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Katherine Cornes BSc Psychology, MSc Research Methods, PhD Cognitive Psychology, 2004 (BSc), 2008 (PhD)

Cognitive Psychologist, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory

Katherine Cornes's Photo

Hi, I'm Katherine Cornes and I studied BSc Psychology, MSc Research Methods, PhD Cognitive Psychology within Psychology at the University of Southampton.

My time in Psychology taught me how to think 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.


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

I graduated with a first class degree in psychology in 2004. I really enjoyed my third-year project and so I applied to the Economic and Social Research Council for funding to stay in Psychology to do an MSc and then a PhD. I was lucky enough to get a full scholarship and so I spent three 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 advert for a Cognitive Psychologist at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). A few weeks later I had a two-hour interview and was immediately offered the job. I stared there in 2008.

Q: What does 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.

Several years later, 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 most of my time working with small teams of researchers conducting trials. Sometimes these trials are to assess new military equipment or training procedures or they can be 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. In the past I’ve worked on projects using eye-tracking technology to help improve how troops search for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan, I’ve explored how to improve the way information is passed to aircrew of fast jets while they are supporting troops on the ground and more recently, I’ve worked on the ‘green on blue’ problem (the targeting of UK troops training Afghan security forces) and designed interventions, including training programmes, to help tackle the problem.

I spent three months in 2010 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. While 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 psychology degree.

Currently much of my role involves providing advice and guidance on improving troops’ cognitive and physical performance. This involves a wide range of projects, such as how to improve foreign language training and how to reduce the number of heat casualties among personnel working in hot climates.

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

My studies have 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 while I was studying. My time in Psychology taught me how to think 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 how to present my work, write reports and how to form good working relationships with a wide range of different people.

Q: Do you still have connections with the University?

Yes, I’m still working with colleagues in Psychology – I came back last year as a Visiting Fellow to refresh my skills, spending one day a week at Southampton.

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. Not only will you learn new skills but you’ll also learn a lot about yourself in the process. Eventually 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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