Apr 07

Representing the BPS

Yet another busy month has passed for us all, but I thought I would take this time to write a short piece about a couple of events, at which I represented the British Psychology Society (BPS).

Exeter University Psychology Society Careers Event

Midweek on what turned out to be a wet, and chilly March day, Exeter University Psychology Society organised a careers fair.  They invited myself and a number of colleagues to cover the various areas of psychological practice.  I was there to, as mentioned, represent the BPS, but also to talk about work in the field of Health Psychology.  Other speakers included; Dr Andy Allen, Dr Craig Knight, Dr Varuni Wilamasari, Dr Barry Cripps, Amy McAndrew and Josie Bannon.  Our brief was to talk about our experience and knowledge of how to get into our field and what it is like to work in it.


  • I aimed to enlightened the students on topic of Health Psychology.  It is a rapidly expanding but relatively new area of psychology which promotes well-being
  • Educational Psychologist, Dr Andy Allen, talked about the experience of working in both the public and private sector, and gave advice on cross-sector working
  • Dr Craig Knight, an Occupational Psychologist, talked about his work to help businesses maximise the potential of their office spaces by using his expertise in the effects of office layout on productivity and efficiency
  • Dr Varuni Wilamasari, a lecturer at Exeter University and an Occupational Psychologist, discussed how psychology can be implemented into practical settings by showing how her knowledge is applied to decision making
  • Sports Psychologist, Dr Barry Cripps described his extensive career working with athletes across many disciplines
  • Amy McAndrew, an Exeter PhD student gave practical advice on applying for an MSc or a PhD and funding opportunities available to students
  • Joise Bannon, introduced the audience to Wellbeing practitioners. A job involving using low intensity cognitive behavioural therapy to help those with mild or moderate depression and outlined the differences between a wellbeing practitioner and a clinical psychologist.

Following each of us giving a 5 minute presentation we were individually set upon by the assembled students to in the form of a lively question and answer session with students raising questions about aspirations, opportunities in the field and the career processes needed.  All the speakers gave enthusiastic and insightful talks about working in psychology.  It also provided an great opportunity for the undergraduates to clarify thoughts about potential careers.  I personally found it a really great experience. It allowed me to talk on a topic about which I am passionate to people that were interested and asking insightful questions.  This in turn challenged my understanding of the students basic level of knowledge and expectations that they carry during their years of study.  Fingers crossed this will be first of an annual event at this University.


The second event I helped support was the;

South West Undergraduate Psychology Conference

Bath University Psychology student helpers

Bath University Psychology student helpers

Each year the South West Branch Committee of the BPS sponsor and help organise an undergraduate student conference for the seven universities based in the region (Bath Spa University, Open University, University of Bath, University of Bristol, University of Exeter, University of Plymouth, and the University of the West of England). The conference is an opportunity for students and their lecturers to share experiences, research, discuss ideas, feedback and network with each other and particularly with practising psychologists. The universities take it in turns to host the event and this year it was the University of Bath’s turn.

Dr Michael Proulx

Dr Michael Proulx

So at 10:30 on a grey and drizzly Saturday approximately 120 students and staff convened at the conference venue.  Welcomed with much needed warm drinks and cookies by a group of Psychology students, it became clear from the level of chatter that we were in for a very interesting and engaging day of research dissemination. With the 21 poster presentations hung, we split into streams to watch the first of the 24 oral presentations.  Each oral presentation consisted of a 10 minute talk, supplemented with PowerPoint or Prezi, and a subsequent 5 minute question & answer opportunity. Mid-way through the presentation schedule, lunch provided the opportunity to view posters, chat to authors and network with peers.  The presentations resumed until 15:45 when we were treated to a keynote presentation by Dr Michael Proulx. He gave a fascinating presentation covering his work examining some of the fundamental issues in cognition through the study of multiple sensory modalities. This focused on how developments in psychology and engineering are allowing significant advancements to be made in augmenting hearing devices and subsquently aid visual impaired people.

Clichéd as it maybe, once again, the students’ contributions were of a remarkably high standard. This made it difficult for the judges (academic representatives from the attending universities and the author) to decide upon the BPS ‘Best Poster’ and ‘Best Oral Presentation’.  We ended up selecting 2 posters and 5 oral presentations for commendations. In no particular order, poster commendations:

  1. Alessandro Firetto (University of Plymouth) Out of Sync. The effects of social exclusion through music synchrony
  2. Natalya Smith (University of Bath) Anxiety and gender: how do they affect chronic pain patients’ outcomes following a pain management programme?

