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The University of Southampton
Psychology graduate leavers pack

Katherine Cornes BSc Psychology, PhD Cognitive Psychology, 2004 / 2008

Cognitive Psychologist, DSTL

Katherine Cornes's Photo

By challenging yourself you not only learn new skills but you also learn a lot about yourself which gives you the confidence to know that you can cope in any situation.

Q: Why did you choose to undertake your studies at the University of Southampton?

I graduated from with a first class degree in Psychology in 2004. I really enjoyed my 3rd year project and so I applied to the ESRC for funding to stay in the School of Psychology to do an MSc and then a PhD. I was lucky enough to get a full scholarship and so I spent 3 years researching the development of face processing. I found my PhD very challenging but thoroughly enjoyed it. During my PhD I had plenty of opportunities to present my research at international conferences and even worked in the US for several months.

Q: What did you do after graduating?

As I was coming to the end of my PhD I began to think about what I wanted to do next. I decided that I wanted to try and do something more applied so I could see the direct impact of the work that I was doing. I saw a job as a Cognitive Psychologist at The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) advertised. A few weeks later I had a two hour interview and was immediately offered the job.

Q: What did your job involve? 

Starting work was a complete culture shock. I went from doing a subject that I felt completely comfortable with, knowing everyone who I worked with and sharing an office with some of my best friends to working in an environment where I didn’t know anyone, didn’t really know anything about defence and was doing a job that was so varied that it took me months to understand what it was I was supposed to be doing.

I have been working for Dstl for 2 years now and I can honestly say that I love my job. Every day is completely different and I am constantly faced with new challenges. I work on a range of different projects so it is difficult to pin down exactly what I do. I spend a lot of time conducting trials on new military equipment to assess whether it is useful and sufficiently easy to use. I also make recommendations as to help ensure that military personnel are presented with the best possible information and the right time and in a format that is as easy to understand as possible. At the moment I am working on a project that is using eye tracking technology to help improve how troops search for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan. I am also working on a project that is looking at how to improve how information is passed to aircrew of fast jets whilst they are supporting troops on the ground.

I spent the first three months of this year working in Lashkar Gah the provincial capital of Helmand Province in Afghanistan. I worked alongside the Commander of Task Force Helmand and was responsible for assessing progress and helping the Commander to decide which ‘Course of Action’ to take next. I was consulted by top military commanders on a daily basis and my work was briefed to parliament, appeared on BBC news and was used to help inform strategic decisions as the highest level. Whilst I was deployed I relied heavily on the training that I received on questionnaire design, statistics and also the presentation and writing skills that I learnt as part of my training at The School of Psychology.

Q: What do you think you achieved as a result of studying at the University of Southampton?

Studying in the School of Psychology has helped me in my career enormously. Although I use my knowledge of cognitive psychology every day I perhaps rely more on the skills that I developed whilst I was studying. Being a member of the School of Psychology taught me how to think about problems in a scientific way, how to get to the root of a problem, how to conduct research and how to interpret results in a meaningful way. It also taught me skills such as how to present my work, write reports and how to form good working relationships with a wide range of different people.

Q: What advice would you give to future students?

I think the best piece of advice I could give students is to keep challenging yourself. By challenging yourself you not only learn new skills but you also learn a lot about yourself and hopefully it will give you the confidence to know that you can cope in any situation and with whatever life throws at you.

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