Welcome to My Lab: Please Mind the Gap Between the Neurons!

By Sergio A. Silverio

My ‘lab’ is not a traditional one.  It does not have four walls and shiny whiteboards, nor any high-tech gadgets or an army of budding Research Assistants efficiently processing data into well-polished journal articles, ready for publication.  My lab exists purely and simply within the confines of my own brain.  So welcome!  Welcome to my ‘lab’, and in writing this blog post I hope to enlighten you on some of the inner workings of my mind…

In July of 2016, I graduated from the University of Liverpool’s School of Psychology and having specialised in Clinical and Health Psychology in my fourth and final year of the MPsycholSci (Hons).  I was now officially a Master of Psychological Sciences!  I went on to take up a Research Assistant position within the Evidence-based Practice Research Centre [EPRC] at Edge Hill University, entering the big World of academia at the start of my pursuit to become a ‘career academic’.  Being an Early Career Researcher, I knew it would be some years before I had the autonomy of command over my own research, and within my new role I had a huge learning curve ahead of me.  I was a Psychologist who had spent the last year researching women’s gender identity, and now I was in a Faculty of Health and Social Care and had a lot to learn about the world of Health Services Research, Medical Education, and Service Evaluations.  What had I let myself in for?  One thing I knew could translate across the disciplinary boundaries, was methodology.  So, I played to my strengths pushing forward a classical Grounded Theory agenda in some of the projects to which I was attached.  And much to my relief, it was warmly accepted by members of our Professoriate and our collaborating clinicians and colleagues.

However, I had somewhat departed from the realm of gendered research, feminist philosophy, and women’s lifecourse analysis, which I so enjoyed, had worked hard to understand and also position my research within, throughout my Masters.  For my thesis I had developed and conducted a research project exploring later life femininity in never married older women, finding that this particular group of participants often felt excluded from the traditional forms of ‘womanhood’ which were perpetuated in society.  They also negotiated social networks differently to those married older women, documented in published literature.  I feared losing momentum in this field of research so there was only one thing for it…  I was to maintain this body of research through collaborations outside of ‘the day job’; and thus, my head became my ‘lab’!

I set about strengthening collaborations I had made during my degree; keeping up to date with The British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women Section [BPS PoWS] (now the Psychology of Women and Equalities Section) and staying in touch with The Women’s Organisation.  I also ensured I was in regular contact with my collaborators around the United Kingdom, working closely with people I had met and worked under through my degree in funny, almost awkward, transitions from ‘Lecturer-Student’ relationships to ‘Mentor-Mentee’ ones where, rather than purely for them, I was now working with them, academic to academic.  In doing this I became more active in my role as Editor-at-Large of The PsychLiverpool Blog (an award winning on-line psychological community for meaning making) and frequently wrote for The BPS’s Psych-Talk.  Some of these collaborations also reached an international plane, for example, helping to convene an Anglo-Italian research team focussed on translating ‘The Postpartum Specific Anxiety Scale’ [PSAS] – a psychometric scale for post-partum mothers.  I now also enjoy an ever-closer relationship with Psychology’s Feminist Voices – working towards their endeavours to internationalise, and strengthening their links with BPS PoWES.

There is no secret I have been influenced by some ‘Feminist Greats’, and I find myself often writing using Simone de Beauvoir’s; “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman” perspective; whilst having also written about my biggest influence: Sandra Lipsitz Bem and her pioneering work on Psychological Androgyny.  However, when asked what I consider my main research theme to be, I have one, stock response: My primary interest is in the mental health and social wellbeing outcomes of women’s changing gender identity over the lifecourse.  I am sure if someone was to make neat little slices of my brain, that exact phrase would be printed down the core, like a stick of rock!  But I have wider interests ranging from bereavement, to maternal health and midwifery, to engaging students and academia more generally.  Despite the interest, each time my work, whether it be in publications, in lectures, or in commentaries, is always lensed using perspectives on gender and psychological health.  I am more determined than ever to keep up-to-date and carry-out research within this area, and more importantly use my position as a Psychologist and a researcher to afford participants the opportunity to document their experiences, and provide a platform from which their voices can be heard – especially those participants who come from marginalised or less privileged groups.  And what’s more, I am actually managing to do it whilst performing in ‘the day job’!

