Career File: Rado Masaryk

Dr Rado Masaryk is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Applied Psychology, Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Comenius University in Bratislava. He is also hosting the next 2019 ISCHP conference in Bratislava and our new conference chair. We are delighted to feature his career file.


Could you say a bit about your career trajectory so far?

One year after finishing my Masters in psychology I found out about a PhD position opening at the Faculty of Education which is a school that trains future teachers. I was sceptical at first. I had never thought of myself as an academic type. But I applied anyway, and got accepted, and found myself in a rather bizarre institution. The school was heavily underfunded, most of the students had no intention of ever going into teaching, there was no tradition of doing real research, many of my colleagues were severely burned out and they found no joy in their teaching or research. I nevertheless hung around until I got my doctorate. And then surprisingly I hung around for several additional years, because I felt that working with future teachers was the most important job in the world. However, I got to feeling a bit stagnant as far as my academic career went. So after 9 years it was time to move on. The Head of the Institute of Experimental Psychology at the Slovak Academy of Sciences offered me a job and a chance to manage a group of inspiring young researchers. I started to publish internationally (it was about time!). Now I work at the Comenius University’s Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences which is a small institution and at the same time a very dedicated group of researchers. We are the youngest and the most radical part of the Comenius University, and I enjoy working for this progressive faculty.

How did you get to be where you are today?

By being detail-focused and responsible when it comes to important things. By not taking personally those things that I cannot change or that do not actually matter that much. And by forgiving myself for not being always wise enough to know the difference.

When did you decide to be an academic? What was it that prompted this decision?

There were these moments, for instance when sitting around a table as grad students brainstorming with some of our professors, and they genuinely loved some of our research design ideas. When I saw my first paper getting published. When someone I admired came to me after my conference talk and gave me positive feedback. When I realized how deeply I can affect some of my students’ lives. Academia can be highly addictive.

What are the biggest challenges/ barriers you have faced so far in doing your work?

As a person from a post-communist country I had to work very hard to achieve things that would have been much easier if I had done my PhD training in an established institution in Western Europe or the US: things like getting to conferences, securing access to books and journals, meeting experts, or publishing in the English language are just some of the things that I will never take for granted. I was 38 when I first flew to an international conference knowing my flight ticket would be reimbursed by my employer. Now I do everything in my power to make sure the current generation of PhD candidates here can have better conditions to develop their academic careers than I did.

How did you get involved in ISCHP and how has the experiences been for you?

This could be traced to the time when Wendy, Chris and Kerry came to Bratislava; they introduced me to ISCHP and I signed up for the mailing list. Then I attended the 2017 conference in Loughborough. However, my first encounter with critical psychology was a brilliant chapter written by Wendy and Rex Stainton Rogers for a local Social Psychology textbook which at the time was recommended reading to prepare for my social psychology qualifying examination. This chapter was very different from the rest of the book – refreshing, stimulating and thought-provoking.

What are you most looking forward to about hosting ISCHP’s 2019 conference in Bratislava?

I look forward to introducing the newcomers to my hometown. For those who have already been here before, I look forward to getting them re-acquainted with this vibrant city that keeps changing  and developing very rapidly. I hope to create an unforgettable experience, and I hope to be hearing “Hey, remember that one time in Bratislava?!” whenever ISCHP people get together in the future. But one thing I am looking forward to the most is the idea of doing a warm-up before the conference at Slovakia´s best summer music festival. We may even succeed in incorporating a discussion on critical health psychology into the festival program. I love conferences and I love festivals, and the idea of combining the two sounds very exciting to me.

What makes you critical of mainstream psychology worldwide?

As early as in my undergraduate years I was exposed to amazing professors such as Jana Plichtová, Viera Bačová or Gabriel Bianchi who were among the first researchers in Slovakia who introduced us to qualitative methodology and showed us how the essentialist approach to doing psychological research can sometimes completely miss the mark. All three of them had an extensive background in rigorous experimental research so their criticism of the mainstream methodology was very credible and authentic.

Would you recommend any books or papers for those interested in critical psychology, and critical approaches to health?

“Health and Illness” by Claudine Herzlich. “Explaining Health and Illness: An Exploration of Diversity” by Wendy Stainton Rogers. “Representations of Health, Illness and Handicap” by Ivana Marková and Robert Farr. And “Madness and Social Representations: Living with the Mad in One French Community” by Denise Jodelet. This latter book, a fascinating account of how representations of an illness can impact ways how people with a certain diagnosis are treated by the other, inspired my own work on how people understand erectile dysfunction.

