Professor Elizabeth Kuipers
Professor of Clinical Psychology and IOPPN Athena SWAN lead
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
Psychology was a new discipline in the 1970’s and I wanted to try a new area that I had not encountered before. I found the clinical work, which was also in its infancy, very interesting, as it seemed to have the potential for new ideas and new findings, while helping people who were stigmatised, marginalised and in distress
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
I have worked in psychosis for most of my career. It is one of the most severe mental health problems and in the 1970’s had almost no psychological therapies available, a lot of pessimism about outcomes, and little psychological understanding of its distressing symptoms and what was maintaining them. It seemed to be an area where one might make a difference. With colleagues, I was initially interested in developing and evaluating interventions to help the whole family cope with the problems and subsequently in developing and evaluating individual cognitive behavioural interventions.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
I have chaired two NICE guideline updates, for Schizophrenia in 2009 and for Psychosis and Schizophrenia in 2014, and in 2013 received 2 lifetime achievement awards, from WISE (women in science and engineering) and the British Psychological Society.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
I have always been very supported by my peers, who have worked with me and been inspiring, particularly Professer Philippa Garety and our colleagues in the Psychosis Research Partnership which we formed in the early 1990’s.
What if any support has most benefited you in your career?
My first husband, Joop Kuipers, was particularly supportive of me continuing my career, and stayed at home to look after our first child- which was so unusual at the time it was reported in a local newspaper. My second husband Professor Paul Bebbington has also always been extremely supportive. My colleagues at work have always been there to help when needed.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable / rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
I have worked at the IOP, now the IOPPN, for many years, and one of the most enjoyable aspects has been that the job continues to change and develop- from being mainly a clinician doing some research, working in the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, to mainly being an academic clinical researcher. I have also had the opportunity to be the first woman head of the department of Psychology at KCL. The combination of clinical and academic work has been especially rewarding, as patients are always presenting new challenges to be understood.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
I have always found administration perfectly straightforward, and something that can be done relatively easily while also thinking about new research ideas, in the background. The clinical teaching has always followed on from the research and good students and clinical trainees bring their own ideas and solutions. I do not let things pile up, and prefer to deal with problems as early as possible, with an ‘open door’ policy as head of department. I have also learnt, I hope, to apologise and to learn from my mistakes, so as not to keep repeating them.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
I have three grown-up children, and now 5 grandchildren and 1 step-grandchild. Support from my 2 husbands- see above- has been crucial. We are now a team of 6 grandparents which works really well. I had to learn to work really efficiently while at work, and then to focus on the children when at home. But I am grateful that having ‘another life’ meant that there was always a broader perspective, even when work was exhausting. I now know that managing 80% or even 60% some days is more than enough, while delegating and working in teams is essential.
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
The importance of persistence, when things are difficult. That ‘good enough’ is ok. That the purpose of research is to find out that you are wrong, and need try something new.