The ‘ise’ have it

There’s a vicious rumour going around that using ‘ize’ spellings (for example, realize) is somehow ‘not British’ and that the only correct form is ‘ise’.

If you believe that ‘ize’ is an Americanism and that ‘ise’ is British, then there’s only one way to put this – YOU ARE WRONG.

If you’d like to disagree with me please do so in the comments for this article, but you may want to read the rest of this first and check my sources, which naturally, are impeccable!

I have the backing of the Oxford English Dictionary in this matter. They note that ‘ize’ spellings have been used in British English since the 15th century for words like realize, finalize and organize. The ‘ise’ spelling is a later affectation, introduced in the mid-1700s. The reason for the introduction of ‘ise’ could be because there is also a distinct set of words which always end ‘ise’ – for example, exercise, that have different etymological roots. Using ‘ise’ for everything is therefore just laziness. To this day, the OED still prefer ‘ize’ endings in British English.

I’m pleased that many psychological luminaries (or at least, their publishers) appear to agree with me. For example, I have the second edition of Alex Haslam’s book, ‘Psychology in Organizations – The Social Identity Approach’ sat on my desk as I’m typing this and all of the psychology textbooks published by the Open University to accompany their undergraduate degree consistently use ‘ize’.

However, this fundamentalist approach to spelling cuts no ice with a number of significant others in my life. For example:

  • My friends and family, who took great delight in pointing out that I’d used ‘realize’ in The Imposter blog post. I’ve bowed to the inevitable pressure and changed the spelling to ‘realise’.
  • The folk who mark my essays – who tell me that ‘ize’ is wrong and that I should use British English instead.
  • My clients at work who believe that ‘ize’ is an Americanism. They often send me snarky comments about ‘ize’ when they review the reports I produce for them and as they’re paying, I’ll happily spell words any way they’d like me to.

So, even though I’m right and they’re wrong (well, at least, not as right) I’ve decided to give up the battle. The ‘ise’ have it. Life’s too short to be all fundamentalist about spelling.

Unless it’s a battle about the misuse of apostrophes. That’s definitely not one that I’m going to give up on easily …

This article was originally written for the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 28th November 2013.

Personality at work

In my first post, I did say that I wasn’t here. Which is still true of course, but last Thursday (14th November) I did manage to make a fleeting visit to the university to listen to a guest lecture by Peter Saville, a celebrated occupational psychologist and entrepreneur.

At work, I’ve often found myself involved in the recruitment process and I’d like to think that I’m a better judge than most when it comes to identifying the right person for particular roles. After sitting through Peter’s talk, I’m probably going to be a little more cautious in future.

For example, 70% of all application forms and CVs contain serious errors of fact, because people are prone to exaggerating their qualifications and experience. References are problematic as some organisations refuse to produce them for fear of legal action – and who would ever voluntarily provide a referee to give less than glowing report? And as for interviews – well, apparently most interviewers make up their mind about a candidate in the first few minutes and then spend the rest of the time looking for evidence to back their initial opinion up.

It even seems that some organisations have used astrology during the selection process. Thankfully, I’ve never witnessed this, but in one study Peter mentioned 22% of the psychology students questioned thought that using a person’s astrological sign would be a reasonable characteristic to use for assessment. My mind boggled at the idea.

Having been instrumental in creating the OPQ and Wave personality inventories, most of the talk revolved around the challenges of creating questionnaires that are truly useful in occupational as opposed to clinical contexts. Issues with zombie questions, double negatives and idioms were all discussed and dispatched with style.

In summary, Peter said that questions used to assess personality at work need to be short, focussed on behaviour, self-referent, acceptable to candidates, managers and lawyers alike as well as having job relevance. I found myself nodding along in agreement. It was an excellent talk – well worth the journey down from Derby and the time off work to listen to.

