Taking the plunge and registering for DOP conference

A year ago I mulled over whether or not it would be worth the investment to go to Glasgow in January 2015 for the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology conference – or DOP conference for short. In the end I wasn’t able to go because of ill health, but having spoken to a couple of fellow students who did go, I wish that I could have gone. So with the January 2016 DOP conference being held in Nottingham, I’ve decided to take the plunge and register. The location means that I won’t have to pay for accommodation because I’m fortunate enough to live in nearby Derby.

The three day, non-residential package for current students is £179 if your booking is received before 29th October (it increases by another £50 after that date), with the somewhat complicated application form and instructions for receiving the discounted rate available here.

As part of the event, you get to pick from a number of different workshops as well as attending the main presentations and exhibition. While I was tempted by the media training workshop, I’ve decided to attend the creativity at work one instead. First time attendees like me can also apply to become an ambassadee, where a seasoned OP professional helps to ensure that you get the best out of the event and the networking opportunities it presents.

I’m excited to be going – at last – and I’m looking forward to providing a report of the event here afterwards.

This article was originally written for the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 26th September 2015.

The ethical crisis in software development

I’ve been following the news on the scandal surrounding Volkswagen with keen interest. It appears that at the heart of the matter is a piece of software, written for or by Volkswagen, that forms part of their engine management system. As a software professional of more than 30 years standing, it angers me that an apparently reputable organisation (of which I was a customer of for many years) thinks that it is acceptable to misuse code in this way. While there’s clearly a need for those in charge of VW to take responsibility, there is also a need for the individual software professionals involved to examine their conduct. So I’ve been pleased to see that the British Computer Society CEO, Paul Fletcher, has published a blog article on this topic today.

Software is no longer confined to large computers in purpose-built rooms – it’s everywhere

In it, Paul calls for all technologists to work to a strong professional code of conduct. Naturally, the BCS has a code of conduct that it expects its members to conform to. However, in my opinion, it’s not as strongly worded or as visible as it needs to be, particularly when you compare it to those of other professional bodies, such as the British Psychological Society’s code of ethics and conduct. Professional qualifications and membership really mean something in psychology – but despite rising membership numbers and the BCS’s best efforts, the equivalent professional qualifications and membership for software professionals carry a fraction of the weight that they ought to.

Sadly, even if the code of conduct was stronger and more visible, the BCS would need far more clout than it has today to promote it more widely. Even more importantly, a government-backed regulatory framework, to ensure that the BCS can support its members put under undue pressure to act unethically, is absent.

I believe we should be just as interested in ensuring that people who write and implement software are as well-regulated and ethically aware as professional psychologists. After all, unethical behaviour in software development can have potentially devastating effects on the environment, health, wealth … in fact, on any aspect of society touched by software.

Which, as society is becoming increasingly aware, is all of it.

The best thing that could come out of the VW scandal is that we all start to pay far more attention to ensuring that technologists, especially software developers, understand their ethical duty to society and that they have the necessary professional and regulatory backing to be able to stand up to rogue employers.


I’ve been back to the hospital today for my ‘watch and wait’ appointment. On the whole, it seems like good news as my bloods are much the same as they were three months ago. However, the lump on my neck has definitely become a little larger – the consultant estimated it to be around 4cm in diameter, up from 2.7cm a year ago. There’s nothing much else to see externally, but I’ve been asked to go back for a CT scan to check to see if anything is happening internally.

I quite enjoyed my CT scan last year – it felt rather like being on a giant photocopier. I bet some of you have been to office Christmas parties that ended up with someone on the machine … CT scans are infinitely preferable to either a bone marrow biopsy or a fMRI scan in my experience. And there’s no chance of the glass breaking and splintering into your backside, unlike a ride on an office photocopier. (I don’t have any first hand experience of that before you ask!)

The eventual outcome will be treatment of course, but if the progress of my lymphoma really is as slow as it appears to be at the moment I’m hopeful that I might get another year’s grace – or more – before it’s needed. If that’s the case, it should give me plenty of time to finish my masters, buy a Caterham 7 and drive around the highlands of Scotland in it next summer.

Why distance learning is like a spider building a web

I’m currently working through the fifth of my modules on the occupational psychology masters – on training and development. It therefore seems appropriate to write about the way I’m thinking about my own development. If you’re not keen on spiders you may not want to read the final paragraph …

For me one of the most important things I do at the start of a module is work out the time that I have available between it opening and the date for assignment submission, once I’ve accounted for everything else. The course is meant to take around 15 hours study per week, but that’s an average. Some weeks I’m able to do more, other weeks far less. I work backwards from the end of module date to make sure that I’m leaving enough time to complete the module assignment (for example, this one requires a 3,000 word essay split into 4 related parts) and to undertake the research required to answer the question(s). I seem to need around 4 or 5 full weekends (or their equivalent) to write an assignment of this length. The rest of the time is therefore what I have available to read the module material and the associated readings, as well as following the leads to other books and papers that these signpost.

