Anatolia Batruch: From Lausanne to Brisbane!

Anatolia is currently doing her PhD at the University of Lausanne under the supervision of Professor Butera. She spent her final PhD year (as a recipient of a mobility grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation) at SIGN working with Professor Jolanda Jetten. Anatolia’s work focuses on the psychosocial factors underlying the reproduction of social class inequalities.

Now that your PhD is shortly coming to an end, tell us about your research.

The objective of my Phd was to investigate experimentally how educational institutions contribute to the reproduction social class inequalities at school. In our studies, we asked participants to assess a dictation test (or to track) a student. We presented all students as having the same level of achievement but manipulated their social class background. We found that evaluators recreated the social class gap in their assessment or tracking decisions, even when achievement was kept constant. However, this artificial gap appeared only when evaluators were using selection practices. When participants were asked to focus on the educational role of assessment practices (i.e. helping students improve), then the gap reduced or disappeared. It seems that it is the institutional objective of selection which leads evaluators to recreate inequalities; which means that it is important not to focus only on individual bias, but to integrate it within the wider institutional context.

What attracted you to this topic of research?

It is an exciting time for a psychologist to study social class. Even though social class inequalities have been steadily growing for the last thirty years, it is only when the financial crisis hit that psychologists really started to pay attention to this issue. In only five years, it has really gone from being an unexplored topic to a very dynamic research area.

On a more personal level, when I was a student, I used to tutor young children. I noticed how tough school environments could be for children who were experiencing academic difficulties. It seemed to me that helping them academically was only one part of the equation. It was also important to convince them that they had a legitimate place in school and they had as much value and rights as other children. I guess it made me question whether schools were doing enough to actually put the principle of helping all students improve (vs. identifying the best) into practice.

What brought you to SIGN ?

I thought it would be a good idea to delve deeper into another theoretical perspective and add an interesting layer to my current research. So, I applied for a Swiss mobility doctoral grant. Since I had mostly worked on evaluator behavior, I was curious to switch to the experience of students. I came to SIGN because it is a great lab to study social class inequalities at school through a social identity lens.

What do you take back from your time at SIGN?

In general, I found that changing lab was a great learning experience. Not only do you work with other researchers but you experience other research and organisational cultures from the inside. Although we do have weekly lab seminars in Switzerland, when I came here I discovered a host of other activities such as writing retreats, open science discussion meetings, review clubs, ‘big question’ meetings and weekly departmental drinks. All of these were extremely helpful, especially for me as a visitor, and allowed me to quickly foster a sense of community. This culture of discussion and debate provides PhD students with an intellectual environment in which it is possible to explore other topics, exchange ideas, give our opinions and sharpen our critical thinking skills. Activities like these are probably the reasons why most of us wanted to become researchers in the first place. It reminded me that even when we have a busy schedule, it is important to carve out time to foray outside of our sometimes very specialized research areas. I hope I can implement a few of these meetings when I get back in Switzerland! On the whole, what I take back is the benefits of being part of a group that practices what it preaches. SIGN is a very supportive environment in which visitors feel welcomed and included, and in which everyone feels like—and is—part of an exciting and ever-expanding research community.