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It’s like music to my ears – Susan Maury joins Real Scientists! – Real Scientists

It’s like music to my ears – Susan Maury joins Real Scientists!

Research assistants 2 0513 (1)We’re excited to welcome Susan Maury (@SusanMaury) to Real Scientists! Susan is a part-time PhD student in psychology looking at the possible socio-emotional benefits of group singing, and part-time research and policy specialist in the gendered disadvantage of women and girls with a social services agency, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand. Previously, she spent 20 years living and working in Africa in the international development sector. She holds a Masters of Science in Organisational Behaviour from the University of London and a Bachelor’s degree in English/ writing concentration from Western Washington University.  Susan was born and raised in Seattle and still consider it home base, although she currently live with her family in Melbourne, Australia. We asked Susan our usual questions about science, life, and everything, and you can read her responses below:

I came to music psychology in a very roundabout way. I started with a bachelor’s in English/writing concentration, then moved to Africa where I worked in the international development sector for many years, mostly in planning and evaluation, because it turned out I had a knack for it. This is where I first learned to love evidence and put it to good use. I earned an MSc in Organisational Behaviour from the University of London, where I focused on decision-making processes. This topic led me into music psychology.

My initial proposal was to study the effects of music on insight – aha moments. Unfortunately I ran a pilot and found no effect so I had to drop this angle from my research. But there are still fascinating questions to chip away at: why do humans make music? What purpose does it serve? Why do we react to it so strongly? I enjoy teasing out what’s going on in our relationship with music and why is so compelling. As I am looking at the overlays with well-being there is also plenty that I learn that has application in everyday life as well.

I am examining human musicality through an evolutionary lens, and as such I am particularly interested in everyday, untrained music creation – particularly singing, as it is the most ancient form of music creation and nearly everyone can sing. My research has two components: Tracking short-term effects pre- and post-session on mood, energy levels and sense of group cohesion, and longer-term effects that may influence overall well-being – being a more positive person generally, for example, or being more sociable.

Music is central to the human experience.

It has been present in every known culture around the world and throughout history. It takes a lot of cognitive resources to create or even listen to music, so why do we do it? These are fundamental questions about our humanity. Perhaps a more critical question is: What are we giving up when we don’t actively create music? There was a time when everyone sang, but in Western cultures at least we often leave it to the professionals.

As a part-time PhD candidate, I also work part-time, as a research and policy specialist in social policy with Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand. This is multi-faceted and fascinating work and I will include a day of tweets about this work as well, as an example of how science takes place outside of university settings.

I read a lot to look after that English major who still resides within! I also jog and prioritise spending time with the lovely family – spouse and two boys. There are also a fair number of volunteer hours including running a study group with our church and organising volunteers for a free dinner service in our community. I don’t have a lot of time off since the PhD is relentless and I am fitting it in around other obligations! But I do keep my weekends clear. We have lived in Melbourne for 7 years now, but we are still exploring the area and spend weekends in the city, poking around museums or festivals, or hiking in the wilderness. An ideal day off would also include dinner out. : )

Please welcome Susan to Real Scientists!




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