Anna Bobak (@akbobak) is a Research Fellow in psychology based at Bournemouth University. Anna’s work focuses on face recognition, specifically in those who never forget a face: super-recognisers. Anna will be standing on a soapbox in Oxford on the 18th June where she’ll be talking about “Face recognition-a very special super power”.
SS: Anna, how did you get to your current position? Why did you choose a career in science?
AB: It all started relatively late. I went back to uni as a mature student at the age of 24, a couple of years after moving to the UK from Poland. I had worked in hospitality in the beautiful Scottish Highlands first, but when I moved to Edinburgh and immersed myself in the academic culture there (there are four universities and several colleges), I decided it was time to fill in an UCAS application and psychology was always going to be the obvious choice. I was very lucky to have dedicated and enthusiastic lecturers at Edinburgh Napier University who did nothing but inspire me to learn and develop my skills. One of them, the late Dr Robbie Cooper, took me to a meeting of the Scottish Face Research Group at University of Stirling, where I later did my MSc in Psychology of Faces. I then went on to study for a PhD at Bournemouth University which was about super-recognisers, what makes them special, and can we put their skills to good use, in national security and forensic assignments. I’m currently working as a Research Fellow at Bournemouth University, investigating the best ways to identify super-recogniser officers in Police ranks. Being a scientist is great; it’s a constant challenge of discovering new things and finding (at least some!) answers to important questions.
SS: What is the most exciting aspect of your research?
AB: I can’t decide on one, can I have two things? Faces are cool and face recognition is a very special super-power! While most of us tend to be relatively good at it, some people can’t recognise faces at all (they are face-blind), and some people seem to never forget a face (super-recognisers). Understanding what makes those ‘super-recognisers’ so special may not only help those who struggle by designing training programmes improving face recognition, but may also help to allocate the right people to the right places; jobs requiring great face recognition ability, such as passport matching, CCTV control and so on. I also get to meet many interesting people who are interested in face recognition, such as Police Officers and software developers. There is never a dull day!
SS: Why soapbox science?
AB: It’s a fantastic opportunity to talk about the research that has received little publicity to date. Also, I’m passionate about teaching and outreach, and if someone takes away one interesting “face fact” with them on the day, then I’ll see it as a job well done!
SS: What is the most challenging part of being a scientist?
AB: There are times when research, teaching, and administrative duties can get a bit much and you have to prioritise. For me, however, one class of curious and engaged students or a new, interesting project are enough to reassure me that I’m on the right career path!
SS: What would be your advice for aspiring female scientists?
AB: Do what feels right and follow your interests. A career in academia is hard work, but also extremely fulfilling, because you feel like you’re giving a lot back by advancing knowledge and teaching.