Understanding How Emotions Function to Enhance Wellbeing

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  • Name: Jenny Groarke
  • Number of lab members or colleagues (excluding PI): I’m one of 14 members of the Centre for Improving Health-Related Quality of Life.
  • Location: School of Psychology, Queen’s University Belfast
  • Graduation Date: Ph.D. in 2017
    1. H index: 6
    2. Grants: I was awarded a PhD scholarship from the Irish Research Council for my own doctoral studies, and PhD studentships from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs for work I am supervising (UK).
    3. Success of your lab’s members: You can find out more about our lab members here: https://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/psy/Research/OurResearchThemes/hce/cihrqol/
    4. Twitter followers: 1,113

Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

I am a Lecturer in Health Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast. I’m a chartered psychologist (CPsychol) and full member of the British Psychological Society Division of Health Psychology. I graduated from the National University of Ireland, Galway with a BA in Psychological Studies and Sociological and Political Science in 2006, and a Higher Diploma in Psychology (conversion) in 2007. After graduating, I worked as a teaching assistant at the School of Psychology NUI, Galway, and research assistant on the Challenging Breast Cancer Together project. In 2012 I was awarded an Irish Research Council Postgraduate Scholarship for my PhD in Psychology examining the functions and effects of music listening in adolescence versus older adulthood. Following my PhD, I was a postdoctoral researcher with the mHealth (mobile health) Research Group at NUI, Galway on an Irish Cancer Society funded project designing and evaluating an intervention using mobile technology and behavior change techniques to improve health behavior among cancer survivors.

The common theme running through my research is understanding emotions and improving people’s wellbeing. The research projects I’ve been involved with have focused on how people regulate their emotions in everyday life, mainly through music, or how they emotionally respond to significant life events, such as a cancer diagnosis. Recently, I’ve been exploring the emotional experience of loneliness during the COVID-19 lockdown.

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

After graduating with a degree in psychology I was very tired, so I went travelling for a couple of years and had a lot of rest and some big adventures. When I came home I worked as a research and teaching assistant at my alma mater while also working in bars and nightclubs. I started getting back into singing and making music, after being very involved in performing arts throughout my childhood and teenage years. After a couple of years I started to think about returning to university, and what I might like to investigate. I was surrounded by music and musicians, and I wondered about the different ways people use music in their everyday lives. My first major independent research project was my PhD and it looked at the different functions music listening serves and the effects it has on people at different stages of life – namely adolescence and older adulthood. I found that music serves a very important emotional function in adolescence, and supports stress and anxiety reduction for both younger and older people.

How is everything going nowadays, and what are your plans for the future?

On account of the challenges of collecting data with COVID19 restrictions, much of my research plans have been put on hold. I’ve still managed to produce some work during the lockdown, and I hope our studies on the mental health impact of the pandemic will be impactful.

My research is mainly about how people can manage and maintain their emotional wellbeing, even under difficult and stressful conditions. Communicating this research outside academia is really important to me, so I will continue to engage with the media to promote the health and wellbeing of the public.

Through your science, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Certainly the critical thinking skills I’ve developed along the way have helped me to solve problems in my work, and deal with interpersonal conflicts in my daily life. All of the health psychology knowledge I’ve amassed has not helped me in adopting a healthier lifestyle at all!

The most helpful things I’ve learned have not been through my science, but through my art. Through making and consuming art I’ve had insights about my work I don’t think I would have had otherwise. My experiences making music in a group taught me the importance of being a supportive team member, and helped me to form healthy research collaborations. Performing music also helped me to hone my skills in presenting my research ideas in a compelling and engaging way for different audiences (students, colleagues, the public).

What is your Morning Routine like (First 2 hours of your day)?

My mornings are generally pretty terrible. I try to wake up around 9am and I don’t set any meetings for the first couple of hours so I can adjust, reluctantly, to being awake. I drink a couple of coffees while checking email, twitter, and catching up with my colleagues over text.

