Pete Etchells

So excited about winning In the Zone! Thanks to everyone who voted!

Favourite Thing: My favourite thing about being a scientist is that I get to find out things that nobody else has ever found out before. To be able to add to our collective knowledge, even in a small way, is a great feeling.



Oldham Hulme Grammar School, 1995 – 2002 – Prof. Brian Cox’s old school!


I was at the University of Bristol from 2002 – 2011, where I studied Psychology as an undergraduate and postgraduate.

Work History:

I’ve done lots of things! I’ve worked as a research assistant, a bartender, a coffee shop assistant, and as a volunteer at schools and science centres.


I’m at the University of Bristol at the moment, in the School of Experimental Psychology.

Current Job:

I’m a post-doctoral research assistant in the Bristol Vision Institute Movement Laboratory.

Me and my work

I’m a Psychologist, and I’m interested in how we use information about the way someone walks in order to figure out what their personality might be like.

I’m trying to understand how humans use social information in different sorts of situation. For example, from an evolutionary point of view, it would be a good idea to be able to figure out whether someone is aggressive or not just by look at them, rather than have to get up close to them!

To do this, I use a motion capture system – like the one that they used in films like Avatar and Beowulf – to record movies of people walking in different ways. I then get the same people to answer lots of different questions about themselves, so I can figure out what their personality is like. This means that I can run experiments where I show other people the videos, and ask them what sort of personality they think the person in the video has. I’m interested in whether or not the viewers answers match onto what the walkers in the videos said about themselves.


My Typical Day

Busy busy busy! I might be running an experiment or making videos in the morning, and then writing up my research later on.

Testing is quite a big part of what I do; typically I might be collecting videos and questionnaires from two people a day, and it takes each person about 3 hours to finish my study. In between testing, I’ll be writing up research from other experiments that I’ve been running. Writing papers involves a lot of reading; you really have to understand the area that you’re talking about, which means reading and understanding all of the experiments that have been done before yours. I also teach quite a lot at the minute, which is great fun!

What I'd do with the money

I would use the money to develop some new and exciting educational videos about cool research in Psychology.

Lots of people know stuff about some of the more well-known stuff in Psychology – things like visual illusions, how we form groups, how we conform when we’re told what to do by a scary-looking authority figure, and so on. But Psychology is so much more than that! I’d like to develop a series of short, 5-minute videos where researchers who are at the top of their field have to explain big ideas or crazy concepts in an easy-to-understand and engaging way. I’d love everyone’s input one what they’d like to see!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Gamer, geek, superhero

Would you rather be a scientist or an athlete? And why?

Definitely a scientist – I’m not a very quick runner, unless it’s towards something nice or away from something nasty! But there’s nothing stopping someone being a great athlete and a great scientist at the same time.

If you could have a body super power, what would it be and why?

It would definitely be to fly; getting around town would be so much easier!

Which Olympic event would you most like to win? And why?

Archery, because it’s great fun and requires good hand-eye coordination (which is something that I used to research).

What did you want to be after you left school?

After I left school, without a doubt I wanted to be a scientist. When I was (much) younger though, I think I wanted to be a dinosaur…

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I might have done some naughty things, but I was good at not getting caught :)

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Explaining how the brain works to children at science events organised by the University, and getting them excited about having a career in science.

Tell us a joke.

What sort of cheese isn’t yours? NACHO CHEESE!