My main research focus is on self-harm – which is when someone deliberately causes injury to themselves, by cutting, burning, biting, scratching or even bone breaking. A lot of my work has looked at things that people find uncomfortable, or society doesn’t like.
Essentially, I’m looking at how people talk about self-harm, but also how they look for support, get support and how support is provided. I’m doing two main studies, one on YouTube and one on a self-harm support website. The aim is to try and understand self-harm in a more grounded way, and to try and take this knowledge forward in the future, to work towards stopping self-harm.
I decided to be an academic in psychology when I was 16. I did an undergraduate degree in Human Psychology and an MRes Research Methods in Psychology, both at Aston University, and then worked as a research assistant at Wolverhampton for about 18 months. I was itching to do a PhD, when I heard there was a vacancy at The Open University. I recognised the name of the academic who would be my supervisor at the OU as they happened to be someone I had referenced many times in my work. I put in a research proposal, and found my way here.
When I first saw the University I was bowled over. Everybody was so friendly and it felt right immediately. I liked the size and feel of the campus. Having worked in a lot of city universities with big grey spaces, I especially liked all the green areas at the OU.
The facilities are great, academics are available to talk to, and support is available. There are groups and meetings and discussions you can tap into. The library is a tremendous resource – their journal subscriptions are the best I have ever come across.
My ambition is to finish my PhD and hopefully go into an academic job – maybe post-doctoral work, a lectureship or a fellowship – in health psychology. My interests tend to be in more contentious areas, things people do not always see as a bona fide illness, but as someone’s ‘own fault’. Hopefully in the short term, I’ll continue with the harm-based research because I think there’s a lot of scope to do some good work.
Phil Dyson, UK. PhD: Self-injury: a critical exploration