instead of theoretical research.  

'The Society has been, and still is, in a process of transition. When I joined we had around 6,000 members and now there’s more than 60,000 – your structures have to change, everything has to change.’

‘We went from behaviourism to the cognitive revolution and now we’re in the social revolution. Now, if you look at just about any area of psychology, the importance of social factors are recognised much, much more than they ever were. We’ve realised that it’s central to how human beings process things.’

Hayes said one of her first priorities as president will be to visit the Society’s sections. ‘I feel the sections are absolutely vital, they’re the lifeblood of the Society. The sections are where new ideas come to fruition, they’re really very important, and they are also valued at the top level of management – although I’m not sure the sections realise that.

We’ve got the Membership Networks Review going on and some people have taken that as a threat to the sections, which just isn’t the case. But what I worry about is not the reality, I worry about the perception of the reality. And I think my role as president at this time is to listen to what people have to say, listen to their anxieties, and to reflect those to people who need to hear what those anxieties are.’

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