Name: Gerry Mulhern
Job: Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Queen's University Belfast
Subjects taken - BSc and PhD in Psychology
How would you describe a typical day in your current job?
My job is incredibly varied day-to-day, so there is no typical day as such. One day, I might be lecturing to undergraduates or postgraduates, either in a very large lecture room or to a small group. I might also be taking tutorials and preparing material for future lectures and classes. Another day, I might be marking essays or exam scripts, or I might be attending meetings in my department or somewhere else in the university. Other days, I would be in my lab doing research myself or working with some of my PhD students. Other times, I would be sitting at a computer analysing data or writing up my research for publication in a journal. Sometimes I go to conferences in other parts of the UK or abroad. At the moment, I am President of the British Psychological Society which involves lots of travel and speaking at conferences and meetings. For example, two weeks ago I was in London, last week I was in Leicester and I will soon be going to Belgium, Australia and Hong Kong - all in my role as President. See what I mean about no two days being the same!
What careers were you interested in when you were at school?
I was really unsure about my future career when I was at school. My philosophy has always been that you should study those subjects that interest you most and the career will look after itself. By studying your favourite subjects, you have the best chance of excelling and this will open up lots of opportunities. My A-level subjects were Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Further Mathematics. My teachers and family tried to persuade me to pursue a career in Medicine, but I didn't feel that it was for me. It took quite a lot of determination on my part to stick to my guns - after all, I wanted to be happy in my job as well as enjoying a good standard of living.
What made you decide to study your degree subject at university?
I weighed up all my options and spoke to as many people as I could. I really liked Maths but didn't feel that I wanted to specialise in it at university. Although I did not want to become a doctor, the idea of studying something that might allow me to help others in some way appealed to me. I hit upon Psychology and was attracted to it - partly because it would allow me to pursue many of my scientific interests and I could take Mathematics as a second subject alongside it. Looking back, I know I did the right thing - Psychology is a fascinating science and an important STEM subject in schools and universities.
What attracted you to your current job?
During my degree course at university, I found that I was increasingly interested in how humans learn, remember, solve problems and how some have difficulties in doing so. Initially, I intended to do teacher training after my degree, but through a chance meeting with a Professor in Psychology at Queen's, I ended up applying for a PhD which allowed me to continue to pursue my interests and also kept open my options for the future. After my PhD research, an opportunity arose to apply for a junior academic job at Edinburgh University and I got it! I must say that I am a great believer in the idea that opportunities often come along when they are needed, and sometimes in the most unexpected ways.
What aspects do you find most satisfying about your current job?
I enjoy the variety and the relative independence in my job. It is great to be working with lots of students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, and to have the opportunity to do research with colleagues at Queen's and elsewhere. Academics are reasonably well paid, but not as well as many comparable professions, so financial rewards are not top of the list of reasons for becoming an academic. Rather, the main reasons are a passion for your subject and a desire to pursue knowledge and to pass it on to others.