Oral presentation commendations:

  1. Tamsyn Hawken (University of Bath) Exploring earthquake related distress: A qualitative analysis
  2. Claire Mason (University of Bath) Project REACH; A study into the risky health behaviours of childhood cancer survivors
  3. Claire O’Reilly (University of Exeter) Evidence for an understanding of string-pulling in an Alaskan coastal brown bear (Ursus arctos sitkensis)
  4. Jennifer Riddell (University of Bristol) Axes of time representation in English and Mandarin speakers
  5. Carys Weeds (University of Bristol) Just noticeable differences in sharpness

Winners of the best poster were: Bathany Isaacs, Zeena-Britt Sanders, Haline Schendam & Viktoria Vianeva (University of Plymouth) Behavioural Congruency and electrical brain potentials dissect knowledge, decision and action contributions to implicit memory

Winner of the best oral presentation was: Rebecca Griggs (University of Bristol) The effects of expectancy information on cephalic phase responses to food

The abstracts for these presentations and the others from the conference can be read in the summer edition of the South West Branch of the BPS review.  Next year the conference will be held on the 22nd March at the University of Exeter, but if you want to know more or wish to be directly emailed about this event please contact me at samh@jbsh.co.uk.

So, those were a couple of events I attended in March, both engaging and exciting and I am looking forward to doing more to help undergraduates develop themselves and the field of Psychology.

Sep 25

The Effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy on Quality Of Life in Maxillofacial Patients with Type III Osteoradionecrosis

I strongly believe that if you ask people to take part in research you are subsequently obliged to disseminate the findings of that research.  The effort and time that this can take is substantial, and all to often researchers stop at conference posters or oral presentations.  These reach a limited audience and have very little if any impact on practice. 

So I am delighted that a piece of research I have been associated with for more than ten years has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.   The data was collected at the Hyperbaric Medical Centre (Diving Disease Research Centre), in Plymouth and is entitled: The Effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy on Quality Of Life in Maxillofacial Patients with Type III Osteoradionecrosis, it is for a specialised audience, but hopefully it is written in such a way that it is accessible to one and all.  The PMID of my article is -PMID: 22705224. Depending on your institutional or personal access you maybe able to access the whole article from this link.

Abstract – Purpose: Over a four year period, 18 patients with Type III osteoradionecrosis that were an average of 55 months post radiotherapy treatment for head and neck cancers, were referred for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBO2)

Methods: Participants complete a questionnaire battery pre & post HBO2 including the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) Core 30, EORTC Head & Neck 35 (HN35) and Medical Outcomes Short Form 36 (SF-36)

Results: The EORTC Core 30 questionnaire found significant improvements in ‘Emotional Functioning’ and ‘Insomnia’ (P≤0.01 and P≤0.01).  An improvement was also found in the ‘Social Eating’ (P≤0.01) and ‘Teeth’ (P≤0.01) domains of the EORTC HN35 questionnaire.  These beneficial outcomes might in part be explained by the social environment of being in a specific treatment group with similar patients.  However, SF-36 found significant decline in ‘Social Functioning’ (P≤0.01).  The patient group in this study did not undergo any surgical intervention between the two time points and no other interventions could be connected with the improvements, particularly in relation to ‘teeth’.  In addition, clinical follow up confirmed stabilisation of the patient clinical conditions.

Conclusion: The findings of this study support the hypothesis that HBO2 has positive physiological and psychological impact on a number of factors for this patient group.

Apr 10

How to be more innovative


symphony by paul (dex), on Flickr

Innovation is generally held to be a “good thing”. Companies that are innovative or that produce innovative products are lauded with praise, awards, not to mention investment funding. Innovative individuals are highly sought after and richly rewarded.

So how can we be more innovative, in our personal and corporate lives?

  • Find new ideas

Most of the good ideas are already out there, you just need to find them. Some of them are protected & that’s fine, respect that. But may more aren’t, so use them.

An important concept here is that of being a “boundary spanner”, of having eclectic interests. Research has shown that in looking for innovative solutions, individuals that had weak ties to many different disciplines were more effective than those that were tightly bound to a single one.

  • Assimilate those ideas

No not the Borg, but you need to be able integrate any new information with what you already know. There’s no point reading the latest article in hyperbolic geometry, if you failed Maths 101. This is the foundation of constructivist learning models (but that’s for another post).

The important thing is to be able to relate the new knowledge you’ve acquired to that which you already know in some way. This may sound like a contradiction to being eclectic, but it’s not. Remember, you’re not looking to be a global expert in the new topic but you do need to understand enough to be able to address your challenge.

  • New solutions

After all, the name of the game is innovation, so we’re looking to adapt our newly assimilated knowledge to produce a new product or service. Many of the most innovative products in recent times haven’t been ground breaking in their fundamental technology, but they have combined and adapted technologies in highly innovative ways.

