Great Minds

Sixty seconds with a Scientist…

Dr Justine Drakeford
Senior Lecturer in Psychology

Justine Drakeford joined Staffordshire University in January 2012. Before that she worked as a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Huddersfield. Involved in a number of research projects surrounding mental health, Justine is currently looking into the psychological processes associated with certain symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

What is it that you teach?

At Staffordshire University I teach the 'Biological Bases of Behaviour' to undergraduate Psychology students. This involves understanding various clinical, biological and psychological processes; how the brain is structured, how it functions normally and how, when things go wrong, this can change and influence behaviour.

Do you have other responsibilities?

I work as the Director of the Human Sciences Laboratory (HSL), a role that involves encouraging as many people as possible to benefit from our fantastic new facilities. I also teach other areas of psychology and supervise final year students on a range of research projects.

How do you bring teaching to life?

We have a wide range of exciting facilities to help students better understand the way people think and behave. For example, there are cognitive laboratories that are specially equipped for experiments involving memory and reasoning. We also have an observation suite for developmental psychology.

We have an eye-tracker, a device used to measure eye positions and eye movements which can be used to investigate visual processing. There’s even equipment that records Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) – a measure of small changes in sweating from the finger tips. GSR forms the basis of the lie detector test and can be used in psychology to investigate overt and covert face recognition.

What attracted you to the world of Psychology?

I have always been fascinated by the science of the mind: the study of how people think and behave, and what sometimes causes them to act in certain ways. In particular, I find the symptoms associated with schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions most intriguing.

What is the focus of your research?

I am particularly interested in the study of episodic memory abnormalities in certain patient groups. Episodic memory is memory for personally experienced events such as remembering what you had for breakfast this morning. Patients with episodic memory abnormalities may feel that a person looks familiar, but they are unable to ‘place’ that person because they fail to retrieve additional information about when, where and how they met. Episodic memory abnormalities may alter their day-to-day experiences and may even contribute to certain symptoms such as delusions in schizophrenia.

In association with Dr Nicola Edelstyn of Keele University, I am also looking at the visual hallucinations experienced by some Parkinson’s sufferers and the possible causes of such symptoms.

If your research could improve one thing, what would it be?

Through my work with patients, I hope to play a part in helping find solutions that can allow people to better manage their symptoms and enjoy a much better quality of life.

What part of your work is most rewarding?

I love teaching. As you can imagine, I get to meet a particularly wide range of students. It is so rewarding to watch them develop through their studies, as they take on board the things they have been taught. I also thoroughly enjoy my research. It is a great privilege to work with patients and observe their symptoms first hand. This part of my work is all the more satisfying as the patients I work with volunteer to be involved.

And finally, why should I study Psychology at Staffordshire University?

Our new Science Centre is fabulous. But what really makes the difference is the great lecturers. Study with us and you’ll be taught in all areas of Psychology to give you the broadest range of skills and experiences. You’ll learn from a teaching team of professional psychologists and specialist support staff. They’re all bursting with knowledge and enthusiasm.

Most important of all though, you’ll graduate with an incredible set of analytical, problem solving and personal skills. These will not only prove useful across the various fields of Psychology and Mental Health, but could also be valuable in management roles and a wide range of other careers.