But can you really earn a living out of a fascination with psychology and a love for writing, as I hoped to do? I'd managed to find a few freelance opportunities, but not enough to form the foundation of a career. The weekends rolled by and I was beginning to think my dream job didn't really exist.
Then one day in 2003, around the time that millions marched on London against the Iraq war, I saw it. The British Psychological Society were seeking a part-time Editor/Writer for their new "e" Research Digest (the ad put the quaint "e" in inverted commas just like that, in reference to the Digest being an email newsletter). I couldn't believe my eyes.
"The role involves researching journal papers in psychology, and editing and re-writing these into a brief accurate and user-friendly format ..." it said.Well, here we are, eleven years on. I've written and edited 258 Research Digest fortnightly emails in that time, not missing a single issue except for planned breaks at Christmas. This means I've digested well over 1,500 journal articles! The fact is, my dream job quickly became a passion. The distinction between work and pleasure was blurred. The email subscriber counts took off, heart-warming feedback began to filter through, from teachers, journalists, lecturers, clinicians and students.
With this reception, it wasn't enough to restrict the Digest to a fortnightly email. In 2005, I created the Research Digest blog, allowing the freedom for images and the chance to reach new audiences. The blog started to break the US - Digest posts were getting picked up by The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Freakonomics, and many, many more. In 2010, the Digest won Best Psychology Blog in the inaugural Research Blogging Awards.
My aim throughout has been to strike a delicate balance - to showcase the science of psychology, to share my enthusiasm for the subject, but to also include a healthy dose of scepticism. I've strived to cover every corner of the discipline, from sighing rats to crying therapists, from hiding toddlers to neuroscience power failures.
I've added more features: Extras posts to list all those eye-catching studies I didn't have time to report on; Special Issue Spotter posts to keep readers up to speed; I helped launch the Occupational Digest; and in more recent years, introduced Feast posts summarising the best psychology resources and articles from the previous week. And I've invited others to the party. For example, in 2009, I had great fun inviting psychologists to reveal "one nagging thing they still don't understand about themselves." The evolution continues. I'm pleased to say that a new, colourful html version of the Digest email is just around the corner.
Back in 2003 I could never have imagined how the Digest would take off (last month the blog received over 300,000 page views. We've now got over 32,000 subscribers to the email, and over 38,000 followers on Twitter), nor where it would take me. Among other invites, I've given a talk in a pub basement in Manchester on "lessons for life from the Research Digest", and twice chatted on Radio 4 about items from the Digest.
But all good things must come to an end. While it's time for me to move on to new challenges, I'm delighted to announce that the British Psychological Society have agreed to replace my half-time editor position with a new full-time editor, maximising the chance to build on the Digest success so far. Adverts for the job have gone live today - you can find it in the New Scientist and in The Guardian and on the BPS website. Maybe today you will be walking along your equivalent of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, wondering what next to do with your career. If so, and if this opportunity is for you - good luck! (I'm also leaving my other half-time role as journalist on The Psychologist - adverts for this role, also being expanded to full-time, are here).
I want to thank sincerely all you Digest readers, everyone who has contributed to or commented on the blog, everyone who has supported the Digest, my manager and colleague Jon Sutton, and all those of you who have sent me such generous feedback. It really has been a pleasure. I will be hanging around and posting new material for another week or so. After that, please do stay in touch. I'm on Twitter @Psych_Writer, and other ways to reach me are on my website. Goodbye, and thanks for the ride!
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.