Why is a psychologist working with trains?

Posted in: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences

Writing a blog has never been something which particularly appealed to me as I didn’t quite see the point. However, now, over two months into my Industrial Placement the point has become a little more clear to me – it is the perfect platform to document my experiences and what I have learnt from them. And so that is why I have decided to write a blog for the next year. I will talk about the challenges and successes experienced on my placement and reflect on what I have been doing as a tool to not only monitor my own development, but also for use by others having similar experiences.


I suppose a good place to start is introductions. My name is Harvey and I am a third-year psychology student at the University of Bath. Although I have an interest in a wide range of psychological topics, my main area of interest is Occupational psychology, sometimes alternatively known as Industrial Psychology. For those who don’t know, this involves applying psychological research and theory to the realms of work. When it came to looking for a placement this was the area I was looking in.

Getting a placement

The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) offer a placement within their Human Factors (HF) team. Now you may be thinking to yourself, what on earth do trains have to do with psychology? And quickly coming up with the answer, not very much. But don’t let first impressions deceive you. Not really understanding what HF was I was intrigued to learn a little more and so opened the placement advert. After some initial confusion and a little research (and I really don’t mean very much), it became apparent that HF was closely knit to Occupational Psychology, and that often Occupational Psychologists make up HF teams. HF is the study of how people interact physically and psychologically with their environment or items within that environment. In its entirety HF immediately appealed to me and was something I was desperate to find out more about. Fast forward nine months and I am sitting here as an HF Research Assistant writing this blog, taking part in just that learning.

This seems like a good time to give my first tip:

  1. Don’t limit your placement choices. It can be very easy to become set on what you want to do during your placement year. However, a vast majority of the placements offered are to a very high standard and so if you come across something which sparks your interest, just go for it! When again will you get the opportunity to test run a job for year?

On reflection, I was definitely that person who had gone into the placement process knowing exactly what I wanted. If I judged where I am now against those feelings I would not be very happy. But my intrigue allowed me to break the mould I was set in: and for the better. I am now in a job which I love despite being something I knew little about before. Being closed minded will reduce the number of opportunities open to you, and so it is important to give everything a chance.

My Role

This is all very well, but what exactly is my placement? As I have said above, I am working as a HF Research Assistant at RSSB. I sit within the HF team, a group of people made up of occupational psychologists and ergonomists. In my day-to-day job I provide (pretty much as the job title suggests) research assistance for projects currently being conducted in the department. As a snapshot this has so far included the following:

  • User experience testing on a new app developed by RSSB to house all of the standards they produce (it is actually called the Rulebook app, but without getting all nerdy about trains it is easier to think of it as the above description).
  • Conducting workshops with train passengers and rail dispatch staff about their understanding of platform safety markings. And yes, by that I do mean the yellow line. This has been a really interesting project and provided me with great research experience.
  • Working to classify HF present in SPADs (a railway incident where a train goes past a stop signal – similar to a car driving through a red traffic light).
  • Writing a conference report for a conference run by the RSSB HF team in November.

Although minimal detail, hopefully it is clear that my role is incredibly varied and has given me the opportunity to get involved in lots of different projects which have tapped into lots of different content and skills learnt at university. In a later blog I will go into some more detail about some of these projects and what I have learnt from them. In my next blog however, I will be discussing the ‘Big Move’ – that is my move from a small seaside town in Devon to London!

Posted in: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences


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