Rebecca Webster (née Orme)

  College: Van Mildert College
  Subject: Psychology
  Class of: 2013

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m Becca, I live in Skelmanthorpe, a small village just outside Huddersfield with my husband David (Natural Sciences, St Cuthbert’s Society, 2009-13). Following my undergraduate degree in Psychology at Durham University, I went to King’s College London to complete an MSc in Health Psychology. I stayed at King’s to complete my PhD on nocebo effects (the ‘evil twin’ of the better known placebo), and afterwards spent a number of years there as a postdoctoral researcher within the Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response. During this time, I also spent a year researching at the University of Oxford. I’ve recently taken up a lectureship position within the Department of Psychology at the University of Sheffield.

Why did you decide to study at Durham University?

I knew I wanted to pursue Psychology after studying it at A Level, and the Psychology course at Durham had and continues to have a reputation for one of the best in the country. As well as the overall excellent academic profile of Durham, there were a couple of things that set Durham apart from many other Universities for me. The first was the collegiate structure, allowing for that smaller community feel within a much larger University; and the second being its success in sport. As a keen gymnast and coach, I wanted to continue some kind of sport at University, and Durham offered a large array of excellent opportunities. Of course, the picturesque nature of the city as well as its rich heritage appealed as well.

What were your dreams/ambitions?

I was quite open to what my career might entail, and only firmed up my career ambitions towards the end of my time at Durham. Before this, two things were particularly important to me, firstly making a positive difference to as much of society as I can, and secondly, I am a big cat lover, particularly black cats. However, my husband is allergic to cats, so I have to focus on the former!

Was the degree relevant to the work you ended up doing?

It was directly relevant, as I now a lecturer on a similar course. My Psychology degree at Durham explored a variety of different areas of psychology, from neuropsychology to social psychology to everything in between. This allowed me to find out what I was better at, and perhaps more importantly what I enjoyed most, which enabled me to specialise more in the health and social side of psychology after leaving Durham.

What did you enjoy outside of studying at Durham?

I was unsure what to do at University sports and social wise, but given I had quite a good background in gymnastics I thought best to utilise this somehow. I came across the Durham Divas at the Freshers’ fair, and although sceptical thought I’d give cheerleading a go. It turns out cheerleading was much more about gymnastics and acro-gymnastics than I’d realised, and got to train with some great people, including our external coach who was a World Champion in acro-gymnastics. Throughout my time we won numerous regional and national titles! I really enjoyed my time cheerleading and allowed me to be Vice-Captain in my final year, and met some great people, many of whom will be friends for life.

Is there anything that you know now that you wish you’d known when graduating?

Have faith in yourself and take risks career wise. I always thought I needed to know everything about a task before starting it, but I will happily take on something now that I only know a small amount about, and have the courage to ask those more knowledgeable for their advice and support. The only way you can learn is by doing something new. And I feel I now have the confidence to continue to push myself further and further. Not only this, never underestimate the importance of your own ‘cheerleaders’. After leaving Durham and carving out my career, my family and friends’ belief in me were crucial in cheering me on. I don’t think I would have half as many achievements if it wasn’t for them.

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