Glasgow University student, Jemma Byrne chats to us about a research project she conducted last summer under the guidance of our Researcher in Residence, Dr Joseph Long.
Often when I tell someone new I’m a Psychology student they always expect that I’m going to “analyse” them, however Psychology is so much more than that. Psychologists first and foremost are researchers—they often review current and previous research in order to conduct their own investigative studies of interest that test their own or others theories and predictions.
Recently research has turned to the use of the internet, probably because the internet is everywhere! If we’re not online on the computer, we’re on our tablets or smartphones, taking the internet with us for the ride, and even when we’re not on the go and instead are at home in front of the TV we can go online thanks to Smart TV technology.
As a result of our rising demands for technology and the internet, social media has become an integral part of everyday life—organisations, retailers, even TV shows all have their own Twitter and Facebook page.
However, such convenient media has made it tempting for others to easily deceive and abuse others online, leading to well publicised negative outcomes and the understanding of terms including trolling and cyber-bullying. Given the increased use and misuse of the internet, individuals’ online behaviour has made an intriguing area of study. Recent developments in cyber-research have certainly caught my intrigue and helped my research report come into being.
As aforementioned, research is the building blocks of a Psychologists career and expertise regardless of what field they are in. Whilst at University I have been involved in group research projects and experiments in order to progress to my fourth year, and as part of this fourth and final year, I am required to conduct my own solo project. As part of this individual assessment, students are required to appoint a supervisor to support their project. I contacted Dr David Simmons for mine (an experienced researcher and lecturer in autism). I contacted Dr Simmons because I was interested in whether individuals who were high in autistic traits spent their time differently to individuals lower in autistic traits. Given my expressed interest in people’s online behaviour, particularly social networking and autism, David encouraged me to apply for the University of Glasgow’s Chancellor Studentship Fund. The Chancellors Studentship fund is an opportunity for students to conduct an additional project during the summer, in partnership with an external organisation. Luckily for me, David put me in contact with Scottish Autism and my application was accepted.
Thus my summer project began. I met with Scottish Autism’s Researcher in Residence, Joseph Long to tell me more about Scottish Autism and to discuss the directions of the project. The aim of this project was to explore the role of online social networking in the lives of individuals with autism, seeking out firstly what research was available and considering the implications of their findings. My research processes included key-word searches for appropriate academic research articles and also looking through public discussion forums and threads on autism community websites in order to hear first hand experiences. This allowed me to have a comprehensive view of both the positive and negative aspects of social networking, provided by both researchers reports of individuals accounts and through individuals first-hand experiences declared on community based websites.
During this investigative process Joe remained a positive and consistent figure of support and guidance and afforded me great opportunities to meet with individuals who work with Scottish Autism.
He invited Amy (a fellow studentship student) and I to visit Scottish Autism’s Head Office in Alloa to meet with everyone. It was great to meet the team and to hear how valuable and integrative each and everyone’s role is in the operation of Scottish Autism. We also got to meet with Jeanie, an experienced Autism Advisor. She provided insight into the wide range of visual, communication resources that is often used within the organisation. This served as a powerful reminder of how communication difficulties can vary widely within individuals with autism.
We also got to visit the Lanarkshire One Stop Shop in Motherwell, where Joe introduced us to Chloe. Chloe gave us a tour of the recently opened location, a pivotal place for both service users and their families to touch base with one another, seek required advice and support and engage in activities they enjoy. During this visit we got to discuss our projects with Chloe and based on her experiences, she gave us some vital input and suggestions of topics which would be relevant to research and useful for service users to know more about.
Visiting these locations was an integral part of the project, as it's easy to get bogged down in the theory of research but this served as an important reminder of those who would benefit most from the practical side of the report.
I compiled my report between July and August, it felt good to spend my summer doing something that was worthwhile and it was also rewarding to return to Alloa to present my report at the November Knowledge Management Forum. I'm pleased to say my interests in autism and internet use is continuing in the form of my final year project which looks at autistic traits, compulsive internet use, and media and technology use in undergraduate students and I hope to have some interesting results.
I would like to give great thanks and acknowledgement to my University supervisor David Simmons, who played a vital role in my application and to the University of Glasgow Chancellor's Studentship Vacation Fund for awarding this opportunity. I would also like to express my gratitude to everyone at Scottish Autism who made me feel very welcome and I am particularly thankful to Joe for supporting each stage of the report.
Overall this has been a brilliant experience and a wonderful opportunity for which I am truly grateful. It gave me a chance to put both my research and presentation skills to good use and in turn contribute to and work with an excellent organisation. But the best thing of all is knowing that my report will be made available in the hope that others use it and refer to it for guidance, and thus fulfil the overall aim of the project.