This blog post addresses things which people frequently contact me about. Each week I get around 200 e-mails to my university e-mail address. A number of these e-mails are from people asking for information, opinion, advice, and comment on various topics related to psychology. It can be hard to reply to these messages in a timely way, especially during term time when I am teaching, so I have written this blog to address the most common topics I get asked about (facebook, serial killers, and careers in forensic psychology).
In 2009/10 a colleague and I collected data related to how people use facebook, how it makes them feel, and also about how many friends they had on the site. One of the conclusions we reached from our data was that people were more likely to feel anxious as the number of friends they had increased. In February 2011 Edinburgh Napier University issued a press release about our research whilst it was still under review with a journal. This generated a considerable amount of media coverage (e.g. this from the BBC) and the findings continue to appear in media coverage now over three years later. Approximately every two to three weeks since the media coverage I have received e-mails asking for a copy of the published research detailing our work. Unfortunately the article was subsequently rejected by the journal we submitted it to. Therefore, I do not have a peer reviewed article that I can send to journalists, academics, or students who get in touch to ask for it. A non-peer reviewed version of the research is available here.
I have never worked with or interviewed serial killers. I have never worked for the police as an offender profiler. I have never published research on serial killers. I do not cover serial killers in the modules I teach at Edinburgh Napier University. In 2013 The Daily Record printed an article about me in part to promote my Lighthouse Lectures (the article is available here). One of these lectures is about serial killers. Whilst I appreciated The Daily Record’s interest in promoting my lectures the article contained significant inaccuracies about my experience and knowledge. It also presented as quotations things which I never said. As a result of this article I am often contacted by students and journalists asking me about “what makes people kill” and if particular individuals are “evil” or were “born evil”. Unfortunately I cannot answer these questions in the way that is expected. I have often taken the time to write careful responses to these enquiries outlining my position and offering some comments on aspects where I feel more qualified. Unfortunately it is very rare for me to get any kind of acknowledgement or thanks for taking the time to do this so I have decided to stop responding to these messages. If you have come to this blog post as a result of getting a link from me then please take a look at this pdf from the FBI which gives a very detailed account of serial homicide and probably answers your questions.
A third topic I am frequently asked about is how to become a forensic psychologist or how to get work experience that is relevant to this career choice. Although I am a chartered psychologist with the British Psychological Society (BPS), I am not a chartered forensic psychologist and I am not registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. I have a PhD in forensic psychology and I teach and research in this area, but I do not practice forensic psychology or work directly with offenders. If you would like to become a practising forensic psychologist you will need a BPS accredited Bachelor’s degree in psychology, a BPS accredited Master’s degree or professional doctorate, plus a period of supervised work experience. The best place to go to find out more about this is the BPS website. Most forensic psychologists work in prisons so it is a good idea to get some work experience with offenders before you undertake postgraduate courses (for some courses it is also a requirement). To find out more about getting work experience in psychology have a look at this useful link from the University of Sheffield. If you are interested in a career in forensic psychology that gives you access to a wide range of topics outside of the prison environment then you should consider a research based career where you can specialise in a topic of your choice. This will involve doing a Bachelor’s degree in psychology followed by a PhD.