Sue Fletcher-Watson

Sue Fletcher-Watson, Research Fellow
University of Edinburgh


What is your work/research topic? I mostly do research with and for the autism and autistic communities.  My focus at the moment is often on using novel technologies to support autistic learners to achieve their goals.

Fletcher-Watson_S_familySue Fletcher-Watson is a Research Fellow at University of Edinburgh in Psychology. Follow Sue on Twitter @suereviews

What was your best day of science? My biggest sense of achievement comes from providing an evidence-based answer to a question which really matters to people in the community. I’m much more proud of the app-wheel I created, which summarises the best apps I’ve reviewed for autistic users, than the published RCT (randomized controlled trial) which we did for one specific app.  The two are intertwined – it is the research experience that I feel gives me the right and the expertise to pass judgement on other apps. But it is the community output, in the form of app reviews, which I think really makes a difference.

What was your worst day in science? They happen all the time – the killers for me are rejected grant bids, especially when I put a lot of time and effort into the proposal. I hate having to email my colleagues and let them know the study we hoped for hasn’t been funded.  Also, now that I have more supervision responsibility, I have to deal with the fact that often bad news from funders has serious consequences for the career goals of my students and research assistants.

What did/are you study at university? Psychology, and then a masters in developmental psychopathology

What does your average day look like? My days feel pretty crowded nowadays.  I guess I’m transitioning at the moment from “early career” to “mid career” status.  In practical terms this means I have to manage multiple projects instead of being largely focused on one project (with maybe a couple of extra streams closely related to the main activity).

What are some of the highlights of your career? I was awarded a prize by the British Psychological Society last year.  It was a huge honour – especially looking at the list of past winners.  And I got so many kind messages from my colleagues when it was announced.


What profession did you think you would be when you were a kid? I tussled for a long time with whether I should go down a practitioner route (special education or clinical psychology) or a research route.  In the end, I felt like it was a choice between helping a small number of people a lot (as, for example, a teacher in a specialist school) or helping a large number of people (e.g. everyone with autism, forever) a teeny tiny amount. I made the right choice for my personality I think.

What do you do to relax outside of lab? I work hard to make time for myself and for my family.  I try to walk to or from work (which takes about an hour) – it is really good decompression time. Now that my salary is a bit more robust then it was, I treat myself to a massage every couple of months.

How did your family develop alongside your career?  My kids were born when I was just a few years out of my PhD. I took relatively little maternity leave (compared with what’s usual in the UK) and went back to work full time.  My husband chose to take a part-time position while I became the main breadwinner in our household.  The model continues to work really well for us.

Since having kids I have definitely become much more efficient about work and I have a lot of rules (which I try to stick to) about checking email outside office hours and so on.  I try to work hard and intensively in the office and switch off entirely at home. I always leave on time, but I normally come in early – I leave the house before the rest of my family wake up as I am most productive in the early morning.


Is there any one event or person who/that made you want to be a scientist? I was inspired to become a psychologist by my experiences on a holiday with children with learning disabilities which I volunteered on for the first time when I was seventeen. I was moved by the huge contributions they made to my life, and upset by the evidence of their many unmet needs. I wanted to do something in my life which would make their lives and the lives of their families smoother and happier.

Are there any women in STEM who are inspiring you right now, and why? Tons!  I follow a bunch of incredible academics on twitter whose dedication and expertise in their field is staggering, but who also find time to support junionr colleagues and to use their influence to comment on policy and practice. Examples would be @cathyabbotlab @utafrith and @deevybee

Why do you think it is important to have more women in STEM? Our population is half female.  Gender balance in any industry is a matter of absolute principle. Furthermore, we can’t possibly expect to produce scientific findings which are meaningful to women without female representation in the scientific community.  Finally, we hear a lot about how women can ‘get ahead’ by adopting male-typical traits like speaking up in meetings, not apologizing at the start of a talk etc.  However I think our male colleagues have a lot to learn from a more stereotypically-female approach to the work environment.  “Emotional labour” like consideration of the needs and perspectives of others (especially junior colleagues) and a nurturing approach to both people and projects can increase success and well-being in a research group.


What is your favorite desk snack? I have a fruit bowl on my desk, but a lot of the time it contains chocolate-covered rice cakes.
What would you listen to while writing? Nothing!  I need silence to write!
unnamedWhat is the strangest thing on your desk right now? I have a squishy winky-face stress ball, which was sent to me by a company which makes sensory toys for kids on the autism spectrum.
Organization nut, or curated chaos? Definitely organization nut.  I feel physically anxious if I let my various organizational tasks fall behind.  I hate being in a ‘responsive mode’ where I just deal with issues as they come in and work really hard to be proactively on top of my tasks.
Any other fun fact about you… I bought a stand-up desk a couple of years ago which has revolutionized my office experience.  I would recommend it to anyone.
What color socks are you wearing? Opaque grey tights.  They have a small hole half way up my shin which is a bit mysterious.