‘Pause and Ponder’ – what we can learn from social psychology academics

‘Pause and Ponder’ – what we can learn from social psychology academics

architecture education graduation tasselI’ve had the privilege over the past few days to attend the Society of Australasian Social Psychologist (SASP) Annual Conference held in my hometown of Newcastle, NSW. The SASP Conference brought together more than 170 delegates who were keen to learn, share and explore together. You can learn more about SASP here, and if you’re interested in joining, it costs $50 per year.

Let me state up front, I am a student. I have a passion for learning (while at the same time unlearning!) and to be amongst such academic minds was both amazing and, to begin with, a tad intimidating. However, I soon felt relaxed, at ease and ready to learn. It was no surprise to me that social psychologists made it their business to make people feel welcome.

While I have learnt a lot over the past few days about my chosen field of study, and I will share more of this as I digest and reflect on my learning, the thing that I have an immediate desire to share is what I learned about those who have chosen a life in studying social psychology as an academic.

When we open our minds to listening, learning and understanding from those who have chosen a life of research, of challenging and of a quest for exploring, I believe we can ourselves, learn so much.

I’ve heard and seen a lot said and written about academics that suggests they aren’t in touch with ‘the real world’. Some think that they only study hypothetical situations and they don’t now how things happen for real people. I don’t believe this is right. So what have I learned from the social psychology academics over the past few days?

My key observation is that they work damn hard, are passionate about what they study and are keen to share their work. Let’s consider their hard work.

The typical process (and I am summarizing!) for an academic, in terms of research, is to first choose a particular question or idea and develop a hypothesis. That is, an idea that they think may be true. Then they go about testing their own thinking by doing some form of research (and boy I’ve learnt a lot over the past few days about the various types of research that is possible!). They then have to analyse and question their own research, often done in consultation with a range of other people, and when they feel confident enough, they share this research with the world so that they too may critique and analyse it.

While this might sound pretty straightforward, what I learned over the past few days, and in particular in workshops conducted by Professor John Dixon from the UK and Dr Mark Rubin from Australia, is that this process is far from easy and it requires considerable effort, persistence and courage.

Perhaps the thing that I learned most from the Social Psychology academics at this Conference was that they seem to understand, and more importantly accepts the many paradoxes and contradictions that is life as a human. I was impressed with the number of academics who presented their research, talked confidently about their hypothesis, their research methodology, their results and what they felt that meant, yet…….. still questioned their own work and asked others to do the same.

Some of this research seemed quite convincing, and while I struggle in understanding the range of statistical analyses conducted, many of the arguments presented seem to make sense to me, yet the academics questioned their own work. They even sought out others specifically, to question and challenge their findings. I found this kind of strange, yet at the same time liberating and wholesome. So is there anything that we, in risk and safety, can learn from the social psychology academics?

I believe there is a lot we can learn, here are a few things that struck me over the past few days:

· Research doesn’t happen without a bucket load of critical thinking and challenging of our own thoughts, ideas and methodology and being open to explore a new direction.

· There was a culture of real collaboration, consultation and sharing. While social psychology academics are still subject to life’s usual challenges of proving how good you are, and of course there is competition and a hierarchy, afterall, they live in the same social construct that you and I do, I noticed a particular passion to share ideas with each other, to support each other to learn and to suggest ways to continue to explore critical thinking.

· To ‘pause to ponder’. Professor John Dixon, who is an impressive, yet easy-going character, presented some thought provoking material on ‘intergroup contact’ and research that he has done previously and also planning to do. While I learnt a lot from what John presented (and will continue to learn as I reflect!), one thing that John said that stood out for me was in response to a question someone asked him about his work that he didn’t have an immediate answer to. John stopped for a moment, you could see him scan his memory bank for a suitable answer and it wasn’t forthcoming. John said, “I don’t have an answer for that, it’s not something that I’ve thought about before, and I don’t know of any research in that area. What this question should do though, is cause us to ‘pause and ponder’ as this may help us all to understand the complex situation and what it may mean”.

I loved this. Here was a man, brought out to the Conference from the UK, a man who has published much research and was revered by many at the attendees, a world-renowned expert in social psychology, and he didn’t have the answer. While many talk about the pomp, ceremony and arrogance of people in academia, this is not what I experienced from either John or any of his learned colleagues at this Conference. Instead, what I witnessed was a quest for learning, for sharing, for exploring and specifically for these academics, a thirst to better understand what it means to be human.

The conference program was jam-packed and you can read more about the Program here. The Program includes short abstracts of all of the work presented as well as contact e-mail addresses for those who presented their work. If there is a topic or field that interests, you, I’m sure the presenter would welcome an e-mail from you and share their work.

Social Psychology is my chosen field of study, and I will spend the rest of my life learning about people, our environment and why we do what we do. I love the learning adventure that I am on, afterall, it’s knowing Y that matters”, and I look forward to continuing the ride.

I’m heading off now for the final, and third day of the Conference with my good friend Max Geyer. We have so much to learn and so little time to do it in. As Max always says, ‘we’re gunna have to live to be 200 to take all this stuff in”.

I wonder if we took more time to ‘pause and ponder’ what this would mean for us in risk and safety?

As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and feedback. If you’d like to know more about the Conference or SASP, I’d be happy to talk through this with you.

Rob Sams
Rob Sams
Rob is an experienced safety and people professional, having worked in a broad range of industries and work environments, including manufacturing, professional services (building and facilities maintenance), healthcare, transport, automotive, sales and marketing. He is a passionate leader who enjoys supporting people and organizations through periods of change. Rob specializes in making the challenges of risk and safety more understandable in the workplace. He uses his substantial skills and formal training in leadership, social psychology of risk and coaching to help organizations understand how to better manage people, risk and performance. Rob builds relationships and "scaffolds" people development and change so that organizations can achieve the meaningful goals they set for themselves. While Rob has specialist knowledge in systems, his passion is in making systems useable for people and organizations. In many ways, Rob is a translator; he interprets the complex language of processes, regulations and legislation into meaningful and practical tasks. Rob uses his knowledge of social psychology to help people and organizations filter the many pressures they are made anxious about by regulators and various media. He is able to bring the many complexities of systems demands down to earth to a relevant and practical level.

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