Athena SWAN and women in psychology

The Department of Psychology has a vibrant community of female scientists working at all levels in research, teaching, management and outreach.

Headshot"The Department of Psychology is committed to the representation, progression and success of women in science. We aim to foster a confident, high-performing, creative and productive Department, offering equality of opportunity and a positive and inclusive culture to all, where we support each other in our endeavours and our differences are respected.

We positively encourage women at all stages of their career to join us; we will support you in your career progression, from undergraduates through to Professors, and we will strive to make you feel valued members of our Department.”
Professor Geoff Ward, Head of Department of Psychology

Athena SWAN logoThe Athena SWAN Charter

The Athena SWAN Charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEM) employment in higher education and research.

The University of Essex was awarded the Athena SWAN Institutional Bronze Award in November 2013 in recognition of its continuing work to support women in STEM. The Department of Psychology received an Athena Swan Bronze Departmental Award in April 2017.

Athena SWAN Bronze logo

Celebrating women in the department

Our department has over 45 academic members of staff, 40 percent of whom are women. We also have about 30 research students, over two thirds of whom are women.

We're proud of our outstanding female scientists. We'd like to celebrate them by showcasing five amazing women at each stage of their career, from PhD students to full Professors.

  • Professor Sheina Orbell

    Sheina OrbellSheina Orbell has been a Professor at the Department since 2000. From 2010 to 2014 she was also the Head of the Department. She has studied and worked at Universities in Northern Ireland, Scotland and England. Following her PhD her she was awarded a personal fellowship by the Medical Research Council to explore psychological theory in relation to physical health.

    During this time she was based at St Andrews University. When the fellowship came to an end she was appointed to a Lectureship and then to a Senior Lectureship at the University of Sheffield. She continues to research attitude change and self regulation processes and her published work has been cited more than 8500 times.

    Sheina’s research has been funded by many different agencies including the ESRC, MRC, Cancer Research UK, British Academy and The Department of Health. Since 2000 she has worked on the psychological aspects of the introduction of a brand new screening programme for colorectal cancer that has now been rolled out across the UK. She has been a member of the BPS Research Board and from 2005 -2008 she was a member of the RAE2008 Psychology panel.

    Sheina is happily child free, currently dog free and an active member of an extended family network of cousins, nieces and nephews. She loves walking, sailing and cycling. Different hobbies tend to take precedence in quick succession including obsessive playing of backgammon, Scrabble, a spell of watercolour painting, playing competitive pool, photography, and trying to grow vegetables.

  • Professor Silke Paulmann

    Silke PaulmannSilke Paulmann is a Professor and the Director for Marketing and External Relations at the Department. Before coming to Essex, she held post-doctoral posts at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (Leipzig, Germany) and McGill University (Montreal, Canada). Her stay in Canada was supported by the German Academic Exchange Service.

    Silke's research focuses on the way we communicate emotions and attitudes via speech – she looks at both the perception and production side of emotional and attitudinal speech in a variety of populations (healthy, brain damaged, bilinguals, children and elderly). Her work has been funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust and she has published in a wide variety of journals.

    Silke is often involved in outreach activities. For instance, she gave a lecture at the Kids Uni Event in Colchester. She also regularly participates in the Big Bang Fair organised on Essex campus and never gets tired of showing non-academics how electro-physiological brain responses are collected.

    Silke is the mother of a nearly one-year old girl and a three-year old son who both grow up bilingually; similar to how she was initially raised bilingually (she was born in Rotterdam to German speaking parents). Silke is a keen skiier and enjoys travelling with her family. Much to the amusement of the people around her, she also tries to nurture her creative side from time to time by embarking on projects that require skills she often does not have (think on the lines of starting big sewing projects without her even knowing how to thread a sewing machine).

  • Dr Marie Juanchich, Senior Lecturer

    Marie JuanchichDr Marie Juanchich was not predisposed to become a scientist, she became one. Her research career was built out of a lot of hard work and resilience but also thanks to amazing people and of course, thanks to a bit of luck.

    Marie was born in a small village in the Catalan part of the south of France (hence the funny sounding name). She was interested in language, history and psychology, but a friend persuaded her to take a course in psychology. This is how it all started, almost randomly. She never regretted it. In her Masters, she researched the language of uncertainty and its impact on decision-making. Marie loved it and was offered a studentship to continue this work in a PhD. At the time she was advised to network with people who could facilitate her career.

