PsyPAG Award winners

In the 2020 Awards round we had a huge number of applications across our five Award categories. Each individual application was of high-quality and made for a very difficult task for our judges. So much so that although we could only pick one winner for each category, we have chosen to acknowledge and celebrate some of the other fantastic individuals who are doing incredible work in research and teaching. Find more information on each of our exceptional Award winners, runners-up and highly commended applicants below. 

Undergraduate Prize Winner

Grace Jackson

Grace’s dissertation research was born out of her experience of participating in research. She noticed that many studies involved completing standardised measures of mental health (SM) and that this often resulted in a decrease in mood. Grace sought to understand whether this was a common experience among participants, and thus an overlooked ethical issue regarding the use of SM. After finding similarities between rumination-induction paradigms and the questions asked in these measures, Grace hypothesised that: 1) completion of SM would lower mood, which would: 2) be more extreme for those with higher trait psychopathology; 3) be more extreme for 2nd than 1st year students due to a potential cumulative effect.

Participants’ levels of affect were assessed before and after completing a battery of SM. Further, participants were interviewed regarding their experiences of completing SM. There was a significant quantitative decrease in state affect after the SM, especially for self-esteem. This was moderated by trait psychopathology – participants with low trait psychopathology did not show a decrease in self-esteem, but higher trait psychopathology resulted in a more negative self-esteem decrease. A thematic analysis found that participants reported increased self-focused attention, and often a decrease in mood. Consequently, Grace proposed a model of responses to SM which explained the potential processes differentiating dysphoric and non-dysphoric participants’ experience of SM. These findings have wide-ranging implications, from research to student well-being to clinical practise.

Masters prize winner

Katie Duncan

‘I’ve got the energy to change, but I haven’t got the energy for this kinda therapy’: A qualitative analysis of the motivations behind democratic therapeutic community drop-out for men with sexual convictions.


Prison-based democratic therapeutic communities provide an alternative to mainstream prison, where prisoners can work on psychological difficulties and address offending behaviour. Research demonstrates therapeutic communities are effective at reducing reoffending rates for residents who stay in therapy 18+ months, and those who drop out of therapeutic communities offend at a significantly higher rate than those who complete therapy. Thus, reducing attrition rates is an important concern for therapeutic communities. No research had previously explored the explanations for premature therapeutic community drop out offered by those with sexual convictions. Katie’s MSc Psychology research project utilised Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis to qualitatively explore the accounts of men with sexual convictions who dropped out of a democratic therapeutic community in a UK prison. Results highlighted that issues surrounding external responsivity, therapeutic relationships and treatment readiness were salient in the participants’ accounts of drop out. Her research has implications for therapeutic communities seeking to better understand and address attrition of people with sexual convictions.

Masters Prize Runners-Up & highly commended

Marta Majewska

Marta has graduated from the University of Manchester in December 2019 and has remained there as a Teaching and Research Assistant in cognitive neuroscience and experimental psychology. Her research interests include multisensory integration and control of behaviour. She is also passionate about open and reproducible research practices. For her dissertation, Marta systematically investigated age effects on multiple dimensions of impulsivity and inhibitory control. To address this, Marta took a holistic, cross-sectional perspective on impulsivity measures across multiple dimensions (behaviour, decision-making, personality) as part of a wider project looking at Parkinson’s disease. The study was designed in consultation with Patient and Public Involvement volunteers, the methods and analyses were pre-registered on the Open Science Framework, and the code is available on Github. Results indicated no support for age-related decline in inhibitory control or impulsivity and only minor age differences in personality measures. Her dissertation discussed inconsistencies in impulsivity and ageing research due to the complexity of the construct and highlighted the need for standardisation of testing and sampling procedures.

Dominic O’Connor

Dominic completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Leeds before completing an MSc by Research. He has continued onto a PhD program investigating the effects of high intensity sweeteners on appetite, food reward and body weight related outcomes. 86 overweight or lean women completed 7day 24hour recall food diaries, the Leeds Food Preference Questionnaire, an ad libitum test meal and subjective hedonic ratings. It was concluded that overweight and lean women did not differ in the sweet taste preferences as has been previously suggested (see Deglaire et al., 2015; Donaldson et al., 2009; Fernandez-Garcia et al., 2017). The practical implications of these findings suggest a reduction in free sugars, or unsweetening of the diet may not be an adequate means of reducing energy intake and facilitating weight loss goals. Rather, it may be necessary to reduce both the free sugar and fat content of foods whilst maintaining food palatability, possibly through a combination of the use of high intensity sweeteners and a reduction in saturated fat. 

