Dr Evangelos Ntontis joins the School as a lecturer in psychology. We asked him about himself and his work.
What are your academic/psychology interests?
My undergraduate studies in Greece coincided with the rise of the neo-Nazi party “Golden Dawn”. During that period, I was attending a module on social psychology and language and was introduced to Mick Billig’s Banal Nationalism. This module sparked my interest in social psychology and at the same time changed my view of what social psychology was, could, and should have been forever, affecting my subsequent steps. Since then, I have conducted research in various research topics that largely revolve around social issues and collective behaviour, such as community behaviour in disasters, anti-abortion activism and the strategic misuse of psychology, riots and leadership, and the psychosocial factors that can affect wellbeing and mental health. In terms of more general academic interests, I enjoy reading things that aren’t social psychological. Anthropology, history, sociology, critical theory – if only days had more than 24 hours!
What aspects of your academic work do you find particularly enjoyable and/or rewarding?
The main reason I originally chose to follow this career path was because it allowed me to do research on issues that I found interesting. Moreover, I consider myself lucky to have always been surrounded by lovely and brilliant mentors and colleagues, which makes research collaborations with them a very pleasant experience. However, later on I discovered that I also enjoy teaching as well as mentoring and supervising. Publishing a research paper can feel rewarding in terms of personal achievements, but by mentoring and teaching you can sometimes change some people’s mindsets or help them progress with their lives and careers, and the feeling is priceless!
What position have you taken up in the School? What will that involve?
I took up a post of lecturer in psychology, which involves doing research and teaching as well as carrying out school-related administrative tasks. Before joining The Open University, I was a lecturer at the School of Psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University. My duties in that institution were almost the same.
How does it build on (or differ from) what you were doing previously?
What changes at The Open University is the mode of teaching, which can differ quite a lot compared to traditional universities. While traditional universities almost always engage in in-person teaching, The Open University delivers distance learning programmes. I am really excited about this though, as it will help me to build up my skillset and learn how to communicate teaching materials in much larger audiences and in many more different ways.
How do you see your research fit within the Open Psychology Research Centre (OPRC)?
I consider myself to be really lucky to join the School at the same time that the Open Psychology Research Centre opened. The Centre not only has two strands that speak directly to my research areas (Culture and Social Psychology and Psychology of Health and Wellbeing) but it also promotes research that crosses through disciplinary boundaries, focuses on social issues, and sees humans and their psychology and behaviours as driven by their histories and cultures. I mainly work on topics related to collective behaviour and social movements, and lately I have started working on how the environments and social/political/economic systems that we occupy can affect our wellbeing. All of these topics require some engagement not only with what is inside our heads but also with the social context, history, social relations and how these change over time and are affected by power. The multidisciplinary and pragmatic character of the Centre and its members means that I can see myself creating new collaborations as well as helping to shape new pathways of research. Also, I was always driven by topics and their social relevance rather than by a specific method. I don’t see myself as an “experimental psychologist” or as a “qualitative psychologist”, but I choose whichever method makes the most sense to use in order to examine a social problem from a particular angle. Thus, I think that the multidisciplinary and multimethod character of the Centre will be beneficial in my academic development.
What advice would you give to psychology students who would like to follow a similar career path?
The advice that I was given by my mentor when I told him that I was interested in research and wanted to pursue postgraduate studies was to learn research methods. Knowledge of methods is a core component of carrying out research in psychology and even if you are not interested in a specific method (and I do appreciate that many people are terrified of statistics!), knowing at least the basics allows you to be able to read, understand, and critique published papers. Most importantly though, knowing research methods allows you to think creatively about various issues and how to address them. Following my mentor’s advice, I did an MSc in Psychological Research methods. In the end he was right as the skills that I acquired from the MSc definitely played a role in helping me be accepted for a PhD, a project that required both qualitative and quantitative skills to address how communities respond to flooding. The other piece of advice that I have for people that want to enter academia is to make friends – doing a PhD can be an isolating and stressful experience so having a network of support can be incredibly helpful!
What are your interests outside work?
Mainly photography – walking around a city centre or in nature with a camera can give you a very different perspectives on both people and things! Also skiing (which unfortunately is quite tricky to find in England) as well as bouldering (do try it if you haven’t!).
Photo credit: Dr Evangelos Ntontis at the University of Sussex showcasing a study on how communities respond to flooding during the direct aftermath of the incident (2017).