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President's Column, June 2007

Pam Maras on the work of the Research Board.

24 June 2007

Isaac Asimov wrote: ‘The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny…”.’ Psychology is a science-based discipline; research is the foundation of and central to psychology.

The Research Board leads and takes an active part in the development of research and the discipline on behalf of the Society. This has included lobbying on the future of the Research Assessment Exercise; providing expert evidence, along with other Society Boards, in response to public consultations; and holding annual liaison meetings with all of the major research councils and the Wellcome Trust to discuss the funding of psychological science.

The Society, via the Research Board is a member of two main umbrella organisations for science and social science. Through its membership of the Science Council, the Society has obtained a licence to award the title Chartered Scientist (CSci) to its eligible members; over 500 members have taken up this opportunity in the last few months. The Board also regularly nominates exceptional members of the Society to become Academicians of Academy for Social Sciences (AcSS). Membership of these two organisations provides the Society with further opportunities to influence scientific policy and funding, through the Science Council’s links with the Science Minister and the Science and Technology Select Committee, and AcSS’s links with the Economic and Social Research Council.

Relationships with cognate organisations also bring member benefits. Members of the Division of Teachers and Researchers in Psychology were recently offered the opportunity to take up complimentary 2007 membership of the Association for Psychological Science, including subscriptions to its journals, as a result of our links.

The Research Board runs award and grant schemes aimed at promoting and disseminating psychological science across the academic and research career path. For example, the Undergraduate Research Assistantship scheme, the Postgraduate Research Study Visits Scheme (see advert on p.395), the annual Research Seminars Competition (see advert opposite), the Doctoral Award, the Spearman Medal and the prestigious Presidents’ Award for Outstanding Contributions to Psychological Knowledge. The latter award was won this year by Peter Halligan, who writes on p.358 about his work on the importance of societal and individual beliefs in understanding health. The Board is not just concerned with individuals but about facilitating collaborations between organisations and supporting research networks.

In line with the Society’s commitment to the development of students and early researchers, the Research Board is establishing a virtual Postdoctoral Network to provide support for new academics and postdoctoral researchers. The network will provide online web resources and facilitate face-to-face meetings and workshops linked to Society conferences. It will focus on things like writing grant applications, getting published, working with the media, and public engagement. The network will be open to members and non-members alike – however, members will get additional benefits such as reduced fees for workshops, so it will be worth joining. The Board also has a joint award with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology to support a postgraduate student working with them for three months, providing advice and input into an area of government policy development.

A part of Research Board work (in conjunction with the Ethics Committee) is to develop procedures for the ethical conduct of research and to ensure that these reflect new developments. Guidelines for the conduct of research on the internet are about to be published and revised guidelines on ethical principles for psychological research and related best practice are also under development.

One of the nicest things about being President is having the opportunity to visit the Branches. Unlike other subsystems the Branches are not linked to specific areas of psychology but disseminate and exchange research and practice (including CPD) in local geographic areas – Society members are automatically members of  their local Branch at no additional cost (see I have been lucky enough to attend two lively Branch meetings in the last two months – the West Midlands Branch in Oxford, at which Sue Llewellyn gave a keynote talk on research on the effectiveness of therapy and the role of therapeutic relationships; and the Northern Ireland Branch conference, at which two or three parallel sessions with first class papers from both postgraduates and experienced researchers were running for most of the three days of the conference.

So research remains central to the Society and is alive and well. British psychology has an international reputation across the discipline from social psychology to neuroscience, and will, I am sure, continue to have both ‘Eureka!’ but more importantly ‘That’s funny…’ moments.