Michelle Ryan

Michelle Ryan

Michelle Ryan is the embodiment of International Women’s Day’s main theme – inspiring change. A Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology, Michelle helped uncover the phenomenon of the glass cliff, whereby women and members of other minority groups are more likely to be occupy leadership positions which are risky or precarious. This pioneering research was short-listed for the Times Higher Education Supplement Research Project of the Year in 2005 and named by the New York Times as one of the ideas that shaped 2008.

Michelle said that social change was one of the main factors in pursuing a career as a social psychologist. She explains: “Movements like feminism and civil rights have made great gains and changed society dramatically, and they achieve it through social influence rather than through force. Bringing about change in what is accepted by many as the status quo is incredibly inspiring - but we still have much to do before true equality can be achieved.”

When it comes to inspiration, Michelle is inspired more by everyday occurrences, rather than a specific role model, and that encouragement can come from the most remarkable places. She said: “I am inspired every day, whether it be through a Psychology professor I've never met but who motivates me to do more rigorous research, or a women's network that I'm speaking to may inspire me to ensure my research is practical and relevant to the 'real world'. My students also inspire me to remember the intrinsic fun of a good data set and an unexpected finding.”

Michelle insists that inspiring others to achieve their goals gives her a sense of enormous satisfaction, with her proudest moment being the day that her first PhD student graduated. She recalls: “Seeing her up there on the stage accepting her PhD reminded me of all the reasons I went into academia - to share knowledge, to teach, and to mentor. It meant much more than receiving my own PhD.”

She is also unequivocal in the advice that she offers to others, namely to make sure you are passionate about what you do. Michelle advises: “I have focused my research on questions that are important and meaningful to me, and worked with collaborators who are inspiring and supportive. It is the easiest way to ensure that you find satisfaction in the everyday aspects of your job and it keeps you motivated.”