Teacher of the week: Kerry Sherman

Kerry Sherman is an Associate Professor in the Centre for Emotional Health, Department of Psychology

My research interest is broadly within behavioural medicine, with a specific focus on psycho-oncology, the application of psychology to understanding the cancer experience and in helping people cope with a cancer diagnosis. I started at Macquarie University initially as an Associate Lecturer whilst concurrently enrolled in my PhD.  After a three-year stint in the US at a major cancer centre as a postdoctoral fellow, I returned to Macquarie in 2003 where I set up a new undergraduate unit in health psychology.

My current research projects include implementing an online surgical decision support website for breast cancer patients, investigating how we can use self-compassion to help people through the cancer experience, educating women with lymphoedema (a cancer treatment side effect) to have better self-care, and several projects to identify factors associated with adjustment and wellbeing in cancer patients, new parents and individuals with chronic illness.

What are your main teaching commitments?

I am the Convenor of an undergraduate unit in health psychology, and co-convene a health psychology unit at the honours level. My teaching is exclusively within the domains of health psychology and behavioural medicine across an eclectic range of topics. My main teaching areas include communication within health contexts and media influences on health behaviours, health promotion, health inequalities, coping and adjustment to physical illness (e.g., changes in physical appearance, impacts on close relationships, long-term cancer survivorship issues) and psychological interventions to address these diverse issues.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a university teacher?

As an applied discipline, it is critical that students of health psychology are able to learn the theoretical and evidence-based aspects while at the same time being able to extrapolate these concepts to real-world applications. Striking a balance between the theoretical and practical aspects of health psychology is the greatest challenge of effectively teaching in this area, particularly at the undergraduate level with large class sizes and limited resources.

What has helped you improve your teaching most and why?

iLearn and Moodle are probably the most influential factors that have helped improved my teaching. In particular, I came to the realisation that there was much more that I could do with iLearn than simply posting weekly recorded lectures and the accompanying powerpoint slides. I am now utilising the full range of functionality available in iLearn to create a highly interactive learning experience for students of health psychology. The learning and teaching of the undergraduate health psychology unit is now presented in a “flipped” mode with a range of diverse interactive components enabling the students to relate the theory to the practice of health psychology.  As part of this new approach, developing virtual patient case studies has really helped students to “bring to life” the theory and evidence-base of health psychology to real-world applications.

What’s been your most memorable moment in teaching?

Probably the most memorable moments in my teaching have been when students contact me near the end of semester saying how influential the unit has been on their lives. Students tell me about how they have completely changed their lifestyle after studying health psychology, now adopting a healthy way of life. Other students relate how after their health psychology studies they are now able to gain perspective on an adverse illness-related event in their lives. I also get a lot of satisfaction from students who are inspired after studying health psychology to change their career plans to something that embraces this discipline.

Who is your favourite music band? Why?

I have very eclectic tastes in music that span across genres and decades. So here goes……Black Keys, Muse, Nick Murphy (Chet Faker) and Meg Mac are top of my list in current music. I also really like the music of Les Rita Mitsouko (French band from the 80’s), John Butler Trio, and The Doors. Last but no means least, I am a big fan of the music of Dvorak and Beethoven for symphony orchestra and Frank Ticheli (Blue Shades) and Johan de Meij (Extreme Make Over) for wind symphony. Why? Any music that gets under my skin is good, irrespective of the genre.

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