Jun 09 2020

Professor Kathy Rastle, Department of Psychology, has recently been appointed Chair of the steering group for the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The purpose is to consider what skills social science PhDs need to acquire to serve academic and non-academic career pathways, and how best to develop those skills. We recently caught up with Kathy to ask more about this new role. 

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the department of psychology?

I’ve been at Royal Holloway since 2002, and in that time, have been a Director of Research, a Head of Department, and an Associate Vice Principal for Research. My own research is focused on aspects of literacy: how writing came about; why it evolved in particular ways; how the brain interprets written language; and how we can improve reading instruction.

2. Congratulations on being appointed chair of the steering group leading exercise for the Economic and Research Council (ESRC), can you tell us a bit about what the ESRC do and what your role of chair will entail?

The ESRC is the major public funder for research in the economic and social sciences. They spend around £50m per year on doctoral training, supporting almost 3000 studentships at any one time. There has been momentum building around the idea that it is time to really think deeply about what advanced training in the social sciences should look like. The review recently announced is being led by a steering group that I chair, and that includes representation from the student population, the academy, the public sector, and industry. We will be considering evidence from a variety of sources over the next year, including international comparisons, and will make recommendations that will inform ESRC’s doctoral training strategy going forward. This is fascinating and important work, and we’ve been advised that ‘nothing is off the table’, so I am really looking forward to getting stuck in.

3. What inspired you to enter a career into social sciences and particularly, the subject of psychology?

My undergraduate training was in the Liberal Arts, so I didn’t have to declare a major area of study until late in my degree. I was lucky enough to be able to work in the laboratory of a psychology professor over one summer and that really settled it for me. I love the idea that we can use a rigorous scientific method to consider deep questions about human thought, feelings, and social interactions.

4. What is your favourite thing about working at Royal Holloway?

I have a lot of ‘favourite things’ about Royal Holloway (hence staying here for 18 years). We have an incredibly strong research community in the Psychology department, and I’ve always felt that RHUL’s size and academic character has fostered freedom and creativity in my thinking.

5. How are you spending your time outside of work currently?

I started taking piano lessons about 3 years ago, and am working my way through the exams. My next challenge is to get through the grade 5 music theory exam. It’s been interesting to (try to) learn a musical instrument as an adult … a chance to implement some of the principles of psychological learning theory!