The Division of Academics, Researchers and Teachers in Psychology prize winner

Madeleine Pownall

Madeleine Pownall works at the School of Psychology, University of Leeds, as a Postgraduate Researcher and Teaching Assistant. She is interested in psychologically informed approaches to teaching and learning and serves on national pedagogic committees including the Researching, Advancing, Inspiring Student Education (RAISE) committee. Madeleine is an advocate for critical student engagement practices and aims to embed appropriate theory throughout her teaching practice in creative ways. Madeleine is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, an active member of the Research in the Psychology of Student Education (RiTPOSE) Group, and a co-founder of the Global Citizenship Network within the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence. She has a specific interest in psychological literacy, feminist pedagogies (see Pownall & Rumana, 2020), embedding open science into undergraduate teaching (e.g. Pownall, 2020), and global citizenship in Higher Education. It has recently been announced Madeleine will be taking up the role of Associate Editor for the new journal ‘Postgraduate Pedagogies’, which will discuss, synthesise and analyse the unique contribution Graduate Teaching Assistants bring to teaching and learning within Higher Education.

The Division of Academics, Researchers and Teachers in Psychology prize Runners-Ups

Marta Topor

Marta is a second year PhD student at the University of Surrey. Her research work focuses on error-related performance control in the context of motor functioning. Marta is active in promoting open and reproducible research approaches. She is president and founder of the Surrey Reproducibility Society. Through learning about open and reproducible research practices, she has been able to expand her knowledge about statistical analysis and data management beyond the standard curriculum of undergraduate and master’s psychology courses. She taught herself to use R Studio and started applying it in her everyday research work. Marta wanted to pass on her knowledge with two goals in mind: 1) explaining statistics correctly to improve the understanding of the basic concepts 2) encourage students and colleagues to use reproducible and open source statistics software. Marta has assisted with statistics and data analytics workshops at the departments of psychology and business, created introductory workshop materials for R Studio and is currently a statics advisors at the university’s Maths and Stats Support service. Marta is also a board member of the Mathematical, Statistical and Computing Psychology Section of the BPS. Marta loves teaching and advising statistics. She comments that it is a great feeling to see how students and colleagues change their perception of quantitative data analysis and programming once they get to know it a little better.Marta’s introduction to using R workshop materials are open source and can be accessed here. 

Leanne Rowlands

Alongside my PhD at Bangor University I have been a Graduate Instructor (GI) for Research Methods modules through the medium of Welsh and English, facilitated ‘Skills and Stats Drop-ins’, co-supervised postgraduate students, carried out guest lectures, and taught neuroanatomy through practical labs with real human brains. I have also conducted patient presentations, where I bring in a patient with a neurological disorder for students to interact with, and observe aspects of neuropsychological assessment. I have thoroughly enjoyed my teaching experience, and it has brought so much meaning to my life. In particular, I enjoy interacting with students and seeing them achieve their goals. 

Leanne Rowlands

Leanne is a PhD Student at Bangor University.

Twitter: @LeanneRowlands0

Email: leanne.rowlands@bangor.ac.uk

RISING RESEARCHER prize winner

email: peltonm@uni.coventry.ac.uk

Twitter: @MiraPel1

https: belong.coventry.domains

Researchgate: https://www.researchgate.
net/profile/Mirabel_Pelton

Mirabel Pelton

Mirabel Pelton is a PhD researcher, wife and mother.  Mirabel works within the Mental Health in Autism research group led by Dr Sarah Cassidy.  She works in partnership with autistic, community and international organisations to undertake research to improve understanding and effective suicide prevention for autistic people.   

Research consistently reports shockingly high rates of suicide in the autistic community (Cassidy et al 2014; Kirby et al 2019) but suicide prevention is hampered by an absence of theoretically driven research.  The Interpersonal Theory of Suicide (ITS) posits that social isolation (‘thwarted belonging’), worthlessness (‘perceived burdensomeness’) and suicidal capability (reduced fear of death resulting from trauma) enable suicidal thoughts to be actioned (Joiner 2005).  This study, designed in partnership with autistic people, was the first to compare a validated suicide theory in autistic and non-autistic people. In both groups, autistic traits were associated with lifetime suicidality through thwarted belonging and perceived burden and there was a direct association between trauma and suicidality.  However, moderation analysis reported that, in the autistic group, these associations were significantly attenuated (Pelton et al 2020a).  Measurement invariance analysis highlighted differences in measurement properties of scale items describing perceived burdensomeness and thwarted belonging between autistic and non-autistic people.  This suggests these items were interpreted differently in each group (Pelton et al 2020b).

These findings suggest that initiatives, which address feelings of thwarted belonging, burdensomeness and trauma exposure could prevent suicide in autistic adults.  This could include promoting understanding of autistic social preferences and meeting support needs.  Understanding and conceptualizing how autistic people experience belonging and burdensomeness, could create new and unique suicide prevention opportunities, such as accurate risk markers.  For the first time, my research provides evidence that the social marginalisation of autistic people is likely to contribute to suicide rates; addressing this is an urgent priority for suicide prevention.  

rising researcher Prize Runners-Up
& Highly Commended

Kirsten Russell

Kirsten has undertaken her PhD in Psychology at the University of Strathclyde. She is a Guest Lecturer, and contributes to the work of the Violence Reduction Unit within her role as Research Analyst. Kirsten is also a member of the editorial team for netECR – an international network and online platform for early career researchers working in the field of suicide and self-harm research. Kirsten’s PhD research seeks to investigate the link between symptoms of sleep disturbance and subsequent self-harm risk during adolescence. The first aim of this work is provide a more detailed and nuanced understanding the association between specific symptoms of sleep disturbance and future self-harm risk in order to understand which aspects of sleep are driving the relationship. The second aim is to examine which theoretically salient psychological factors underpin the relationship between disturbed sleep and self-harm in order to understand why this link exists in young people. By improving our understanding of the role of sleep in self-harming pathways, this work has the potential to influence theoretical conceptualisation of self-harm risk and may guide the development of future research, policy, and prevention efforts. 