Think iPhone, Toyta Prius, Facebook, etc.

Remember, innovation is different to invention.

  • Show me the money

This doesn’t necessarily mean a Dickensian, Mr Burns kind of exploitation. But you need to translate your new solution into a business proposition, otherwise it’ll remain an idea.

Note: While the points above are in a list (because that’s the easiest way of presenting them in a blog) they are not sequential and linear. It’s also worth noting that most innovation is a team sport, so make sure that within your team you have people that can find new ideas, bring them within your group, use them to solve problems and then commercialise those solutions.

Further Reading

The above ideas are collectively understood as “Absorptive Capacity” and have been applied to individuals, teams, divisions, companies and whole regions. A good place to start is wikipedia (as always) and follow the trail from there. The key academic texts are the original article by Cohen & Levinthal (1990) & the expanded theory from Zahra & George (2002).

  • Cohen, Wesley M; Levinthal, Daniel A, (1990), “Absorptive capacity: A new perspective on learning and innovation”, Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol 35, Issue 1, pg 128-152
  • Zahra, Shaker A; George, Gerard, (2002), “Absorptive Capacity: A Review,Reconceptualization,and Extention”, Academy of Management Review, Vol 27, Issue 2, pg 185-203

The comments about weak network ties come largely from Tushman (1977) and developed by Hansen (1999). The background Wikipedia article on interpersonal ties is here.

  • Morten, Hansen, (1999), “The Search-Transfer Problem: The Role of Weak Ties in Sharing Knowledge across Organization Subunits”, Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol 44, Issue 1, pg 82-111
  • Tushman, Michael L, (1977), “Special Boundary Roles in the Innovation Process”, Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol 22, Issue 4, pg 587-605

This is a different style of post to previous ones I’ve written. I’d be very grateful for comments on areas that need expanding / simplifying or just explained in a different way.  I hope to be writing more articles along similar lines as my current work with the iNETs is bringing all of this into sharp focus (if only from an academic research perspective).



Oct 27

An exploratory study into HNC patients’ perceptions of their appearance

Every now and again we are fortunate enough to have an opportunity to under take a piece of research in an area that we are passionate about. For a number of years, I’ve been interested in how the treatment of head and neck cancer (HNC) affects a patient’s perceptions about their appearance. As part of my recent MSc in Health Psychology with the University of West of England, I was required to undertake a small research project and decided to scope an exploratory study into this topic. My supervisor Dr Tim Moss suggested that I include an investigation of the concept of ‘positivity’ (also refered to as posttraumatic growth).  The project has now been completed and written up.  Below is a copy of the abstract and if you are interested a PDF will be available in the near future.

The extent of Patients’ Positivity, Appearance Adjustment and Quality of Life following treatment for Head and Neck Cancer: An exploratory study

Background: Facial disfigurement is considered to be one of the most distressing aspects of head and neck cancer (HNC) and its treatment, but it has been the focus of little systematic study.  However there is a growing body of literature supporting the suggestion that such a stressful event may be a catalyst for positive psychosocial changes.  To date there are no existing studies looking at the relationship between quality of life (QoL), sense of appearance and positivity in this patient group.

Aim: To investigate how HNC affect patients’ QoL, sense of appearance and positivity.

Method: A Questionnaire battery containing the Medical Outcomes Short Form 12 (SF-12), Derriford Appearance Scale (DAS24) and Silver Lining Questionnaire (SLQ) was sent to 1,571 patients treated by the Maxillofacial Department in 2009.  The same measures with the inclusion of the University of Washington QoL Questionnaire (UoW), were posted to 299 HNC patients.  The study compares the Maxillofacial patients and HNC patients with reference data and explores associations with clinical factors.

Results: Reasons for non-completion of the questionnaires was given by a 118 patients.  Two hundred and thirty nine (15%) of the Maxillofacial patients and one hundred and thirty two (44%) of the HNC patients returned questionnaires.

The HNC patients had reported less distress and dysfunction related to appearance than age and gender matched norms.  They had similar QoL to other reported HNC patients, but worse than an age matched norm group.  Tumour stage was the only demographic to reveal a difference in relation to appearance.  The HNC patients also reported having a greater sense of positivity than the maxillofacial group and a similar level to previous data collected on lung cancer patients.

The complexity of the patient cohort has introduced many confounding variables, and the number of completed questionnaires was insufficient to identify the significance factors related to the data obtained on the measures.  Although there are indications that age and cancer staging may be particularly important.

