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One on one… with Andrew Dunn

‘Be patient, keep an open mind'

07 March 2016

One moment that changed the course of your career
Going to night school aged 20 (I was working full time) and stumbling on GCSE Psychology (I got an A – my only A in anything). The following year I started A-levels and more GCSEs (all at night school). Another year later I applied to York (last space on my UCAS form actually). I sat an entrance for York because I didn’t have the grades. I passed – still wondering how – and I was in. It was 1996, I was 22, it was the height of Britpop, the light of New Labour was shining and the world was full of possibilities. Without the University of York I would never have made the many great friends I have, or found my wonderful wife (Catherine) and made our wonderful family.

One love
Love is biochemistry and circumstance (Tim Minchin has a song about that). As a scientist, I am sold on the bio-chemical basis of love, but for me there’s so much more to human experience, even if it’s not directly causal. If you can’t feel what Otis Redding is emoting on ‘These Arms of Mine’ then you have never truly felt romantic love. Let’s not kill the arts and humanities off just yet.

One regret
I should have been braver in the past, but I only know that in hindsight.

One thing you’d like to see happen
I’d like to see psychologists working towards a unified psychological science that integrates social and environmental variables with biological and cognitive reality. A properly informed data-led understanding of developmental processes across the lifespan should be at the heart of this. A good approximation of my own viewpoint can be found in Dunbar, Barrett and Lycett (2007) Evolutionary Psychology: A Beginner’s Guide. I’d also highly recommend Swami’s (2011) Evolutionary Psychology: A Critical Introduction because it cuts through a lot of the nonsense spouted about evolution. Both texts are mindful of following data, of blending various approaches and avoiding theoretical dogma. They’re also very readable.

One nugget of advice for aspiring academic psychologists
Success is relative, and careers are something you have in hindsight. Be patient, keep an open mind and enjoy the journey. There’s more to being an academic than academic publishing and grant capture (though they are important). The best academics (many of whom are highly cited) were/are also great teachers and communicators.

One cultural recommendation
Book: Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It changed everything for me. Also read Zamyatin’s We, and comic Britten and Brulightly by Hannah Berry. It’s beautifully inked and cleverly written. Film: Rocky (1976). It’s not about winning, it’s about going the distance, taking opportunities when they come and seeing things through. Album: Pulp’s A Different Class – Clever, funny, poignant. Song: Almost impossible. Either, Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring It on Home to Me’ (it’s sublime), or James’ ‘Sit Down’ (my university anthem), or ‘Up the Junction’ by Squeeze, or maybe ‘Dignity’ by Deacon Blue (it reminds me of my dad).

We said one cultural recommendation
OK then, David Bowie – no competition really. The Beatles changed the world but he just kept on ch-ch-changing.

One guilty pleasure
I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.

One academic hero
Indiana Jones.

Oh come on!
OK, I am fan of Donald Broadbent, but to be fair we all owe a great debt to Aristotle.

One great thing that psychology has achieved
I am still waiting. No point in resting on our laurels just yet.

One thing all psychologists should be concerned about
Mental health and mental health provision. I have lost sleep worrying about this. Put simply there’s not enough funding, knowledge or communication (anywhere). Definitions aside (the term, mental health is highly problematic), we simply don’t understand enough about typical mental life, let alone anything else. There are legions of (wonderful) people out there wanting and trying to help, but they’re hampered because we know so little and there’s so little funding or governmental will (the provision for transition from child-adolescent to adult mental health care is scandalous). People do get better of course and we are making progress, but I think we only see the sharpest end. Most mental health issues remain hidden because of stigma or because it’s just about manageable (and ignored). At the very least we (psychologists) have a responsibility to remove the stigma.

One professional achievement
Co-organising the 31st BPS Cognitive Section conference with Dr Duncan Guest (who did most of the hard work). I think we really nailed that.

One thing about which you are most proud.
Pride comes before a fall, but I am very proud of my family, they are the best thing about me. I am also very proud of my PhD students (past and present) who are very hard-working and frighteningly clever. They, like my family, are also remarkably tolerant of me. I also have some incredible colleagues and friends.