Lauren Rockliffe

Lauren is a PhD student and Trainee Health Psychologist at the University of Manchester. After completing a BSc in Psychology at the University of Portsmouth, and an MSc in Health Psychology at the University of Bath, she spent five years working in various research roles in London, most recently contributing to a project looking at ethnic disparities in uptake of the HPV vaccination. In 2018, Lauren commenced her PhD and is now approaching her third year. Her research focuses on health behaviour change during pregnancy and aims to develop a theoretical model to explain how, and why, pregnancy can be a ‘teachable moment’ for women to improve their health behaviours. 

Zyra Evangelista

Zyra Evangelista is a PhD researcher at the University of Glasgow. Their PhD project focuses on understanding anti-LGBT+ prejudice in order to improve LGBT+ inclusion in higher education. It involves a mixed-method, cross-cultural comparative assessment of the campus climate for LGBT+ university students in the UK and Philippines. The project examines the current levels of anti-LGBT+ prejudice in higher education and provides evidence-based recommendations for creating safer spaces for LGBT+ students. As a University of Glasgow Future World Changer, Zy advocates for LGBT+ inclusion and equality. Outside of academia, Zy has been selected as one of the See Me Proud LGBT Community Champions and has co-founded the Rainbow Glasgaroos

Practitioner Psychologist Trainee Award Winner

Stephanie Lyons

Stephanie is currently a Research Associate in patient centred outcomes research at Adelphi Values. She has recently submitted her PhD in Psychology at the University of Manchester, which aimed to design a psychological intervention to increase breastfeeding in women with a BMI ≥30kg/m2. During her PhD, she developed a strong interest in maternal health research, and hopes to continue working in this area in the future. Stephanie has also previously worked as a Research Associate in Qualitative Methods for the University of Manchester, and has a BSc (Hons) in Psychology and an MSc in Health Psychology from the University of Manchester.

Stephanie is in the final stages of her Stage 2 Qualification in Health Psychology. She has thoroughly enjoyed completing a consultancy project as part of this qualification, which involved delivering one-to-one, tailored behaviour change interventions to four adults in their workplace. Utilising health psychology theory, behaviour change techniques and motivational interviewing allowed all four adults to make substantial health behaviour changes over a six-month period; three changed their eating behaviours, three increased their physical activity levels, two noted weight losses and one reduced cigarette smoking by 33%. Stephanie plans to continue to improve her skills as a member of a Health Psychology Practitioner Skills Group, and maintain a balance of practitioner, teaching and research work in her future career.

Practitioner Psychologist Trainee Award Runner-Ups & Highly Commended

Shanara Abdin

Shanara is a Trainee Health Psychologist enrolled on the Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology course at the University of the West of England (UWE, Bristol). Shanara works within Wolverhampton Public Health department where she applies health psychology and behaviour change to support public health priorities. Shanara has a huge passion in bridging the gap between health psychology and public health and has key interests in wellbeing, physical activity, and workplace health. Shanara has recently worked with other health psychologists across the UK as part of supporting the British Psychological Society COVID-19 workstream of Behaviour Change and Disease Prevention and supporting Health Psychology Exchange. 

Shanara’s thesis is a collaboration between UWE and Birmingham Children’s and Women’s NHS trust which explored the experiences of decision-making experiences of professionals working in healthcare during withdrawing treatment from children. The decision to withdraw or withhold treatment from children can be a complex and emotional decision-making process for everyone who is involved. The study examined factors that influence professionals in deciding whether to withdraw a child from treatment and how decision-making is managed amongst professionals. The decision-making process was identified as being predominately medically led with medical professionals making the decision. A shared decision-making approach could support professionals, children, and their families if decisions are made collectively. 

Elizabeth James

Elizabeth James is a second-year doctoral student of counselling psychology at Teesside University. After a first career in education, she is now retraining as an integrative practitioner psychologist, following completion of a degree in psychology and then in humanistic counselling. Elizabeth has a research interest in undergraduate mental health, and is in the process of collecting data on the connections between the cognitive capacity of episodic future thought, mental health, wellbeing and help-seeking behaviours. Elizabeth has also taken an active role in university mental health campaigning and policy since starting her professional doctorate, through her role on the student advisory committee of StudentMinds, the national student mental health charity, and on both the student team and early career researcher network of SMaRteN, the UKRI funded Student Mental Health Research Network. It is vital to use evidence to inform policy, and through these roles, Elizabeth has been able to start thinking through the evidence and how it can translate into practice. She is looking forward to bringing evidence to bear further on policy and interventions in university mental health after graduating, and remains intrigued by the possibilities (and challenges) for creating flourishing university communities through the whole-university approach to mental health. 

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