Dr Miroslav Sirota is a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex (UK). He mostly conducts experimental, quantitative research and teaches statistics to undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as topics in judgment and decision-making. His lab is part of the Psychological Science Accelerator, an international network of psychological laboratories across the world aiming to conduct large-scale pre-registered studies. He is leading Essex University’s Open Science Working Group, which is part of The UK Network of Open Science Working Groups aiming to implement open science practices in their own research. He currently serves on the editorial boards of Studia Psychologica and Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.
How did you embark on an academic career? What prompted this path? Funnily enough, I started my academic career by accident. After completing my master’s degree, I applied for a couple of non-academic positions but I was not successful. Fortunately, one of my roommates worked at the newly formed Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences at the Comenius University in Bratislava and she mentioned that they were looking for new teaching staff. I applied for the job there and got it. I mostly taught a first-year introductory psychology module and helped with the delivery of statistics and research methods classes. This caused me to stay in academia and go on to complete a PhD since it was a requirement of the position. I was lucky to have a great supervisor, Dr Alojz Ritomsky, who supported me and helped me to develop a good grasp of research methods and statistics.
What have been the highlights of your career so far? From an academic career point of view, there are a few highlights that spring to my mind.
One of the highlights was getting a permanent position, and then tenure, at a research-intensive university such as the University of Essex. Another highlight of my career is my contribution to open science in my department. I have introduced the “Open Science Facilitator” role, which basically means that I encourage and help my colleagues and their students to implement open science in their research and teaching. As part of that role, I am also leading the University of Essex Open Science Working Group that has currently almost thirty members. We organise training and meetings to support the members in producing informative research following open science principles.
Can you tell us about any career challenges and how you have you tackled these? The most challenging was probably to transition from one academic system to another. When I moved from Slovakia to the United Kingdom I was required to adjust to the different targets that are required and valued in the UK system. Basically, in my field, priority is placed mainly on quartile one journal papers and grants, not so much book chapters and conference proceedings. Hence, nowadays, I mostly focus on those.
Can you tell us a bit about your role and experiences in ISCHP? I think I first heard of the International Society of Critical Health Psychology from Prof Wendy Stainton Rogers when I was participating in one of the workshops on academic writing she and Prof Marcia Worrell held for early career researchers in Slovakia. I have never been to ISCHP before, as I do quantitative research, so this one will be my first attendance. But I have heard only great things about the conference and the society from colleagues and friends who belong to the society and I am looking forward to it.
What are you currently working on? I am currently working on several projects (too many, really), ranging across different topics of judgment and decision-making, particularly on risk communication, statistical reasoning and medical decision-making. I am particularly excited about two lines of research. First, I am trying to understand why people don’t correct the errors they identify (or somebody else did) in their reasoning and judgments. People may notice they make a mistake and that they could possibly correct it, but they actually do not always do so. I believe that a rational mechanism could explain this. Second, I am interested in antibiotic expectations and prescriptions within primary care. Specifically, I study why people expect antibiotics in situations of diagnostic certainty (e.g., they know they have a viral infection) and diagnostic uncertainty and how the perceived costs and benefits of taking antibiotics influences their decision-making.
Who/what inspires you and why? All good and rigorous science inspires me. There are so many good researchers who are trying to conduct informative research rather than just add publications to a list, including the research of my spouse and my PhD students. I would especially like to acknowledge some the early career researchers who are involved in new large-scale collaborative projects such as the Psychological Science Accelerator for their enthusiasm and desire to conduct high-quality research and also those more senior academics, who are the new leaders of the movement, such as Prof Chris Chambers, for their intellectual honesty and drive to change things for the better.
What is the piece of work you would like to accomplish and be remembered for by the academic community? I hope that my research, open science advocacy and service to the local academic community can contribute to psychological science. I would like to further contribute to our understanding of the public’s values and behaviour concerning antibiotics.