    Marie's experience is that networking is essential, but with people who inspire you to become better, not necessarily with people who can give you a job. In science your work is often criticised and receiving negative feedback can be difficult. With time, she learnt that criticism helped her grow and that knowledge could only be scientific if it was open to criticism and to attempts to prove it wrong…. Also, Marie learned that erring does not mean we are not smart enough, it simply means we need to learn something new.

  • Dr Loes van Dam, Lecturer

    Loes van DamThrough learning Aikido, Dr Loes van Dam is currently experiencing at first hand just how challenging learning new sensorimotor skills can be. Such challenges form the focus of her research in which she investigates human multisensory perception and action.

    As humans we perform everyday tasks, such as picking up a cup of coffee, seemingly effortlessly. Yet, such tasks involve sensing the 3D position and orientation of the cup (sensory processing), making an educated guess whether it is full or empty to estimate its weight (cognitive processing), and planning and controlling the actual movement of our limbs. The fact that such tasks still pose major challenges for humanoid robots illustrates that this not as straightforward as it may seem.

    Over the years Loes has approached the study of human perception and action from many different perspectives:

    • physics and cybernetics
    • capturing human performance in mathematical models
    • cognitive science and psychology

    This has lead to a series of twenty publications (at present worth 465 citations according to Google Scholar) that have appeared in a range of journals and books spanning such different topics as visual processing and computational biology.

    It is also the inherently interdisciplinary nature of this research area that has such a strong appeal to Loes. This cross-boundary nature is reflected in her network of international collaborators, which she has obtained by having worked in excellent research centres abroad (eg the MPI for Biological Cybernetics in Germany).

    Current collaborative projects in psychology at the University of Essex add yet another spin to my research. For Loes, it has opened the door to investigating differences in multisensory perception and action across a range of differently abled population groups and the challenges they face when learning new sensorimotor skills.

  • Katie Groves, PhD student

    Katie GrovesKatie Groves is a third year Psychology PhD student specialising in visual body perception and how this is related to body image. Ultimately Katie's research has implications for people with eating disorders and/or body dysmorphic disorders. Having danced from a young age and having worked as a professional hotel entertainer, Katie has experienced the pressures of conforming to a certain body-type. From childhood, she was fascinated with how for some, this pressure led to devastating consequences whereas for others, it did not have an effect. In fact, her first school project was about eating disorders.

    Katie is currently studying under a departmental doctoral scholarship and has also secured six other sources of funding to aid her research and attend conferences. As a result, she has been lucky enough to present her work in Italy, Germany, the UK and the USA, which resulted in a prize for the best poster presentation and a prize for good time keeping. Katie also recently won the University's 'Three Minute Thesis' competition. At the moment, she has two discussion papers published and another accepted, a research paper under review and she is working towards submitting the first experimental paper from her thesis.

    Katie also works for the University’s outreach team, delivering study skills lectures and seminars as well as supervising students during the annual summer school. Having competed and performed for the University’s Dance Squad, she still very much enjoys dancing.

Resources for women in Psychology

Our department fosters an inclusive research and teaching environment. Lab facilities are shared-use and we operate a booking system that allows everyone, staff or student, fair access to testing rooms and research equipment.

WISE membership

We have joined the WISE campaign to help us progress our gender equality work. Membership means we can raise the profile of our female STEM staff as WISE role models and link them to our community.

For all staff

  • Essex Women's Network

    The University's Essex Women's Network provides support, informal mentoring and networking opportunities to women of all career levels. Although an initiative by women for women, all staff and PhD students are welcome to participate in activities.

  • Departmental mentoring

    The Department has a mentoring policy to support its academic staff. A senior member of staff is assigned as a mentor or probationary supervisor to all new academic staff.

    For research active staff, the mentor provides advice on what is worth doing and when, where and how to network, how to develop a career plan, explaining promotion criteria and how to develop a profile within a discipline. The academic staffing officer can also advise on issues related to probation and promotion.

    For new staff, an induction event is held by HR and the department.

  • Health and well-being

    Occupational Health

    The University’s Occupational Health team offer a wide range of resources to promote good health and wellbeing, from general advice on health risk to accessing eyesight tests and counselling services.

    Staff may access a free and confidential counselling and support service through the University’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) with Validium, a professional and independent employee assistance provider who support over 350 organisations in the UK. This service supports the University's Stress Management Policy (.doc).