What are you currently working on (research or books)?

In one project we seek to persuade secondary school students to think about their future studies much earlier, not just when it is time to fill out their college application. Another project is focused on discerning credible news stories by young people. We also submitted a grant proposal to do a project on social representations of neurodegenerative diseases. And I am doing a small pet project with a grad student where we try to see how the taste of wine is influenced by the information about its price. This is one of the perks of academic life: wine sampling can be passed off as serious work!

And lastly, making reference to critical health psychology research and theory contrast and compare the following: dogs and cats.

Someone once said that the dog mentality is “The human gives me food therefore the human is God”, while cats tend to think “The human gives me food therefore I am God”. This shows that for critical psychology it is not only important to examine the existing distribution of power, but also to reflect on the privileges within.


Career File: Gareth Treharne

This is the first in our new series of Career Files: informal interviews with leading or under recognised critical health psychologists and early career researchers. This month’s Career File is with our very own society chair, Dr Gareth Treharne.


Tell me who you are and what you do?

I work as a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Otago in Dunedin. Otago is a region of in Aotearoa/New Zealand and the University is the oldest in the country, having been founded in 1869. I moved here exactly 10 years ago fresh out of a BSc, PhD and research fellowship in psychology at the University of Birmingham, UK. My family hails from Wales and I grew up in England very aware that my generation had lost the language that my parents spoke as their first language. The issue of language loss has become even more meaningful to me since living in Aotearoa/New Zealand where Te Reo Māori became recognised as an official language in 1987. I’m now a citizen of Aotearoa/New Zealand as well as maintaining my British citizenship (and accent). Paying attention to official languages is just one of the things needed if we are to work in ways that decolonise rather than recolonise in health psychology and every aspect of academia.

During the past decade my research interests have expanded from a very specific focus on the health psychology of arthritis to now cover wider aspects of chronic illness and well-being among marginalised groups. Over the same period my comfort being an out gay cisgender academic has also increased. There are still occasional uncomfortable moments but I’ve come to realise the importance of role models for students with marginalised sexualities or genders, so any moments of discomfort are worth it. I consider myself a critical health psychologist and queer scholar-activist. To ‘queer’ means to question what gets taken for granted so that’s in keeping with the idea that to be a critical academic means to question who benefits from research and from the status quo of things that are taken for granted. I really value the flexibility of working in academia and our ability to speak up in our role as ‘critic and conscience of society’. I spend most of my days with my head buried in research in some way, whether it be planning or giving a lecture, working with one of the postgraduate students I supervise, or doing something on one of my research projects.

Name some researchers/authors who have inspired you?

I’ve recently got hold of a copy of the abstract booklet of the first conference of what became the International Society of Critical Health Psychology (ISCHP). The conference was called “Reconstructing Health Psychology: An International Conference on Critical and Qualitative Approaches to Health Psychology” and was held in July 1999 in St John’s University, Newfoundland, Canada. We’ll be digitising the booklet for posterity and posting it on the website with the aim of having a full history of ISCHP conferences. So many health psychology academics who inspire me were at that conference, including Antonia Lyons (who was one of my PhD supervisors), Wendy Stainton Rogers (who was ISCHP’s Chair for 6 years at the same time as I was Secretary for 2009-2015), Carla Willig, Sue Wilkinson, Kerry Chamberlain, Michael Murray, and David Marks (who also did a stint at the University of Otago and is the editor of the Journal of Health Psychology, which is one of the most frequent homes of critical health psychology research). It’s amazing to see how many of the talks from that first conference were transformed into what are now classic articles in critical health psychology. I’m also inspired by Judith Butler, who commented that she never re-reads any of her previous writing in an interview she did with Sara Ahmed that was published in the journal Sexualities in 2016. I really like the idea of constantly moving forwards – something that’s really important within critical research to avoid the kind of stagnation that can come from settling on new norms. At the same time I see a lot of value in returning to the original texts of inspirational scholars and reflecting on our own research. Carolyn Ellis’s 2009 book “Revision: Autoethnographic Reflections on Life and Work” provides a fascinating tour of some of her autoethnographic research by revisiting projects, places, and people. Ellis’s work also goes to show the relevance of putting the researcher at the centre of academic writing rather than writing from the perspective of a god-like outsider. I’m currently reading David Lodge’s 1995 novel “Therapy” about a sitcom writer antihero whose life unravels after he starts psychotherapy and becomes obsessed with a somewhat obscure continental philosopher. I’m also reading Janet Mock’s second autobiography, “Surpassing Certainty”, about her pathway to becoming a trans journalist-activist (like a scholar-activist but with far more reach).

