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Colin MacLeod Headshot

Emeritus Professor Colin MacLeod

School of Psychological Sciences

"Always choose the more interesting option."

After finishing a BSc in psychology at the University of Glasgow, Colin started his trek south. Subsequently completing doctoral training in cognitive psychology at Oxford University, and then clinical psychology training at the University of London’s Institute of Psychiatry, he undertook postdoctoral research in London for several years. The focus of this research was to bridge the two hitherto disparate areas of cognitive and clinical psychology, by illuminating the patterns of selective information processing that give rise to individual differences in emotional disposition and dysfunction. This proved to be the right things at the right time, and the research papers and book resulting from this seminal research program laid the foundations for much of the global work subsequently carried out in the now well-established “cognition and emotion” research field.

Fleeing Thatcher’s assault on the UK university sector

Colin completed his southern journey by taking a position at Murdoch University in 1987, then made the short hop north to UWA at the start of 1989. Since commencing his UWA position, his research has been continuously supported by the ARC (in addition to other grant agencies), through Discover grants, Linkage grants, a Professorial Fellowship, DORA and a Laureate Fellowship. He has been fortunate to work with many talented colleagues, including outstanding students and postdocs, and consequently their work is highly well-cited. Colin gets much of the credit, together with a variety of honours and awards, including numerous honorary fellowships and degrees, a Thomson Reuter Citation and Innovation Award, the Australian Psychological Society Distinguished Contribution to Science Award, and Fellowship of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia.

Across his career at UWA

Colin has provided teaching at all undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and remains heavily engaged in the supervision of graduate and undergraduate research students. My service contributions to UWA have included terms as Head of Department, Chair of Academic Board, and Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research & Innovation), and he has served as Chair or member on around 40 university-level committees and working parties. Of course, he also represents his discipline externally, for example by carrying extensive editorial responsibilities, organizing international conferences, and serving on the Boards of international research associations.

What were some of the most important aspects or experiences while at UWA?

Without question, the most important aspects of my long experience working at UWA all reflect the immense value of the academic fellowship we are privileged to enjoy at this University. This fellowship is manifest not only by the cooperative dedication to my particular discipline that unites academics, graduate researchers, students and professional colleagues within my own School of Psychological Science, but is also demonstrated by the collective commitment to the timeless value of academic endeavor that is shared by all members of our institution. Academic fellowship is the soul of a University and, while UWA may not be a large institution, it has enormous soul.

Where did you think you would end up, when you began your career?

When I began my career I had no idea where I would end up, and never spent a moment thinking about career goals. Whenever I’ve had to decide what to do next, I’ve simply chosen what has seemed to be the most interesting option at the time. Such short-term decision-making led to my central involvement in what, with hindsight, can now be viewed as some of the most important developments in my field, but it would be disingenuous to attribute this to prophetic vision. Nevertheless, perhaps a commitment to always choosing whichever next step is most interesting may increase the probability of one’s academic career converging with those intersections at which most important developments in one’s field are taking place.

What are some of your most significant achievements?

I could list research accomplishment, or indicators of academic recognition such as my current ARC Laureate Fellowship, or honours from Academies, Associations, Societies and other universities. However, the achievements I value most are those that will continue to shape the future beyond my own career. For nearly 30 years I have been privileged to make such contributions as an active member of the UWA Academic Board. Assisting early career researchers to develop successful careers is another example of this type of achievement. I’m proud of the fact that 7 of my postdocs have secured tenured academic positions in the past 4 years alone, and are now steering our discipline into the future. Likewise, when my supervision enables each of my talented PhD students to complete their doctoral training, I take great satisfaction from this significant achievement, knowing that it will deliver ongoing benefits across the decades ahead.

What has been the most interesting aspect of your career?

I’ve encountered way too many interesting things, across a career of almost 50 years, to list them all here. What I’m pleased to report, however, is that my career continues to deliver a fresh dose of new interest almost every day. Several times each week, a conversation with a research student, UWA colleague or external collaborator serves to generate new candidate hypotheses that excite our shared interest. We’re immensely fortunate as academics to have not only the opportunity, but indeed the professional obligation, to pursue our interests. Consequently, many of these conversations give rise to interesting new studies, that generate interesting new data, that help resolve some issues but also give rise to interesting new questions, that lead to interesting new discussions, that generate interesting new hypotheses. There’s been no shortage of interesting things in my past career, and I suspect this will hold true in the future too.

Where to from here?

Though the juncture at which an elderly fellow like myself stops receiving a salary is conventionally labeled retirement, I prefer to view this simply as a transition to the independent funding support of UniSuper. I will commence a 5 year Senior Honorary Research Fellowship the day after making this transition and (with the ongoing support of UniSuper), I will continue to pursue the interesting research programs that presently occupy my time. Next year, I anticipate recommencing travel to overseas laboratories, both to reconnect with the research teams of long-standing international collaborators, and to bed down newly developed collaborations with former UWA postdoctoral colleagues who have secured academic positions elsewhere. It’s also possible that, at some point in 2023, I might get out onto a course to see whether I’m still bad at golf.

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