Dr Lisa Marzano is an Associate Professor in Psychology, specialising in mental health and suicide research at Middlesex University.
What are your research interests?
They are quite broad I guess. I am generally quite interested in exploring meanings and mechanisms in relation to self-harming and suicidal behaviour, and how we can use this information to inform suicide prevention. I’m also interested in a range of different methods for doing this. From traditional qualitative and mixed methods, to using different types of technology and visual analytics. I’ve taken quite an eclectic approach.
Can you briefly describe your career path?
I actually wanted to be a vet. When it came to going to university, I panicked a bit as I realised that I had a very idealised notion of what a vet would be and basically that it wouldn’t just involve playing with cute puppies! I had a difficult year of trying to figure out what i wanted to do and moved to the UK. I signed up for a course in Psychology with Criminology, because it sounded interesting and very different to the University options I had in Italy and that went well. I did my undergraduate project on self-harm in prisons and the supervisor I was working with asked if I wanted to do a PhD. I never saw myself as an academic when I was growing up, but sometimes we fall into things. I did my postdoc at Oxford University with Keith Hawton in the Centre for Suicide Research and worked there for five years. I still work closely with Keith and so it almost feels like a second home. When family came along, I decided to apply for a lectureship at Middlesex University (where I had completed my PhD) and I have been there since 2012! I really enjoy some of the opportunities that working in a new university offers.
Can you tell us about any career highlights/lowlights?
One of the highlights has been the work that I did with the rail industry. I was commissioned by Samaritans, on behalf of the rail industry, to do some work on why people consider or attempt suicide on the rails. It was such an interesting project because they just gave us the research question and then we had to develop a series of projects. That in itself was really interesting as one of the things that I enjoy the most about research is the problem solving process behind designing a study. It was an interesting project but it was also a highlight because of what came from it – the Samaritans “small talk saves lives” campaign. It felt like a tangible output in comparison to other projects.
In terms of lowlights, there a lot of rejection in academia. I think it is difficult in many ways. People who have ended up doing a PhD for example, will likely have done really well at school, got an first in their undergraduate and a distinction in their masters – a lot of academia is about being very conscientious, stubborn and working hard – and then all of a sudden you are in a world where you get anonymous peer reviews and sometimes they are pretty ruthless. Even when they are not ruthless, you are used to working hard and doing well and it’s hard.
What advice do you give yourself on difficult days/do you have any key tips for getting through difficult times in academia?
It depends what difficult days feel like. A friend always said to me, when you get your reviewer comments, put them away, don’t look at them for at least a day or two and then come back to them and it will feel better. Now the hard days are more days when I feel a bit overwhelmed from trying to juggle too much, so I think being organised, planning and learning to say no is important. These days it is about making sure that I have planned things and don’t take on too much.
What do you look for from ECRs in general/when hiring?
Being very organised. Working on a project there’s quite a lot to juggle, in that often things need to run in parallel, and so I think if they can demonstrate that they can do that and prioritise tasks that is a very important skill. Another thing is passion for the subject – but evidence based, balanced and critical passion! Finally, someone who brings something that I am conscious that I wouldn’t have. For example, the last person I collaborated with on a project had expertise in computing science and helped us do things that I would never have dreamt of. I am very conscious of what I don’t know and it is great when someone can bring something new.
What is essential to your wellbeing?
I have two gorgeous children – who are six and nearly eight – and it is impossible not to say them! Before I had kids, my friends always used to laugh when I said that I would probably have a better work life balance when I have children. Actually, I think in many ways it makes me stop, whereas before I think I was guilty of working too much!
Interviewer: Kirsten Russell (@Kirsten_Russell) is research assistant and a PhD student within the School of Psychological Sciences and Health, University of Strathclyde (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Photo retrieved from https://masterdec.co.uk/project/middlesex-university-hendon-campus/