What are you currently working on?

I had some great advice from Liz Peel a few years back – an academic should always have a ‘passion project’ to work on. My current passion project relates to trans healthcare. I’m working with some amazing trans people in Dunedin and academic collaborators to develop community input in teaching trainee health professionals what they will need to know about providing care for trans people. What we’ve come to realise is that this generation of trainee health professionals is hungry to learn more about how to apply inclusivity in their practice and they will be an important cohort of trans allies in taking that professional knowledge into the healthcare system. I’m also working on understanding the discrimination faced by people with marginalised sexualities or genders in many contexts including university life. This work is happening through a few research project as well as hands-on involvement with a local charitable trust in Dunedin and processes of recognising inclusive workplaces. I’m also involved in campus-based projects tackling sexual violence, something else that I’m passionate about addressing and which really benefits from detailed research drawing on critical health psychology perspectives. My research on arthritis is also going strong and I’m involved in some exciting projects about understanding experiences of fatigue, engagement in exercise, and shared decision-making about stopping medical treatments once arthritis is under control.

How did you get involved in ISCHP and how has the experiences been for you?

I’m a second generation ISCHP member as I wasn’t at the first conference, which was held during the summer vacation in the year between completing my bachelor’s degree and starting my PhD. Then the second conference was held 2 years later in Birmingham in 2001 and ISCHP was formally instigated. Several things stand out in my memory of attending that conference. I was about halfway through my PhD and worked as a volunteer on the registration desk and in exchange was able to sit in on some of the sessions. I remember meeting Wendy Stainton Rogers who was mother hen to all the student volunteers. I remember hearing Kerry Chamberlain give a talk about the place of food in critical health psychology and I was fascinated at how research might explore the social and psychological meanings of things like meals and ingredients and restaurants rather than pathologising diets and calories and weight. And I remember sitting in on several other talks that started me on the track of understanding the ethos of critical health psychology and what it can achieve. Then in 2003 I attended the third ISCHP conference in Auckland just before submitting my PhD. It was a long way to come for a conference and supervision meeting with Antonia (who had just moved back) but it was totally worth it and started me on a path of looking for a job in Aotearoa/New Zealand. I became more involved in the running of ISCHP in 2009 when I became Secretary and worked alongside two Chairs, Wendy Stainton Rogers and Chris Stephens, before becoming Chair this year. The moral of the story is that it’s amazing how fast you can go from being a student volunteer to ISCHP Chair (if  you consider 16 years to be fast), and I’m excited to see who will be Chair in 16 years from now in 2033! One of ISCHP’s core principles is supporting students and early career researchers and people always comment at how welcoming the conference is.

What makes you critical of mainstream psychology worldwide?

One of my main criticism of mainstream health psychology is the double standard of contextualisation. How many times have those who do qualitative research had an article rejected because the findings are unfairly critiqued for only being of local relevance? But how many times have you read a mainstream health psychology article and been given so little contextual information that you can’t get a good sense of the data, or even had to make a presumption about which country or countries the data come from based on the affiliations of the authors? The localised nature of mainstream health psychology research gets overlooked whilst often making conclusions that imply the findings have universal generalisability. This criticism of mainstream health psychology is symptomatic of a wider epistemological dogmatism – the dubious argument that only mainstream health psychology counts as ‘real’ health psychology research, which has led to an over-reliance on experimental methods in the form of the randomised control trial. The beauty of critical approaches to research is the ongoing interrogation of epistemology and methodology that helps ensure we keep asking which groups benefit from research and keeps us thinking about methodological pluralism and creativity rather than dismissing or valorising any particular method that might be more associated with mainstream or critical health psychology.

Would you recommend any books or papers for those interested in critical psychology, and critical approaches to health?