    Harrassment and bullying

    Essex is a friendly and welcoming community for students, staff and visitors where people are treated with dignity and respect. We have a multicultural and diverse international community and are committed to establishing an environment that is free from any form of harassment and bullying. If you're unfortunate and experience any behaviour which is unwelcome, inappropriate, intimidating or offensive, our University has a network of trained harassment advisers who are ready to help. This is a confidential service.

    For information and advice or to arrange a meeting in confidence, call the Harassment Advisory Network on ext 4334, weekdays from 9am-5pm. You can also email harass@essex.ac.uk.

    Sports and exercise

    The University’s Sports Centre provides a wide variety of sports activities, relaxation courses, as well as courses offered exclusively to staff, on Colchester campus. These are great opportunities for recreational activities together with friends or colleagues, during lunch hours or after work.


  • Equality and diversity

    The University’s Equality and Diversity team provide advice and support on issues relating to equality, diversity, disability or discrimination.

    The department’s Athena SWAN team promotes and monitors issues related to gender equality and performance among staff and students.

  • Environment and events

    Campus and surroundings

    Colchester is a great place to live and work - find out more about working at Essex (.pdf).

    Departmental events and meetings

    Formal staff meetings are held twice a month, and there is also an informal Head of Department lunch twice a month, where individual departmental matters may be discussed with the Head of Department during lunch break.

    There is a Women in Psychology Breakfast on the first Tuesday a month, and every Wednesday, the MPhil / PhD students organise a social tea-and-cake event for all academic staff and research students.

    Seminar series and research events

    Within and across the research groups, there are regular research-related meetings and events that are held in term time. Our seminar series runs weekly during term time.

    Staff Common Room

    The Staff Common Room Association promotes social and recreational activities for all staff.

    Trade unions

    Several trade unions work together to support and represent staff.

For staff with families

  • Parents' Support Network

    The University has a lively Parents' Support Network to support staff with families via a peer mentoring scheme, a returning carers fund, educational talks and other networking events. There are also special parents-to-be seminars. This is part of the University’s support for working parents package. The Department is supportive of staff with caring responsibilities and encourages working parents and parents to-be to take advantage of these useful resources.

  • Family-friendly policies

    The Department actively promotes a family-friendly working environment for staff, implementing a range of policies to support working parents and parents-to-be. These include flexible working, compressed hours, childcare vouchers, flexible benefits, family leave and maternity keeping-in-touch days. Further information on these opportunities, as well as information for pregnant students and staff and their managers can be found on the Human Resources policies page.

  • Childcare

    Our University has an on-site nursery which offers exceptional day care to children from three months to five years. CHUMS (Children's Holidays at the University of Essex Multi-activity Sports) offers a holiday activity camp for children, aged from eight to fourteen, on-site at our Sports Centre.

    The University operates the flexible benefits and childcare vouchers schemes to support working parents with the costs of childcare. Essex County Council provides further support for finding quality childcare in the Essex area.

Careers in Psychology and professional development

The University’s Learning and Development provides training and development opportunities for staff at all stages of their careers. They offer workshops and short courses in leadership and management, bespoke programmes for academics, researchers and postgraduates as well as professional qualifications. Learning and Development also run the Springboard Programme, an award-winning development course for women.

All courses can be booked via HR Organiser.

For students

If you're thinking about a career in academia, get in touch with our Academic Careers Advisers, Dr Vanessa Loaiza and Dr Andrew Simpson. They can help you to plan your path and answer any questions you have.

  • Support and wellbeing

    The department allocates a personal tutor for each undergraduate student, and operates a peer-to-peer mentoring system. Dr Dean Wybrow is the departmental Student Support and Disability Officer to whom initial queries related to health and well-being and their impact on a student’s performance may be addressed. The University provides a number of support services related to your health and well-being, dealing with student concerns from illness to exam stress.

  • Gain experience

    If you would like to acquire first-hand research experience during your time at Essex, or develop your research skills further, there are many paid and unpaid research schemes available.


Training and funding opportunities for staff

There is a range of funding opportunities that may be of particular relevance to female staff in psychology. For information on these and other schemes visit the University's Athena SWAN resources.

Our Athena SWAN team

Psychology Athena SWAN team

Ms Tuesday Watts, Dr Dominique Knutsen, Dr Helge Gillmeister and Dr Shirley Dorchin-Regev.