However, that’s not to say that I’m entirely convinced by the personality measurement industry. After all, as Graham Richards points out in his book ‘Putting Psychology in its Place’, no-one can say for sure how ‘real’ the personality traits identified by these questionnaires are. They could simply be artefacts of the methods used to measure them or be hopelessly contaminated by the cultural context they are used in.

And if the personality traits measured during selection and assessment have no objective reality – or worse – traits that are of importance to job performance fail to be picked up because they aren’t socially or legally acceptable characteristics to measure, then perhaps organisations would do better to invest their efforts elsewhere.

But what do you think? Have any personality questionnaires that you’ve completed in the past been useful to you in understanding where your strengths might lie? I’d be very interested to know your thoughts.

This article was originally written for the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 20th November 2013.


The Imposter

Progress with my MSc trundles on. I’m currently working on my second module assignment which to my great relief isn’t another essay. Instead, it consists of a number of short answer questions related to research methods .

Last weekend I managed to finish off around a quarter of the work and I’m hoping to make similar progress this weekend. Depending on how I feel when I’ve finished writing this, it may either involve me dusting off my copy of SPSS and crunching some numbers, or doing a piece of thematic analysis on an interview (and transcript) that we’ve been given. At the moment, I think that the stats questions seem slightly more appealing.

I’ve also made my debut on the university’s student blogging site this week. First posts are always incredibly difficult to write, but at least that’s one hurdle out of the way and I can concentrate on more interesting topics. (Yes, I know, not much hope of that is there …) For example, like why I changed the spelling of ‘realize’ to ‘realise’ on my first article a few hours after I’d hit the publish button – even though the OED tells me that I’m right and everyone else is wrong! Those of you who hounded me mercilessly until I made the change know who you are 🙂

Since I wrote my first post, I’ve had the result back for my early assignment. It’s worth all of 1/90th of the overall mark for the qualification, so in the big scheme of things it’s not particularly significant, but I’m pleased with my start.

I feel a little less like an imposter now.

Biased studies and flawed arguments

One of the parts of my research methods module assignment that I’m currently working on is being used to assess if we are able to read an academic paper and understand what it has set out to achieve. The paper in question comes from a reputable journal and has been peer-reviewed. Even so, it contains a fairly significant typographical error, which makes understanding precisely where some of the findings it claims have actually come from rather difficult.

However, that’s not the worst problem with this particular paper. The final sentence of its concluding paragraph makes a claim that I happen to believe (and I’m willing to bet that there is research available that will back the claim up) but there is absolutely no way that the specific claim made can be established from the paper’s research!

As I don’t want to specifically name this paper or journal (not least because it is an input into an assessed piece of work) let me try to explain the problem I have using a different example.

Suppose that I’m interested in determining if franchised car dealer servicing is better than that provided by an independent garage. So I study a number of independent garages (but no franchised ones) and find that they are able to service cars adequately and because of this, manage to stay in business and turn a profit.

I write all of this up, present descriptive statistics that suggests this is true but then conclude (with a smug A-ha!) “… but if only they were franchised car dealers they’d be able to service these cars even better”. I then note that the funding for my research came from the association of franchised car dealers.

In a nutshell, that’s the kind of flawed argument that this paper appears to be using, perhaps because of where its source of funding came from. Unfortunately, we’re not asked to critique the paper, simply to read and demonstrate that we’ve understood it. But I do hope we get the chance to properly critique some of the material we’re being presented with soon. The Open University and DD307 in particular has a lot to answer for …

1,000 word essays are harder to write than 2,000 word essays

Six years ago when I first started to study psychology I would never have believed that a 1,000 word essay was more difficult to write than a 2,000 word essay. After all, a 1,000 word essay is half as long, so they have to be twice as easy to write, yes?

This weekend I’ve managed to finish and submit my first assignment on my MSc. It was a 1,000 word essay and I had more than enough material for a 2,000 word essay. Trying to understand specifically what was required and therefore what I should leave out was rather difficult.

No. Not difficult. Impossible.

