I was that well known misnomer a 'mature' student. I took my A-levels at night class. The fateful moment in me becoming a psychologist occurred in mid-October 1976. The History A-level course I was taking folded but, I was told, there was a buoyant new A-level in Psychology and I could join that if I wanted. I did – and found it just about the most interesting topic I had ever studied. But of even more impact on me were the laboratory experiments we had to do, I found I loved the logic of experimentation, the creativity of experimental design, and the practical side of actually running experiments. I found lab. classes to be the best educational experiences I'd ever had and the enjoyment of these has never much diminished for me (even though now I teach them!).
In 1977 I started a full time BSc in Psychology at University College London. The degree at UCL had a profound effect on me. It was a fantastic degree with a very strong experimental component. There were great courses on subliminal perception, cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, and even what we would now call social cognition. My 2nd-year tutor, later project supervisor, and organiser of a challenging Philosophy of Psychology 3rd-year option course, A.R.. Jonkhere was a powerful influence upon me and probably more than anyone else, made me think.
Graduating with a 2:1 I joined the Open University on an SSRC funded postgraduate scholarship (one of the last prior to Sir Keith Joseph changing the SSRC to the ESRC – an act of political meddling that still rankles with me). I had 3 great years there influenced by Marc Eisenstadt and his AI group and by Jon Slack, who was an early expert in what was then known as PDP, later to become 'connectionism'.
Towards the end of my PhD (which was awarded in Spring 1994) I got a Scientist Grade II post at the MRC's Applied Psychology Unit (APU), then directed by Alan Baddeley. At the time I had not even the slightest inkling of what a significant achievement this was. Although I knew a great deal about North American cognitive research into long term memory generally (and also into the newly developing area of autobiographical memory, the topic of my thesis), I knew virtually nothing and no-one from British Psychology (the work of Alan Baddeley and Phil Johnson-Laird being exceptions). What's more I had never heard of the APU! Thus, being interviewed by Alan Baddeley, Phil Johnson-Laird, Karalyn Patterson, Tim Shallice, Pat Wright and Richard Young was not as exhilarating or as intimidating as it might have been. At the APU I met many of famous names of the day from around the world and was strongly influenced by Phil Johnson-Laird, Alan Baddeley, Tim Shallice, Tony Marcel, and my colleague Debra Bekerian. Of equal importance were the group of post-doctoral researchers I 'grew up' with at the APU and of these Sue Gathercole was the most important.