Conclusions: The data collected in this study suggests that appearance issues are of less concern to HNC patients than the general population, and that they appear to be more positive, but further research is needed to investigate individual differences allowing for all the confounding variables.  Allowing for the lack of significant findings, we posit some hypotheses that would merit further investigation.  We also suggests that a follow up study, using the same validated questionnaires, over an extended patient group and longitudinally, may be able to identify significant co-variables. This may in turn inform the provision of support and information for patients to aid them in their difficult time.

Sep 16

How do you ‘lean’ a business?

In these straightened times, its a great opportunity to review your business processes & establish the foundations for the future.

Never let a crisis go to waste. Rahm Emmanuel (via WSJ)

Lean means taking a fundamental look at your business & driving out waste. Some of these wastes will be obvious (work in progress, re-work, multiple sign off sheets, etc) some of the waste may be harder to identify. There are experts in “Lean” & 6 Sigma Black-Belts, these may work for you, but I would suggest that you begin with a strategic review of your purpose, then consider some systems process modelling that will show how well, or otherwise, you are working towards those strategic proposes. From there you can assign costs and added value to activities to help with cast flow forecasting.

Strategic Purpose

You need to have one.

I was lucky to spend some time with Michael Corbett (Product Box, @productbox) a couple of weeks ago using a fairly new method called the “Business Model Canvass“. We spent a couple of minutes talking about the canvass but it’s such a simple, visual method that we quickly started drawing ideas on the sheet and making connections. It was quite fun to be the ‘client’ and not to have to think too hard about the model but just concentrate on the process.

We looked at a business I was involved with and used the Canvass to work up a representation of the business model. The visual approach quickly distilled the Strategic Purpose (which I can waffle on about for ages) and encapsulated a clear  Value Proposition. The business was a good test of the canvass as it’s not a simple model of taking orders, fulfilling orders, rinse & repeat.

We spent quite a bit of time discussing the stakeholders (or customer segments), activities and relationships. This actually identified a critical Value Proposition that I was completely unaware of. It had certainly not been articulated before.

We also worked out most of the rest of the business model, though without much detail. By lunch time we’d 75% of the business model captured, though not in a form that you could have presented to a third party. However, in a dozen or so post-it notes we’d encapsulated most of a traditional business plan and produced a couple of very clear value propositions that, together with the key partners & customer segments, represented a pretty good Strategic Purpose.

Fleshing out the sketch

Michael then pulled out his trump card – he’d set up a Google Site specifically designed to capture the output from our Business Canvas session. This contained all our notes, diagrams, together with a whole load of background info on the canvass, process, and associated references. Basically, all the information necessary to take the insights gained from the business canvas exercise and turn them into an action plan.

Michael explained that, given that it contains all this information in one place, and that it relates to a new product (or service) that he calls it a ProductBox™. Normally we’d have been working on the Canvass as team of business owners / founders / exec’s prior to launching a new product or service, and the ProductBox is designed to keep that team-work going on line. I just happened to be working with Michael on my own.

After our meeting I logged in to my new ProductBox and took a look at the draft diagrams & notes. Because we’d spent the time drafting the original using paper and pens, it was very easy to start using the on-line diagrams. The associated notes helped to expand the short notes with more detail.

After a couple more hours I’d got quite a detailed business model described. I’d also explored some of the panes in the canvas in more detail and put in some background information and explanatory notes on how things related to each other. One of the drawbacks with simple visual representations is that you often lose critical details, having the Product Box with all the notes kept all those notes together with the canvass. Although I was working on this alone (with Michael keeping an eye on me) the package is a wiki so naturally collaborative if you’re in company with others.

After a couple of sessions I had sufficient detail that I would naturally start using something like IDEF0 to detail the business processes needed to make the canvass work. One feature of IDEF that I really like is the concept of layering processes through parent-child relationships, while the Canvass doesn’t force on you, I can see it being a great complement to other approaches (and the wiki design of the ProductBox would help here also).

The end result (even after a couple of sessions) was sufficiently detailed that I could use the canvas as a map of the business model to describe to others. It’s also a live document that can continue to grow as more contributions are posted.

Michael and I discussed the use of the canvass. I think it’s strength is as a planning tool that very quickly and visually allows people to discuss their business model (without lots of MBA mumbo-jumbo). At first I was a little frustrated at the lack of detail, but I’ve come round to appreciate the simplicity of the presentation framework. There’s a lot more detail under the surface and the Product Box that Michael set up allows for almost infinite details if that’s what floats your boat.

Should you Canvass your business?

What I liked was the holistic view of the business model, and the expressed statement about Value Proposition. Anyone thinking of pitching their business should take a look at this approach, and have a chat with Michael.

Thanks to Michael for his comments on an earlier draft of this post and for introducing me to the Business Canvass and ProductBox.