In the end, I finished with 996 words which I hope are relevant enough to ensure that I pass the assignment. It would be rather embarrassing, not to say deflating if they weren’t. In my experience, 1,000 word essays are probably twice, if not four times as difficult to write as 2,000 word essays. This certainly wasn’t the best essay I’ve ever written. I just hope that it wasn’t the worst.

But it’s finished and submitted a massive 42.5 hours ahead of the deadline, so I need to stop worrying about it. After all, I don’t have another essay to write until next year. But I do have another assignment to complete before 9th December. I’ve just had a quick look at it and listened to its accompanying podcast. The best thing that I can say about it at the moment is that at least it’s not an essay.

Four questions, with multiple parts, covering psychometric, experimental and qualitative design and analysis, plus a literature review. There’s a lot of reading and work required between now and deadline, that’s for sure.

But, the thing is, it looks really interesting. Definitely the kind of thing I’d hoped for when I signed up for the course. And I now have a nice, new copy of SPSS installed on my computer ready for me to have a play with. Happy days …

Leave it out!

I’ve successfully completed a first draft of my Early Assignment this weekend, so that leaves me with a week to tidy it up and tweak it. It’s been fairly difficult getting back in the swing of writing academic essays and the rustiness I feel definitely shows up in my attempt. However, there’s bags of time and opportunity left on the course to sharpen things up again. I’ll probably never want to write another essay by the time I get to the end of the course, although it would be nice to tackle a PhD at some point in the future I guess …

Back to reality. So far, everything seems really friendly – constructive debates in the forums, helpful interventions from the course staff and suchlike. I really hope that it stays like this and doesn’t degenerate into some of the fractiousness I’ve witnessed on other courses.

One standard discussion that’s not yet happened is the one on referencing. It usually has done by this point in every other course that I’ve taken, but the excellent resources provided by Leicester and their standardization on APA without the strange local variants that popped up on some OU courses (I still don’t understand what the person who came up with the referencing standards for ED209 in 2009 was on, for example) seems to have provoked total silence on this often contentious matter. So far!

The one topic that does seem to be provoking some head scratching is the rather strange insistence that header and footer text (course identifiers, page numbers and the like) need to be accounted for in the assignment word count, as the anti-plagiarism software the university uses, Turnitin (or Leaveitout, as I’ve started to call it for reasons buried deep in my unconscious) counts them.

It’s clearly some kind of administrative compromise, as there are severe penalties that are quite rightly applied for going over the word count on an assignment. However, losing precious word count to the vagaries of a piece of software which isn’t smart enough to work out the difference between formatting and content seems faintly ridiculous.

As ‘Yes Minister’ taught us:

“Administration is about means, not ends. The only ends in administration are loose ends.”

Update 21/10/2013:

Great news! The course team have confirmed that the headers and footers are now excluded from the assignment wordcount after all.

My MSc is underway …

… and the clock is already ticking, with just 13 days to go before I need to submit a 1,000 word early assignment. The topic for the assignment is on how different approaches to psychology contribute to an understanding of personality differences within a work setting. Hmm.

On the face of it, the assignment seems relatively straightforward. There’s also the opportunity – or rather the requirement – to contribute to a discussion within the course forums before I have to commit my ideas to paper.

But (and there’s always a but), it’s obvious that considerable reading and independent research is expected … so it’s not just a case of regurgitating ideas and arguments from the course material and set books. The ‘scavenger hunt’ method of study I used on the OU SD226 (biological psychology) module a couple of years ago is definitely going to come in useful for this assignment … plus, of course, the way it encouraged to write what otherwise might have been 2,000 word essays in 800!

Fortunately things look as if they will become a little less frantic with more time to research and reflect properly after the early assignment as the next one isn’t due until 9th December.

