In Memory of Nina Westera
[Our SARMAC colleague Nina Westera passed away in May. Rachel Zajac pays tribute to her dear friend.]
It feels impossible to do justice to someone like Nina in a few hundred words. And it’s devastating to be doing it for an obituary and not an awards ceremony. I was counting on Nina being around for much longer than her brief 42 years. I honestly thought she was invincible.
Nina came to academia after spending 13 years in the New Zealand Police. She completed her recruit training in 1999, and cut her teeth on the beat in Counties-Manukau, a district with the dubious title of having one of the highest crime rates in the country. Later, as a Detective Sergeant, she moved to Wellington where she supervised a squad of detectives involved in the investigation of serious crime.
In 2007, Nina traded her work on the front line for a job in the Investigative Interviewing Unit at New Zealand Police National Headquarters. As National Adviser for Standards and Training, her role was enormous—to implement reform in investigative interviewing policy, training, and practice across New Zealand. But it will come as no surprise to those of you who knew Nina that this didn’t faze her one bit. She just stuck her head down and got on with it. In fact, because completely overhauling police practice didn’t keep her busy enough, she decided to pursue a PhD as well, motivated by a growing interest in how adult sexual assault cases proceed through the criminal justice system. So, in her spare time, Nina conducted a highly influential programme of research focused on improving investigations and prosecutions of these cases through interviewing practices.
After completing her doctoral thesis in 2012—in record time for someone with a full-time job, I might add—Nina resigned from policing and moved to Brisbane, where she took up a research fellowship at Griffith University. There, she immediately set to work taunting us perpetually cold New Zealanders with tales of balmy evenings spent outdoors, riverside cycling on warm sunny days, and ocean dips in her lunchbreak. If we didn’t love her so much, we would have hated her.
To use a phrase that probably shouldn’t be used to describe an ex-police officer, Nina came into academia with all guns blazing. Her focus was crystal clear: to identify the problems in the sexual assault investigation process and to find evidence-based ways to address them. Nina’s stellar work ethic, supreme organisational skills, and vast experience at the coal-face meant that she quickly—but quietly—established a reputation as a bit of a superstar. In 2014, she received the International Investigative Interviewing Research Group (iIIRG) Practitioner Excellence Award. Shortly afterwards, she was part of the team of four asked to prepare the research report for Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. And just last year, she was awarded a prestigious Distinguished Early Career Research Award (DECRA) by the Australian Research Council.
But just as importantly, Nina also earned herself a reputation as a genuinely wonderful colleague. She didn’t care one bit about your CV or your grant-pulling power; she was just interested in you as a person. Regardless of who you were or what you knew, Nina would treat you to great conversation, her trademark enthusiasm, and one hell of a smile. For all her accolades, she was entirely devoid of ego.
Nina’s outlook on the world meant that she never got caught up in the politics that can creep into academia. In fact, she didn’t hide the fact that she found academics entirely bemusing. I guess from the perspective of someone who’d spent over a decade dealing intimately with everything from utter tragedy to outright evil, we are a pretty weird bunch. I’ll always be grateful to Nina for repeatedly reminding me that life is about so much more than work.
Tragically, Nina was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of ovarian cancer in January of this year, shortly after attending the SARMAC meeting in Sydney. Perhaps not surprisingly, she dealt with cancer like she dealt with everything else in life—she was determined, courageous, and far more concerned about others than about herself. After putting up a valiant fight, Nina passed away on May 25th, at the Brisbane home she shared with her beloved partner, Trish, and her fur-babies, Mango and Stroopie.
Personally, I’m not sure what I’ll do without Nina, and I know there will be many who feel the same way. At the end of the day, though, I’m so glad we got the chance to know her.
SAVE THE DATE! SARMAC XIII
JUNE 6-9, 2019
OCEAN EDGE RESORT
BREWSTER, CAPE COD, MASSACHUSETTS
Dr Misia Temler, M Psych (For), PhD
Honorary Associate, Project Coordinator Not Guilty, The Sydney Exoneration Project
University of Sydney
Conference Planner and Organizer for SARMAC XII Sydney
How did you get interested in psychology?
My uncle is a forensic psychologist so from a young age I was accustomed to listening to dinner conversations revolving around mental illness issues in the legal system and forensic assessment and treatment techniques. These conversations initially inspired me to work in private practice where I provided assessment reports for the courts. My experience of working in a forensic setting then motivated my interest in cognitive psychology. I became fascinated in differences in memory reports across various individuals and interviews. What was driving these differences? I wanted to explore the possible underlying cognitive processes in remembering. Of course each answer led to another question....I was hooked on research!
Who has been most influential in your psych career?
Amanda Barnier. I was fortunate to have Amanda as my supervisor when I did my masters in forensic psychology and then again when I did my PhD in cognitive psychology. I will always be thankful to Amanda for her mentorship.
What is your first/best SARMAC conference experience?
My first SARMAC was SARMAC IX in New York. I will never forget the exhilaration I felt those few days six years ago. To have a conference so focused on forensics and cognition with so many parallel streams of topics of interest -I was in absolute heaven! I vividly recall running back and forth between rooms, my head spinning with all this newly soaked up riveting information. My only wish at that time was to be simultaneously present in each room so I could attend every single presentation!
