A Graduate's Life Scientific at TRL

A day in the life of Psychology graduate Joseph Forrest

Published on 21 July 2022

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I’m a Psychology graduate, and have been working at TRL for exactly nine months. As part of the graduate development programme we rotate between departments. Currently I’m working for the Human Factors & Behaviours Team. There isn’t really a “typical” day at TRL, so I’ll give you a rundown of just one day. At 8:55am on Monday morning I saunter through the revolving front door, cheerily wave good morning to our receptionists, and find somewhere to set up for the day. Since Covid-19, TRL is now operating a hybrid-working policy so we “hot-desk” when we’re in the office. After greeting a few fellow graduates and setting up my computer I tune into a weekly broadcast from the Leadership Team where we hear about how the company is doing financially, what recent projects we have won and who has been rewarded for their contribution to our success. The broadcast is packed with good news so there is an upbeat atmosphere in the office.

At 9.30 it’s hands-on: I am running a study using TRL’s state-of-the-art driving simulation suite suite. It’s my job to power up the computers and projectors and get it ready for our first trial participant. The simulation suite is based around a Peugeot 3008 (modified so that when driven, everything feels exactly like driving it, but the vehicle goes nowhere). The driver has a 300-degree field-of-view and we have capability to project into that view pretty much any road type or feature. The simulator can be run in manual, automatic or driverless mode but today we’re assessing how people drive a manual car in the rain, and how they respond to different traffic signs. The participant is friendly and the trial runs smoothly.

When I get back to my desk, I see a message from one of my colleagues who is asking for assistance in using a computer tablet to let participants complete a questionnaire for his study. As he is in the office I go over and chat to him about the study that he wants to run. Mission accomplished, but whilst the clock ticks around to midday there is one final thing I need to do before lunch. One of my objectives during my first year at TRL is to improve my standard of presentation skills. So at 12:00 another graduate and I head over to one of our many meeting rooms to greet a few of TRL’s latest recruits, and deliver a presentation about the company history, values and projects. These presentations are a relaxed way of getting to know the new starters and hone our presentation technique at the same time. TRL has an intake of graduates en bloc once a year but we have new people joining all the time and everyone gets the same introduction to the business.

There are 15 graduates in our cohort and over the past 8 months we’ve got to know each other well with regular socials. Today there a few other graduates in the office and we go to lunch together. At the canteen I am greeted with a difficult choice – Spaghetti bolognese or Olive and tomato pasta.

Lunch over, I prepare to interview two highways managers about how they set and manage speed limits on their networks. It’s for a study into the best ways of setting and evaluating speed limits. My psychology training comes in handy for running a qualitative interview and linking in relevant theories. The interview complete, I write up my notes, and get started on my final job for the day. For a separate project we are assessing the effect of raising variable speed limits on safety at a number of locations. My task it to look at some specific locations and assess whether a speed increase would pose any additional safety risk. Fortunately we can look at the sites online, which saves our team travelling around the country. At this point I realise that one of the locations I’m looking at is frequented by my parents, and I realise that the results of this work will impact on the safety of people I know, as well as thousands of strangers using those roads. It’s a peculiar (but good) feeling to connect an academic activity with my parents’ wellbeing. Suddenly the Killed and Seriously Injured statistics that everyone at TRL talks about all the time feel very personal. I concentrate on the data and the task to make sure I do it right.

As five o’clock approaches, I reflect that it’s been a rather productive day. The fellow graduates and I typically socialise after work, and today is no different. I’m told that TRL used to have its own social club called the Highwayman. We like to think we are keeping an old tradition alive by stopping for just one drink at a local pub, before we head our own ways home, most of us by car or public transport.

About the author

After completing an undergraduate and postgraduate degree in psychology (both at the University of Reading), Joe joined TRL in November 2021 as a graduate behavioural researcher. Among Joe’s interests are human factors and social psychology. After a hard day’s work you can typically find him playing football or darts, or going for walks in the country.

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