I’m already stating to notice differences between Leicester’s approach to distance learning compared to that of the OU. Some of them are good things, others less so. For example:

  • No assignment extensions are allowed. Marks are lost for late submission on a sliding scale, but you are allowed to submit extenuating circumstances forms which may be taken into consideration.
  • The marking scale is different: <50% = fail; 50-59% = pass; 60-69% = merit; 70%+ = distinction. I really don’t understand why the full 0-100% scale isn’t used everywhere. After all, if you can only realistically achieve a top mark of around 80%, then the mark given isn’t a really percentage, is it?
  • The virtual learning environment (Blackboard) works far more intuitively than the OU VLE (Moodle). It also seems to work well on my iPad. However, the experience is far better through the browser interface than through the Blackboard App, which is frankly a disaster area.
  • You have to buy (or borrow) the set books for the course, rather than being provided with them as part of your course fee as at the OU. I’ve just spent the best part of £100 on three books (ouch). I don’t mind that, but it was annoying not to be provided with the set book list until Sunday! I’d have ideally liked to have obtained a couple of them beforehand – they would have made good summer reading!

One other curious fact is that Leicester only seem to employ teaching staff called Katherine/Catherine. Well, not really. But there are quite a lot of them. It reminds me a little of the Monty Python ‘University of Wallamaloo’ sketch where everyone is called Bruce (to avoid confusion, naturally).

Virtually Registered

When I registered as an undergraduate student at Warwick in 1982, queuing became an unexpected feature of life. I queued for my library card, for my accommodation, to sign onto my course and most importantly of all, to receive my grant cheque. I rapidly became an expert at queuing and how to avoid it. How to avoid queues is, of course, a life skill almost as useful as anything you learn on a Computer Science degree.

Yesterday, I received an email from Leicester University inviting me to register as a distance learner for my occupational psychology masters. As I’m currently abroad it was a huge relief, as well as a reminder about how rapidly IT has developed over the last 30 years, to be able to complete the whole process online in just a few minutes. A day later, I’m sat thousands of miles away with access to a university email account, the online library and the Blackboard virtual learning environment.

The queues of 31 years ago are a distant memory as, sadly, are grant cheques. But the passion I have for learning is still there. I’m proud to be a Leicester student and I’m looking forward to picking up some new life skills.

The return of the psycho

Prompted by a message this morning on the OU Psychology Graduates Facebook group, I’ve been re-reading the prospectus for the Occupational Psychology MSc I’ve been accepted onto at Leicester University. I’ve got until the end of this month to stump up the first of six installments, each of around £1,450 (gulp), so it’s definitely been worthwhile re-reading the course summary and brochure to remind myself what I’m letting myself in for over the next couple of years.

The course consists of six core modules plus a dissertation. There are no examinations to take as everything is based on continuous assessment. There’s also an optional three-day conference each year at the University which is covered in the cost of the course, so at least I’ll get a chance to meet others on the same path outside of the virtual environment provided by Blackboard.

Looking at the list of modules my initial thoughts, based on no more than my prejudices and assumptions, are as follows:

  • Research Methods: This looks like a sensible start to the course and I hope it’s going to be relatively straightforward. I doubt if there are any statistical techniques it will throw at me that I won’t be able to get my head around having wrestled with the “fish” book and SPSS on the OU psychology degree. There’s also coverage of qualitative methods – I wonder if Q will get a mention?
  • Personnel Selection and Assessment: I’ve been involved in this aspect of work, on and off, for about the last 20 years. I’d like to think that I’m a better interviewer and selector than most, but who knows. Psychometrics rears its ugly little head in this module, so I’m looking forward to unleashing some critical arguments from DD307!
  • Ergonomics: Looks interesting. I wonder whether the vogue for open plan offices and hot desks is more to do with the desire to exert power over subordinates by senior management than as a way of ensuring a productive workforce or reducing overhead costs?
  • The Psychology of Organising: I really hope this isn’t going to be an attempt to fit most of an MBA into 12 weeks – but the description of the module makes it potentially seem like the most interesting of the course. I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into this one.
  • Psychology of Occupational Training and Learning: I’m definitely not sure about this module. It sounds a little dull to be honest.
  • The Individual at Work: The module description makes it sound all lovely and fluffy (work-life balance, diversity, workplace counselling and the like) – but I have this nagging feeling that it’s aimed squarely at HR professionals who want to know how far they can push people before they start to fight back. I’m hoping that the module hasn’t been written by Catbert – but if it is, at least I should end up with a better understanding of what motivates people to become HR managers.

