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Jermaine Ravalier's story – Bath Spa University

Spotlight on: Dr Jermaine Ravalier

Jermaine is a Professor in Organisational Psychology and Social Justice. He's passionate about diversity and inclusion, and finding practical ways to support the wellbeing of public service workers.

“I’d never see any young mixed race scientists promoting their work. That’s actually why I’m doing this – to inspire other (black, white, and everything else!) youngsters to get into something that they’re interested in.”

About Jermaine

Jermaine’s role at Bath Spa centres mostly around ‘applied’ research: working in particular with public service workers (such as NHS staff, teachers, social workers, the police and care workers) to find out what it is about their jobs that causes mental health problems, and what can be done to address them.

Jermaine is also leader of the BSc (Hons) Psychology module: Individual Differences, which focuses on the (sometimes contentious!) issues around intelligence and personality. This means considering things like nature vs nurture, and whether (for example) gender or race have a bearing on intelligence.

One of Jermaine’s other passions is diversity and inclusion. In 2020, he took the lead on our Black History Month celebrations, working with colleagues from across the University and the Students' Union to organise events with world-renowned speakers including Angela Saini, David Olusoga, Sado Jirde and Dr. Gloria Willingham-Touré. These talks and interviews were open to staff, students and the public. Don’t worry if you missed them – many of the talks can still be accessed online.

Jermaine on: teaching

Our Psychology course

As we’re accredited by the British Psychological Society, we need to touch on five main psychological perspectives: biological, cognitive, developmental, individual differences (which I teach) and social, alongside research methods.

Our undergraduate course introduces students to every one of those areas, going into more depth as they move through the course.

In the first year, we also explore the different types of psychologists: from cognitive psychologists who look at how the brain works to biological psychologists who look at its physical makeup, and developmental psychologists who look at how we change as we get older. There are also sports and forensic psychologists, and of course occupational psychologists, like me.

Using research to inform the course

We have a good breadth of staff expertise and pretty much all of our staff are research-active, so we use our research to inform our teaching.

Individual Differences is about personality and intelligence, and there’s a lot of that in occupational psychology. For example, in job interviews, and even in interviews for colleges and universities, they’re going to ask you fairly standard questions, and those questions will usually have been set by an occupational or organisational psychologist.

Student research opportunities

I’m the lead supervisor for four PhD students who are all conducting research in and around developing mental health interventions for health and social care staff. Undergraduate students also get the chance to become part of our small research team, which is great for their career prospects.

In the second year, once students have several modules under their belts, we offer them research internships with us so that they can get a real-world understanding of what research is. They’ll also get their name into a hard-hitting research publication – a big tick in the box for their CV.

Third year undergraduates doing their dissertation will choose the supervisor and project that they’re most interested in based on staff members’ expertise. Currently, some of my students are looking at stress and mental health in teaching, and we’re writing up a paper together.

“It’s not all about being in a lab in a white coat; it’s working with real people in the real world and making a difference to people’s lives.”

Jermaine on: diversity, inclusion and race

What I teach in the Individual Differences module is very important to me as a mixed race person. Within Psychology there are very strong arguments from some quite famous psychologists and journals, saying that white people are more intelligent than black people, and that women are less intelligent than men.

I don’t think that those views should be completely shut down and cancelled, but I would like them to be evidence based and discussed in an open forum. Because there would only be one winner.

During the module, one of the things we look at is how intelligence is measured. Intelligence is a theory, based on seven or eight abilities which, combined, make IQ. The research that fed into many of our theories of intelligence was done in the 1920s, and the subjects were usually white, middle class men. During the module, we look at these theories from a critical perspective. That critical discussion is so important. I allow students to unpack theories of intelligence and race or gender – first giving them the tools, then giving them the space for critical discussion.

Jermaine on: research and making a difference

Challenges faced by social workers and NHS staff

My research extends beyond identifying the mental health challenges faced by social workers and NHS staff at work, into practical ways to make a difference.

For social workers working within struggling Local Authorities, changes to the structure of their workplaces can mean that they have to take on more and more cases, and more and more work, every day.

“Our research showed that on average social workers work an extra day and a half on top of their standard five days a week – so they’re working six and a half days to seven days a week.”

On top of that there’s the emotional strain that comes alongside working with the most vulnerable people in the country.

Finding practical ways to make a difference

I interviewed one person who attempted to take his own life because he became so overwhelmed with the work and the workload. We hear about this kind of thing far too often among social workers and NHS staff.

We developed an app to help social workers understand when they’re starting to feel ill at work, and tell them what they can do about it. Through the app, users can contact an occupational therapist, who can talk to them and the organisation about what could be done to help keep that person in work.

“The idea behind these projects is not that we go in as academics and pretend that we’re the experts in the situation.”

NHS staff know what’s best for them. We spoke to staff from four NHS Trusts across the South West, and the improvements that they came up with were very similar to what we came up with for social workers.

Keeping people in work is important for three main reasons
  • It’s important for the individual social worker or NHS staff member’s own mental health.
  • We’ve seen how that then has an impact on the care that they provide to their service users (patients, children, the elderly, the differently abled and so on).
  • It has been shown that good work is better for you than not being in work at all. If we can keep people at work, it stops them from developing further mental health and wellbeing difficulties.

“One question that I always ask people when they talk about their research is… So what? What difference does your research make?”

Jermaine on: critical thinking

The first thing I say to students and something I’d say to everyone is: don’t take anything on face value. Don’t believe the first thing that you read or hear.

Sometimes, when people hear ‘critical’ they think it means something negative. But that’s not it. To me, it’s about not accepting everything. Questioning everything. It’s reading an article in The Guardian and The Daily Mail and not accepting either of them fully.

Jermaine on: managing the challenges of 2020

Humans are so complex; hence the module name: Individual Differences. Nothing works for everyone.

Mindfulness doesn’t work for everyone. Yoga doesn’t work for everyone. I think that there will always be exceptions to every rule, but there is something for everyone, and you have to find out for yourself what it is. You have to find that thing that will make you feel better.

Support from people around you is one of the biggest buffers in mental health. Friends, family, helplines – just talking about something can make it easier. Perhaps that’s the one thing that’s universal.

Three things you should know about me…

I’m the first person in my family to go to university

Although my dad went soon after me. I’m also the first person in my family to do a PhD, although I always wanted to be what I call a ‘proper doctor’ – a medical doctor. My sister has just started her medical degree.

I had a very working class upbringing

I was brought up by my Mum with my sister and my brother in a council estate in West London. Now, when I look back at things like the crime rate, I realise it probably wasn’t the best place to grow up, but I had loads and loads of friends and I loved it there.

I love sport

I used to play a lot of football but I had a lot of knee injuries so I stopped. Now, I train in MMA two to three times a week – socially distanced at the moment, of course. I think there’s a lot of intelligence in martial arts, and that's what I’m interested in. That and the competition.

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