June 27, 2024

Department of Psychology rankings show excellence in the discipline

‘Dreamy’ research among work gaining acclaim for UCalgary
Keith Yeates
Keith Yeates UCalgary files

The Department of Psychology in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts has made the rankings of the world’s top university psychology departments.  

The department was ranked in the 126th to 150th worldwide category — seventh overall and second in research quality in Canada — in the Times Higher Education Rankings for psychology. It has also ranked between in the 100th and 150th worldwide category and fourth overall in Canada in the QS World University Rankings.

These rankings are particularly impressive given the small size of the department, as well as the young age of UCalgary compared to other universities that are rated, says psychology and neuroscience professor Dr. Keith Yeates, PhD. 

It's nice to see that, from a worldwide and particularly Canadian ranking, we’re really competitive,” he says.

Yeates, who studies how concussion affects children, has also appeared on Research.com’s annual global rankings. Yeates was one of eight professors in the Psychology department who was ranked in the psychology category; he also ranked in the neuroscience category, along with five other professors working in both the departments of Neuroscience and Psychology.

“It's always an honour to be recognized in various ways,” says Yeates. “As a neuropsychologist, my research does span the gamut from studies of genetics and neuroimaging out to studies of health policies and clinical pathways. So, I've been lucky to be able to do research that covers a broad spectrum.”

Beyond the rankings, the Psychology department currently has four Canada Research Chairs, three fellows in the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, five Killam Annual Professor awards, one Killam Memorial Emerging Leader Chair, four fellows of the Royal Society of Canada, and two members of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

Julia Kam

Julia Kam

Julia Kam

Professor researches ‘mind wandering’

One reason the department is well-regarded is research being done by Dr. Julia Kam, PhD, one of its assistant professors.

Kam studies “mind wandering,” better known as daydreaming. She is interested in how mind wandering impacts people’s interactions with the world and how thoughts during mind wandering impact how people feel. She is looking at what happens to the brain when we mind wander and if brain signals could predict when we are going to mind wander.

“A lot of studies have shown that individuals can spend up to half of their day mind wandering and yet, for an experience that happens to all of us and so regularly, we know very little about it,” Kam says. “So, from a scientific perspective, to me this is one of the great remaining mysteries of the mind.” 

A couple of theories to why we mind wander include that it’s a sign of creativity in action as, when this happens, we are more likely to come up with creative ideas. Another theory is that daydreaming lets your brain take a break, allowing it to recharge its batteries.

Aside from asking study participants to self-report mind wandering, which she says is the best strategy for studying it, Kam also uses an electroencephalogram (EEG) device to record participants’ brain waves.

Kam started working at UCalgary almost five years ago, and her work is just one example of the outstanding research that happens in the psychology department every day. Kam says collaborating is a big part in what makes the department so great. 

“I think everyone is very supportive in our department and so it really provides us with the opportunity to thrive and strive for excellence,” says Kam. 

Keith Yeates, PhD, is a professor in the Department of PsychologyFaculty of Arts, and is a member of Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute, the Owerko Centre for Neurodevelopment and Child Mental Health, and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine

Julia Kam, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts. She is also a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine. 

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