And then finally there’s a dissertation incorporating some empirical research to tackle. I’m currently toying with a couple of ideas, both of which are connected with the world of salespeople (after all, I have a ready supply of them to work with in real life). Both of the ideas I have seem to be worthwhile investigative topics in their own right and I suspect I could even combine aspects of them together if I wanted or needed to.

So I’m enthusiastic to be starting studying again, even if I’m not quite sure where I’m going to find the time from. A minimum of 14 hours per week – slightly less than an OU 60 credit load – is suggested, but I suspect I’ll end up spending rather more time on the course than this if I do get hooked.

As I’ll be self-funding the course over the next two years, I really hope that I do.

Will it be Leicester?

Having suffered a minor shock on Monday morning on hearing that Birkbeck are apparently reviewing the future of their masters qualifications in psychological sciences, I was relieved on Monday evening to find that the prospectus I had requested from Leicester University for their masters in Occupational Psychology had arrived. And very interesting it looks too. For a mere (gulp) £3,795 per year, a part-time distance learning masters could be mine in two years, starting in October 2012.

The modules on offer cover personnel selection and assessment, ergonomics, the psychology of organising, the psychology of occupational training and development, the individual at work, research methods and a dissertation. I wouldn’t necessarily choose to do a couple of the modules perhaps, but it seems to me that there would be sufficient wriggle room – particularly in the dissertation – to do something a little more exciting than study just psychometrics or undertake experiments of questionable value with teddy bears.

I was also reminded that the module on my current degree that I thought I’d get least out of (ED209 – child development) was rather good. I’ve even just about  recovered from the young lad on the ED209 DVD who continually insisted that the reason any object floated was “because it was shaped like a boat”.

Now, while I have absolutely no desire to end up in “personnel”  (after all, as Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry once said, that’s for … well, he wasn’t very impressed when he was assigned to personnel after shooting lots of bad guys) there’s definitely enough in the Leicester course to be interesting and useful in my work too. Who knows, if I can convince our HR department that it would be useful to the business for me to do this course, then perhaps I can tease some sponsorship money out of them as well … (*)

Perhaps the biggest shock was their application form (Application form? I’m used to the OU – you just turn up, pay your money and you’re in!) They want to know all kinds of things about me, such as my previous qualifications, work experience, whether I can speak, read and write English and worse … why I want to do the course and if I already have any ideas for my dissertation! Oh, and they want references too. References! Anyone would think that they were going to be paying me, rather than the other way around…

In all honesty though, the form really isn’t that daunting … and I’m especially looking forward to answering the question “Outline the changes you would make in your work and/or own time in order to accommodate the demands of a postgraduate distance-learning course”. I’ll be able to (metaphorically) wrinkle my eyes up and with a furrowed brow, sniff the air and say something like:  “I was an OU student for five years … nothing could be better preparation for your course than that.”

But wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. It sounds like I’ve already made the decision to carry on – and I most definitely haven’t. There are still other courses to look at and other avenues to explore. There are also the views of my loved ones and their priorities and desires to take into consideration. I don’t want to be too selfish.

So – I’m making no decisions  until after Christmas at the earliest. It’s still quite novel having a life away from work that isn’t study … and it’s rather nice too. I’m not sure that I want to give it up again quite so soon – or ever.

Watch this space, as they say.



(*) Of course, I’m only joking about people who work in HR and personnel. I have first hand experience of how very dedicated they are where I work for example. But the “Dirty Harry” reference was just too tempting to resist. Sorry.