Antonia Lyons and Kerry Chamberlain’s introductory textbook from 2006 is still the only comprehensive textbook that take a critical approach to health psychology. A second edition of Carla Willig and Wendy Stainton Rogers’s Handbook of Qualitative Research in Psychology has recently been published and is treasure-trove of guidance about methodologies and subfields within psychology. And I’m really excited about a forthcoming handbook I’ve co-edited with three awesome colleagues from South Africa (Catriona Macleod, Phindi Mnyaka and Jacqui Marx). It’s called the Handbook of Ethics in Critical Research and each chapter is centred on a story from the field of research so it gives readers a really rich sense of how ethics unfold and how current regulatory systems shape critical health research in particular. It was a fascinating journey to work on this handbook and it will be a great resource for critical researchers.

Career File: Wendy Stainton-Rogers

This is the third in our new series ProfFile: informal interviews with leading or under recognized critical health psychologists. This month’s ProfFile is with Professor Wendy Stainton-Rogers, who is based in Yorkshire, UK.  A key organizer of ISCHP, Wendy has blazed a trail for many of us working in critical health, social and feminist psychology. 

Wendy at the Psychology of Women Section Conference, UK, July 2016. Image credit: Dee Lister. For more pics that Dee took at the POWS conference see her Flickr page

What is your current position?

I’m now retired but still a ‘Professor Emerita’ at the Open University in the UK. However, it’s rather more complicated than that.

Less than a month after my retirement in September 2011 I had to have a biopsy to see if I had developed cancer. This small procedure went catastrophically wrong and I was very ill for several years with the aftermath. As I write, five years later, yes I do have cancer, but not the aggressive one first diagnosed. It affects me but I am much recovered from what happened (more surgical catastrophes and two periods of acute starvation). Over this time I had most of my gut removed (hence the malnutrition). So these days I am IV fed by tube, pumped in for 11 hours overnight. I can’t eat at all, but can cook, so all is not lost.

It was what you might call a severe case of participant-observer experience! I have been encouraged to write about it, and maybe I will, given time. In sociological terms,  these days I’m a bit of a cyborg with a tube sticking out of me and have a Klingon carapace stuck on my abdomen, so I do see myself as very alien and disfigured.  Becoming disabled has been a truly salutary experience. I am out of a wheelchair now but have an intimate knowledge of the bowels of Leeds Beckett university’s (in Leeds, UK) rather laberynthine arrangements for access.

The good news is that I am getting better and now active academically once again. This year I’ve been to some seminars and the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women Section (POWS) conference, and am currently working hard on editing the second edition of the Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research in Psychology, together with Carla Willig. I’m keenly looking forward to attending the ISCHP conference in 2017, and even thinking of making some kind of contribution.

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Career File: Catriona Macleod

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This is the second in our new series ProfFile: informal interviews with leading or under recognized critical health psychologists. For out first ProfFile see here. This month’s ProfFile is with Professor Catriona Macleoad at Rhodes University in South Africa. The lead organizer of the 2015 ISCHP conference , Catriona is a trailblazing academic who has helped bring feminist theory into critical health psychology. Her book ‘Adolescence’, pregnancy and abortion: constructing a threat of degeneration (published by Routledge)  was awarded the Distinguished Publication Award by the Association for Women in Psychology, based in America. 

What is your current position?

I am currently the SARChI Chair of Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction, Professor of Psychology at Rhodes University in South Africa, and editor-in-chief of the journal Feminism & Psychology.

Could you say a bit about your career trajectory so far?

I started off as a high school Mathematics teacher. While it was never my desire to be a Mathematics teacher for ever, it proved very useful in allowing me to work and save money in order to return to university and complete my post-graduate degrees. After my Master’s degree, I worked for an organisation called the Wits Rural Facility, which combined research and community –based interventions. I went on to work at the University of Zululand in the Educational Psychology Department, and completed my PhD at the same time. I then moved to East London in South Africa where I worked in the Psychology Department of Rhodes University and the University of Fort Hare. Ten years ago, I moved to Grahamstown where I headed up the Psychology Department. I was appointed to the SARChI Chair at the beginning of 2014, and now devote all my time to research.

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Career File: Elizabeth Peel

This is the first in our new series ProfFile: informal interviews with leading or under recognized critical health psychologists.

ProfFile 1: Elizabeth Peel – who is (amongst other things) a Lesbian, Left-Handed, Left-Wing Critical Health Psychology

What is your current position?

I’m Professor of Psychology and Social Change, and Director of Research for the Institute of Health and Society at the University of Worcester, UK. I also Chair the BPS (British Psychological Society) Psychology of Sexualities Section.Liz Peel

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