It’s following these leads and searching through the journals available in the online library that I find to be the most absorbing part of the learning process as it’s where the surprises come from. For example, during this module I’ve come across a fascinating paper on the place of storytelling in adult learning (*). I’ve enjoyed reading this paper as my day job involves me helping salespeople communicate the value of our company’s products and services to potential customers. One of the most effective ways of doing this has always seemed to me to be through telling stories about what other organisations have achieved with our help. Often, that’s all some customers want to hear, instead of going through deck after deck of expensively crafted powerpoint slides from the marketing department. It’s always nice to read something from the world of academia that backs up 20+ years of gut feel!

So to help you understand the distance learning process, here’s a story.

Picture yourself as a spider. Working through each module is rather like building a web. The radials and the centre of the web come from reading and working with the module units, associated readings and the recommended course books. This part is spun first. Around the outer reaches of the web is the material found in journals, along with the threads that link the current module to earlier ones, the knowledge gained from earlier study and your experience of life. Completing the module assignment is you, the spider, pulling all of these threads together in a particular direction to enable the question to be answered.

This article was originally written for the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 20th September 2015.

(*) Caminotti, E & Gray, J (2012). The effectiveness of storytelling on adult learning, Journal of Workplace Learning, 24(6), 430-438.

Exceptional customer service – take a bow Premier Inn, Bagshot

Having complained on here more than a few times about the way in which some organisations fail at customer service, it’s really good for a change to be able to write something praising an organisation that got it right. Take a bow Premier Inn, Bagshot.

I checked in there early yesterday evening and was told about a partial power failure they were experiencing, due to a problem earlier on in the day when a contractor had tried to replace a sign outside the hotel. SSE was already on site – in numbers – trying to fix the fault so the receptionist apologised, explaining that the restaurant would be closed that evening. I went into Camberley to eat instead and came back at around 9pm to find the hotel in darkness, lit only by emergency battery lighting!

It was impressive that a senior manager for Premier Inn was on site throughout. He and his staff did their very best to keep us informed of progress – and regularly. It was also impressive that one member of staff went home and brought back a couple of candles to help light up the bar area as a number of us sat there and watched SSE’s progress. Fortunately, power was restored sometime after 10.30pm.

Work continues to restore power to the Premier Inn, Bagshot

SSE working to restore power to the Premier Inn, Bagshot on 15th September 2015.

Sadly, that wasn’t the end of the problems, as around half past midnight the fire alarm went off. The member of staff on duty apologised to us all as we assembled in the car park, noting that we’d all had a rather difficult evening already (as had the staff, of course). I eventually got back to my room just before 1am.

Premier Inn offer a good night guarantee, offering a full no-quibble refund if they fail to give you a great experience. So when I checked out this morning, I smiled at their receptionist and suggested that she knew what I was going to say next. She smiled back and told me that they’d already refunded the room charge to my credit card and hoped that I’d stay with them again. With customer service as good as that, it’s certain that I will do.

In my experience, it’s only when organisations suffer problems that you see how well or badly they treat their customers. Premier Inn got it right last night – and their Bagshot staff deserve huge praise (and hopefully, cash bonuses) for the manner in which they responded to a crisis.

One year on

It’s just over a year since my mantle cell lymphoma diagnosis was confirmed. And as this week is lymphatic cancer awareness week, I thought I’d write this update on my progress.

The quick summary is that there doesn’t appear to have been a lot of progress – at least as far as the advancement of the disease is concerned. Yes, the lump on the side of my neck is slightly larger, I get tired more easily than I used to (but that’s influenced by other factors, including age, work, study, not exercising enough …) but other than that, it’s been largely a non-event in physical terms. So far.

The mental effects are a little more pronounced, but only just. Most of the time I simply try to forget that I’m ill. However, because I’m on the watch and wait regime and my consultant appointment is next Wednesday, I’m just about to enter the ‘in-between‘ phase of going for blood tests and hearing the results. So I’m not likely to think about much else other than ‘worst case scenario planning’ over the next few days – so I apologise to everyone if I do appear to be rather more distracted than I usually am.

Being on watch and wait has meant that on my better days lymphoma doesn’t dominate my thinking – at least until I catch sight of myself in the mirror, or shave, or someone asks me how I am. I’ve experimented not shaving at weekends as a way of not having to touch the lump, but I find that the stubble drives me mad after about 24 hours and becomes a proxy for looking in the mirror or shaving anyway.