I am a true night owl – have been all my life. For years I tried to indoctrinate myself into the cult of mornings, but it never worked. I would always slip back to my old ways of staying up late and sleeping in. I think a lot of people incorrectly equate early mornings with productivity. I’ve learned to accept that I’m more productive when I work with, rather than against, my natural sleep cycle. I tend to work until 6 or 7 in the evening, and if I get a bright idea late outside of my ‘work hours’ I’m not adverse to a creative burst of late night writing.

How does a typical day look for you?

I don’t think there is a typical day – my work hours and the number of items on my to-do list vary.  My days involve a lot of email, back and forth with my collaborators, students, colleagues. Most days I have classes to deliver. I’m teaching a lot of new courses, so these days I’m spending a lot of time developing new teaching materials. I usually have a couple of meetings, sometimes about research collaborations, sometimes about school administration. I try to write everyday. I aim to always have a paper in review and a paper in preparation – so I always have something to write.

What platform/tools do you use for your professional life? 

I couldn’t have survived without Scrivener for writing my PhD thesis. It’s great for extensive writing projects. These days I use MS Word, it’s not as elegant but it’s sufficient for the shorter papers I’m working on (4-6,000 words). I use Zotero as my reference manager. It’s open source, has a great word plugin and chrome extension. I’ve wasted so much of my life reformatting reference lists manually for different journals, so this tool saves me a lot of time. I also use Google Scholar a lot, and the chrome extension.

What secondary software and apps do you use daily?

I love reading and I’m ashamed to admit I use a Kindle a lot these days. I much prefer the feel of a real book and supporting local independent bookshops. I’m just reading voraciously these past few months and the Kindle has its charms.

How do you stay up to date on News and resources?

Honestly, Twitter. I follow a lot of amazing academics who are always generous sharing their latest research. I have google alerts for a couple of people whose research is always relevant for my own. I consciously try not to take in too much world news these days, it often leaves me feeling despondent.

What have been the most influential podcasts, or other resources?

I think Oliver Sacks writing is totally aspirational (e.g., Musicophilia). I also really admire the science communication of David Nutt (e.g., Drugs without the hot air). In a perfect world, my writing would be somewhere in the middle, the literary artistic flair of Sacks and the no-nonsense clarity and intellectual power of Nutt.

I listen to music to switch off at the end of a work day – indeed my research supports the idea that listening to your preferred music is a highly effective stress management technique. When my mind is wandering I often come up with new ideas for my work. I occasionally listen to background music if I’m working on something, but it needs to be free of lyrics and unfamiliar.

What tools do you use in your personal life? Cook? Self Care? Hobbies?

I like to cook. I also like to be cooked for. If I’ve had a tough day I’m definitely ordering takeout.

Although I’ve designed effective health behaviour change interventions using mobile technology – I don’t necessarily follow my own advice. I do try to get out for a walk in the fresh air every day, but I wouldn’t say I’m particularly physically active. My idea of self-care is doing the things I enjoy – relaxing with my friends, having good conversations, watching movies, playing music and singing with others. I definitely make a lot of time for play, and that helps to sustain my work. I’m a work to live rather than live to work person.

Advice for other scientists who want to get started or are just starting out?

Be kind to yourself. I see a lot of new researchers being so hard on themselves. Developing as a researcher is a process that unfurls over years, often unconsciously, and so it’s hard to see the progress you are making. Be curious. At the earlier stages of your research career you have the time and the freedom to focus on one project only and to read widely around that topic. I wish I had appreciated that more!

Thank you very much for your time, Jenny. Where can we go to learn more?

Twitter @JennyMGroarke

Google Scholar profile: https://scholar.google.co.uk/citations?user=EJNYVLwAAAAJ&hl=en

University profile: https://pure.qub.ac.uk/en/persons/jenny-groarke

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Understanding How Emotions Function to Enhance Wellbeing
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