As Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, Emma is responsible for enhancing the University's high-performing and innovative research environment. She also cultivates and advances effective relationships and collaborations with key institutional partners, including funders, government, health bodies, businesses and charities at regional, national and international level, driving the University's world-leading reputation for research excellence and its contribution to economic growth.
A senior academic leader within Queen's, Emma is a member of the University's Executive Board, which is responsible for steering and supporting the strategic direction of the University.
Emma is a leader in her research field – developmental and comparative psychology – with multiple international and inter-disciplinary collaborations. Her core research concern is how humans acquire their culture, and how culture changes.
What attracted you to take up this key leadership role at Queen’s?
It is a really exciting time for Queen's and for Belfast: a new Vice-Chancellor and a new Chief Operating Officer; the investment in the Belfast Region City Deal; the opportunities and complexities that Brexit brings.
I wanted to be part of a team which was going to really make a difference locally and globally, and even though I have only been here a few months, I can see this positive change taking shape.
What do you find most rewarding about your role?
Making a positive difference.
Queen's is a great university, and has seen much success before I arrived, and my job is to support and extend that success as we move forward. People have been extremely supportive of my appointment and of the changes I've been making, and I am very grateful for this enthusiasm.
What is the key to a thriving and collaborative research culture?
There are two keys: first, respect for all members of the team and for the university as a whole; and second, a clear strategic, evidence-based direction. We need to work as a team, understanding our own and other’s roles in delivering the university’s objectives; and these objectives are set with a defined vision of where we are heading, and how we are going to get there.
I really enjoy working with members from all parts of the university, and appreciate how all these parts fit together, although obviously the complexity of the university and the external landscape can make this difficult sometimes.
What first attracted you to your own research field?
I love what I do, and I feel very privileged to be able to do it.
In my first week at university as a new student, I told my personal tutor that I thought I might like to do a PhD, as I wanted to know an incredible amount about a very specific area. I think he was quite taken aback by my determination at such an early stage.
I started my academic career trying to understand how and why some individuals worked better together than others, and that led to an interest in how and when we step away from normal practice to innovate new behaviours. I was one of the first academics to address these questions in the laboratory and in real-world contexts, both with children and chimpanzees.
You relocated here to Northern Ireland to take up your post – what are you enjoying most about life here in Belfast/Northern Ireland?
I really enjoy exploring new places: finding new walks with beautiful views, new places to eat, meeting new people, simply trying new things that we have never tried before. I like the complete adventure.
Can you tell us something interesting about your childhood?
I grew up in London not far from Elstree Studios, and local schools used to get calls from the Studio for pupils to act as extras; so I’ve been in Grange Hill, Persil adverts, and numerous quiz show audiences.
What is your favourite app?
Those who follow me know I love Twitter. Sometimes academics, especially those in senior positions, can seem very distant. Twitter allows me to relate to a large group of people, both in Queen’s and globally, instantaneously. I find it very helpful to gain and get information. I know there is a dark side to Twitter, so I do have certain rules about my use, but so far, I find it very useful.
What is the best advice you've ever received?
Not so much advice, but I have a mantra that I use when things get difficult; ‘All this shall pass’. As a working parent, I have had all the trials and tribulations that come with that, such as something bad happening at the worst possible time. I say ‘All this will pass’ to myself, but then I often realise that I don’t want to see this time pass quickly, but to savour every moment.