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Nuffield Research Placement Week 1

Updated: Sep 25, 2018

What is the Nuffield Research Placement programme?

Nuffield Research Placements provide over 1,100 students each year with the opportunity to work alongside professional scientists (including quantitative social scientists), technologists, engineers and mathematicians. Find out more here.

Over the next few weeks, the blog will follow the updates of students Carrie and Ade.

The research team with the Nuffield representatives at the UCL Psychology building on the first week of the placement. From left to right: Sirma (graduate assistant), Victor (PhD researcher), Ade (Nuffield Placement Student), Carrie (Nuffield Placement Student), Fern and colleague (from Nuffield Foundation)


I was introduced to Sirma and Victor who are running the project I will be working on for the next four weeks. After a brief introduction, I was tested on my background knowledge of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and was subsequently shown a lecture on a previous study conducted by Prof Hugo Spiers on using the gaming app ‘Sea Hero Quest’ as a diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s disease. I was particularly surprised to find that there were significant gender differences in people’s gaming abilities as I would not have expected this to be the case. Following this, we were given a tour of the Psychology Department at UCL. I loved how many fantastic facilities were available for those who want to study psychology at UCL, including individual experimental cubicles used to isolate extraneous variables as much as possible when carrying out research at the university. In the afternoon I was introduced to another researcher named Robin. He is studying the effect of buildings on people’s emotions and physiological states. The day ended with helping Robin take some measurements in order to prepare for testing participants the following day, and me and the other placement student took part in his study as a trial run.

I spent the whole second day helping Robin with his research study. My job was to help to control the extraneous variables in the surrounding environment as much as possible in order to increase the validity of his findings. This included carrying out a pedestrian count whilst each of his participants were performing the tasks. This procedure was necessary as the number of pedestrians around would quite likely have a large impact on how claustrophobic the participant would be feeling and as a result would increase their state of arousal. I found this day particularly inspiring and informative as prior to the beginning of the placement I had little idea of how psychological studies were carried out including how to approach the participants and data collection.

I spent the day three reading and taking notes from psychological papers which share many similarities with Victor’s research area. These included the use of other video games such as ‘Pub Quiz’ and a word association game in order to reduce the number of flashbacks after experiencing trauma. I found this to be a useful task as it gave me a good background knowledge of PTSD and the brain areas associated with the disorder before testing participants myself next week.


On the first day of the placement, I found the prospect daunting as I had no idea what to expect. My previous placement had left a bad impression on what work experience is like, and I was afraid that I wouldn't enjoy myself in the summer placement at UCL as well. I was pleasantly surprised that the first day was engaging and fun. Sirma and Victor, who were supervising me, were very welcoming and explained the experiment in an easily understandable way. We also got to play Sea Hero quest, as it is part of Victor’s research, which was hard but fun.

I was also surprised to find that the students at UCL were from various backgrounds. I had the idea that UCL was for Caucasian and middle-upper class people but from the tour around the Psychology and Language Sciences department, including the student cafe, it was clear that people from all walks of life attended the uni. This gave me the confidence that I can apply and be offered a place at a university such as UCL.

Later in the week, I had the opportunity to work with Robin, who is supervised by Hugo Spiers during his PhD, and collect data for his research which focuses on the impact of buildings on the emotional and physical state of people. This was very helpful as previously I had only read about experiments in textbooks, rather than take part in one myself. This experience deepened my understanding of the intricate measures that need to be considered against distractors for an experiment to run properly (e.g. the number of pedestrians passing by the participants).

Towards the end of the week, we were able to observe Xiang with her participants as well as analyse research reports with Sirma while waiting for the participants to watch the Trauma film, play the games, etc. as part of the study. We also got to meet people from the Nuffield trust program and to take pictures with them which was nice.