I remain determined to get what I can out of life while I’m in the watch and wait phase of course. It’s been great when my consultant has told me to carry on as normal, and I’m hopeful that the news will be the same again next week. I’m fortunate in that I have a supportive family, enjoy my job, have re-engaged successfully with my masters course and have even found the time to hatch a mad plan involving a Caterham 7 next summer. More of that later if it comes off.

It is what it is. I’d rather not have MCL, but it has sharpened up some of my thoughts about the future.

5 things you used to need to survive university

One of the posts that I most enjoyed reading last month was written by Lois, called 5 Things You Actually Need to Survive University. Her advice seems sound to me, so if you’re looking for things that might be useful to you as a fresher you really should go there, rather than carry on reading this.

However, Lois’s post made me feel nostalgic for September 1982, which is when I first went to university. This is my equivalent list of five “must haves” from the era of tightly permed hair, legwarmers and space invader machines.

Univeristy of Warwick - Knightcote 123, October 1982

A blurry picture of my room in university halls, 1982, before I realised that I definitely needed my black and white tv and record player to survive (you might just be able to see my cassette tape deck by the orange lamp)

Netflix subscription Portable black and white television. There was no internet (outside of the computer science labs) so one of these providing access to BBC1, BBC2 and ITV, plus membership of the film society, was essential to satisfy the day to day entertainment needs of the 80s student.

Spotify subscription Record player and records. Music was bulky in the 1980s. You needed seriously well-developed muscles to move the stuff around, unless you were fortunate enough to own one of the new-fangled ‘Walkmans’. A (smallish) record player, plus a case of 20 or so LPs was about all that I could fit into my parents’ car after the real essentials had been loaded up.

Unlimited minutes A stock of phonecards. BT phonecards were revolutionary in the early 1980s as they meant that you didn’t have to carry a large stack of coins (of precisely the right value) around with you to use the hall payphone. Phonecards are long gone of course – the last BT payphone that took them was withdrawn from service in the early 2000s. And even if you had remembered to buy one, you still had to have the patience to queue behind many, many other students to use them.

Alarm clock Alarm clocks. The plural ‘s’ was vitally important to the 80s student, as no alarm clock of the period had more than one alarm you could set. It was worse if you only had a wind-up alarm clock (rather than a nice radio alarm tuned into the university radio station of course) as you had to remember to set them in the 12 hours before you needed to wake up. So having 2 or 3 different alarm clocks was essential, particularly during exam periods.

Coffee. The one thing that unites the 1982 and 2015 student is coffee. Lots of it. I’m still drinking far too much of the stuff now. And even mature, distance learning students like me still need it.

For those of you who have made it to the end of this and are due to start at Leicester in the next few days, welcome. I’m sure you’ll have a great time. Don’t forget to bring your legwarmers …


This article was originally written for the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 4th September 2015.

Down amongst the forgotten petitions

It’s been a long time since I last looked at the parliamentary petitions website. I did visit it this week to add my support to the asylum seeker petition, so while I was there I decided to take a look through the 800 or so others that are currently open. If nothing else, wading through them gives you a fascinating insight into the hopes, fears and concerns of UK citizens.

There are a few petitions in the lower reaches of the chart that seem to define the essence of what it is to be British. Like this one, for example.

Change pedestrian crossingsMany countries treat pedestrian crossings as purely ‘advisory’. I’ve lost count of the number of times that drivers simply ignore them (and the people using them) in places that I love – like Italy, for example. I somehow can’t imagine an Italian motorist starting a petition like this.

However, it is an interesting idea, even if the cost-benefit analysis of introducing it is pretty shaky zero. Although the petitioner has written it from the perspective of a driver, I’m sure pedestrians would like this facility as well. I too have felt the eyes of angry motorists drilling into me when I’ve pressed the wait button, only to subsequently cross the road in a gap between vehicles before the lights have changed.

But I am certain that debating the pros and cons of small technological improvements to traffic lights are not a matter for parliament. My scepticism shouldn’t discourage the originator from seeking their fame and fortune on Dragon’s Den of course. It’s a better idea than many I’ve seen featured on that programme in the past.

Many of the petitions in the forgotten reaches of the site appear to be the work of the green crayon specialists (there are 11 people who think the government is withholding information on UFOs), thinly disguised racists and authoritarians (the 22 people who support everyone being issued with a blank identity chip should hang their heads in shame. Watch the supporting 18 minute youtube video if you don’t believe me – I did – its terrifying) and, err, Liberals – there were only 37 signatures supporting the introduction of the single transferable vote for English local elections (cough – there’s now 38).

On reflection, I think I’d better stop here.

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