My favorite SARMAC conference was SARMAC XII in Sydney. It was such an honor to be on the SARMAC organizing committee and take an active role in planning the conference. SARMAC is such a special conference and to have an opportunity to organize it in a way that reflected the relaxed Australian style and showcased beautiful Sydney and Australian culture was truly amazing.
Advice for grad students/young faculty?
Always do what you love. Pursue research and topics that interest you. Work hard and don't doubt yourself. Make an effort to meet and talk to as many fellow researchers as you can at SARMAC and other conferences. Not only will you make some great friends but these relationships you form will continue to encourage and inspire you in the future!
What are you working on these days?
For almost 2 years I have been involved with Not Guilty: the Sydney Exoneration Project founded by Celine van Golde. The Not Guilty: Sydney Exoneration Project is a unique research program at The University of Sydney that relies on the combination of psychological and legal expertise to review cases of possible wrongful conviction. I am the project coordinator and leading one of the case investigations.
I am also planning a misinformation research study with Helen Paterson which I am very excited about!
Finally I have a number of writing projects I am working on. Coming from a practical setting background, a personal passion of mine has always been bridging the gap between research and practice, not just among professionals but also the general public. In today's rapidly changing society I believe explaining psychological research and theoretical concepts to laypersons is fundamentally important. I have immensely enjoyed writing for a number of different magazines/newspapers and websites explaining memory concepts and how they apply to today's current affairs. I have a number of collated essays which I hope to publish in book soon.
Anything about your lab (recruitment plug, etc)
The Forensic Psychology Lab at Sydney University is an exciting place to be! I am surrounded by a wonderful group of motivated researchers and students working on areas such as factors affecting eyewitness memory and identification, deception, and psychological effects of crime. I find the weekly lab meetings so inspiring and it is thrilling to be surrounded by so many faculty, students, and volunteers who are so passionate about forensic psychology and social justice. Visit our website if you would like more information on the specific research taking place and to learn more about Not Guilty and the work we do on cases of possible wrongful conviction. We are always on the look out for keen new members!
SARMAC Regional Meeting Grant
The SARMAC Regional Meeting Grant is available to support SARMAC members or groups of members to conduct regional meetings that support the aims and principles of SARMAC for the benefit of all members. The aim of these Regional Meetings is to conduct an official SARMAC meeting, but with a smaller, regional focus, a limited budget, and a clear theme related to SARMAC’s mission. These meetings are intended to complement SARMAC’s biennial meetings rather than to compete with them. Click here for more information or to apply.
SARMAC was an official partner, and enthusiastic supporter, of the March for Science on April 22nd. Here is Ira Hyman holding his sign regarding cell phones and driving (applied cognition!). The march might be over but the work is not!! Get involved at https://www.marchforscience.com/
SARMAC Student Caucus
President: Ella Moeck, Flinders University
Social Chair: Stephanie Cardenas, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Secretary/Treasurer: Camille Weinsheimer; Simon Fraser University
Committee Members: Victoria Bridgland, Flinders University, and David Hengerer, Claremont Graduate University
Applications for the inaugural SARMAC Student Caucus Research Grants are now open! We are offering four grants of up to $700 US to enable SARMAC students to conduct novel research in the field of applied memory and cognition. The successful applicants will present their research in an invited symposium at SARMAC XIII in Cape Cod. For information about the grants (including due dates, eligibility criteria, adjudication process) and to download an application form, click here.
We are also seeking interested senior (second year or later) PhD students to serve on a subcommittee that will adjudicate these grant applications. Eligible students must be available during October and must not be applying for a grant. If this sounds like something you would like to be involved in, or if you have any questions, please express your interest to Ella Moeck (Student Caucus President) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy grant proposing!
If you have any thoughts, suggestions, or questions, contact us through Facebook (www.facebook.com/sarmacstudents), Twitter (@StudentSARMAC), or email (email@example.com).
MEMBERS IN THE NEWS
April 2017 - July 2017
July 17, 2017
Kimberley Wade, Warwick University
Fake news: Study tests people's ability to detect manipulated images of real-world scenes
July 14, 2017
Fiona Dyshniku, University of Windsor, Canada
From your wealth to your criminal record - five things people can tell by looking at your face
July 12, 2017
Lisa Fazio, Vanderbilt University
Vanderbilt team receives $50k grant to combat fake news
June 27, 2017
Robyn Fivush, Emory University
The Family Memory You Think You Have
June 5, 2017
Martin Conway, City University, London
The art and science of memory
May 29, 2017
Sven de Wetering, University of the Fraser Valley
Q&A on the Philosophical Foundations of Psychology with Dr. Sven van de Wetering – Session 1
May 19, 2017
Daniel Derksen, University of Arizona
What's Next for Arizonans Who Gained Coverage Under Obamacare?
May 17, 2017
Deryn Strange, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
False memory expert could testify in arson perjury trial
April 11, 2017
Jamal Mansour, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.
Eyewitnesses can often get it wrong
We need your help!
We are looking for good recommendations of science communicators/writers that you’ve worked with from around the world. We’re collating a list of writers who may help the Society to disseminate important and interesting work published in JARMAC to a broad general audience. Please send any suggestions to the Chair of the Publications Committee: Chris Meissner at firstname.lastname@example.org.