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Emeritus Professor Murray Maybery

School of Psychological Sciences

"If I could go back and give my student-self one piece of advice, as an undergraduate, this would be to be less critical of myself, which would hopefully reduce anxiety and lead to less avoidance of study."

Born in 1954 and growing up on a farm in Western Victoria, I was the first in the family to finish high school. I then enrolled in a BSc at Melbourne University, with Psychology quickly becoming the focus. After finishing Honours, with a project on Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, I shifted to Brisbane to be close to my future wife, Denise McGregor. The Honours project helped me score a research-assistant job at the University of Queensland, working on a project led by Graeme Halford, a leading international researcher on cognitive development. While continuing to work with Graeme on developmental projects, I completed a PhD part-time on adult reasoning. After a brief teaching stint at UQ, I took up a lectureship at UWA in 1989.

Our two daughters, Ellen and Tessa, were born in 1989 and 1993. Over the first decade at UWA my research focused primarily on working memory in adults and children, with collaborations at UWA and Cardiff University contributing to a series of successful ARC grants. In the late 90s I developed a second stream of research on autism, collaborating with UWA and Oxford researchers. From then till now, autism research has blossomed, funded by ARC and NHMRC and supported by invaluable collaborations with Telethon Kids Institute researchers. Significant other contributions to UWA were to serve as Head of Psychological Science for 5 years (2012-2016) and to introduce the Graduate Certificate in Autism Diagnosis, which continues to train diagnosticians across the country.

Most important experiences while at UWA

The most striking feature of my time at UWA has been the high level of collegiality in the School of Psychological Science, which was evident when I first arrived in 1989, with senior staff immediately welcoming me into their research networks. Collaboration has been a priority in the School and I’ve been blessed to work with so many wonderful UWA researchers, both staff and postgraduate students, and numbering over 100.

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

My career path has been haphazard and largely unplanned. Leaving farm life to start a BSc at Melbourne University, I chose psychology as a first-year subject knowing nothing about it. But the topic proved intriguing, with developmental and cognitive psychology the favoured sub-disciplines. After completing honours in psychology, I still had no clear career plan, and considered any jobs in Melbourne or Brisbane (where my wife-to-be was studying). Fortuitously I took an RA job at Queensland University, working with the brilliant cognitive developmentalist, Graeme Halford. While continuing to work with Graeme, I completed a PhD on adult reasoning. Again fortuitously, one of my examiners was from UWA, which tilted me towards taking a lectureship here. Research on child and adult cognition flourished at UWA over the next decade. But then serendipity struck again: Supervising an honours student investigating cognition in autistic children led my research to gravitate increasingly towards autism over the last two decades.

What are some of your most significant achievements?

Perhaps the most significant achievements have been in mapping out weaknesses and also strengths in cognition in autism and demonstrating the consistency of this cognitive profile across the autism continuum. Demonstrating the separability of different dimensions of autistic traits and developing a comprehensive tool to assess these traits in adults are other significant accomplishments.

What has been the most interesting aspect of your career?

The most interesting work was the investigation of facial morphology in autistic children and their first-degree relatives. This work involved collaborators with expertise in the analysis of facial structure using machine learning. We established that autistic girls and boys exhibit more masculine faces than their allistic counterparts, with parents and siblings of autistic children showing similar differences in facial structure.

Where are you planning to go from here? Are there new interests you are looking to get involved in?

The next couple of years will hopefully see all 11 of my current PhD students complete successful theses, continuing our work on autism. Separately, I have revived a collaboration with a Spanish researcher and resumed work in a couple of areas of adult cognition. With contributions also from a UWA postdoc, we have completed work on auditory distraction and are currently analyzing data sets on egocentric and geographic representations of space.

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