Most recently, I have been lucky enough to take over the Editorship of British Mensa’s ANDROGYNY.  In this journal I aim to encourage a safe space to publish a vibrant and engaging collection of works in a publication dedicated to intellectual debate, empirical research, and artistic expression centred on the topic of Androgyny, gender differences, identity & society, and discussions of equalities & equity.  So far contributors have not disappointed, and I am immensely proud of the results.  Once again, this venture has added to my collaborations, my research, and my lecturing to build a little profile in my brain of how, one day, my real lab could look.  One article I wrote for the journal’s second issue, happened to be read by the co-editor of a book series and led to them inviting me to contribute a chapter to their next book. There really are great opportunities in each-and-every day – sometimes they are risky, sometimes we do not always see them, but when we do they are often worth the gamble.  For me the most recent of these was applying for a position advertised as a ‘Research Assistant in Qualitative Methods’ within the Institute for Women’s Health at UCL.  I wasn’t actively looking for jobs, but on a weekend when my parents were visiting me in Liverpool, I saw the position on a circular e-mail and the job title instantly made me interested.  Then I saw which department it was in and immediately exclaimed to my parents that I had to apply to it.  I agonised over the application form and was successful in being called to interview.  I was delighted to even get that far!  But, after a long wait and a couple of hurdles along the way, I was offered the position over more than 100 other applicants. I now feel incredibly fortunate to have joined the VESPA team in the Research Department of Reproductive Health as of January 2018.

On the topic of luck, and to finish this insight into my brain, I’d like to recall when, just recently, I was fortunate enough to hear Prof. Dame Vicki Bruce deliver a talk titled: “Sense and Serendipity” at the “Women in Psychology: From Invisibility to Influence” Seventh Annual ‘Stories of Psychology’ Day, run by the History of Psychology Centre.  In her talk, she spoke candidly about how, so often, collaborations and avenues of research are serendipitous.  Only the other day, when updating the spreadsheet I maintain of all the papers and projects I am attached to (otherwise known as my ‘brain-splat-on-a-page’), I realised what Prof. Dame Bruce had said was in fact applicable to my own short journey in academia to date.  I have been incredibly lucky to work with or alongside some wonderful people.  Academics who have stretched me and pushed me to work harder.  I owe a lot to those who have nurtured me to grow, and to those people (especially my friends and family) who have had to, on occasion, re-motivate me when the going has got tough.  I currently collaborate with in excess of 20 people, across more than 50 studies, papers, or other projects; and when I think of it like this, perhaps ‘my lab’ is much more than in my head, but in fact is the network of people with whom I collaborate – monitored in my mind and on the brain-splat spreadsheet.  And although it may not have a physical home, it links together academics and researchers from all over the globe, in a virtual way; and in doing so has a very real, very tangible existence, which over the last few years, has become: ‘My Lab’!

Learn More

Bem, S. L. (1974). The measurement of psychological androgyny. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 42(2), 155-162.

Bem, S. L. (1993). The lenses of gender: Transforming the debate on sexual inequality. New Haven, United States of America: Yale University Press.

de Beauvoir, S. (2011). The second sex. (C. Borde & S. Malovany-Chevallier, Trans.). London, United Kingdom: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1949).

Special Issue (2017). The Past, Present, and Future of Masculinity, Femininity and Gender: Honoring Feminist Scholar Sandra L. Bem (1944 – 2014) – Part 1. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 76(9-10), 525-636.

Special Issue (2017). The Past, Present, and Future of Masculinity, Femininity and Gender: Honoring Feminist Scholar Sandra L. Bem (1944 – 2014) – Part 2. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 76(11-12), 637-765.

Author Bio

Sergio A. Silverio  is an academic Psychologist with a primary research interest in the ‘Female Psychology’ branch of ‘The Psychology of Women’.  He adopts a lifecourse analysis approach, using qualitative methodologies to examine women’s mental health and social wellbeing outcomes in relation to changes in gender identity.  Having graduated from the University of Liverpool in 2016, his Master’s research into older never married women attracted critical acclaim from The British Psychological Society.  He is currently at the Research Department of Reproductive Health, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute for Women’s Health, University College London, London, United Kingdom. Find him on Twitter: @Silverio_SA_

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