Rod Nicolson



King Edward VII School, Sheffield to 1968; Maths University of Cambridge to 1971; conversion MSc to Experimental Psychology, University of Sussex, 1972; then PhD Psychology, University of Cambridge.


MA (Maths, University of Cambridge), MSc Experimental Psychology (University of Sussex), PhD Psychology (University of Cambridge), MBA (Herriot Watt University)

Work History:

University of Sheffield (1976 to present), with various roles starting with lecturer and taking in jobs up to Dean of Faculty, but always lecturing and researching.

Current Job:

Professor of Psychology


University of Sheffield

My Interview

Me and my work

I’m a psychologist, with interests in all branches of psychology insofar as they impact on human learning, which I see as the heart of psychology and of education. I have worked for many years on dyslexia and what causes it, and have a framework that suggests dyslexic people take longer to make skills automatic, have difficulty unlearning bad habits, and need to learn through enjoyment and immersion. In fact they learn like adults! I am also particularly interested in why children (and adults) DON’T learn, when we really are so good at it. I have discovered that stress is the major villain here, forcing us away from our flexible, declarative learning to our fixed, habit-based “fight, flight, or freeze” neural circuitry. This has major implications for children and for teaching, since if teachers are under stress they can’t teach flexibly.

Typical day

Mostly seeing students, lecturing, talking to colleagues, postgrads, doing research, writing it up, trying to make a difference.

What topics do you work on?

Learning, stress, skill, ageing, the role of the cerebellum, positive dyslexia, positive education, interventions to increase skill, knowledge and self belief. My book ‘Positive Dyslexia’ is just out as an ibook.

What methods do you use?

Primarily behavioural/cognitive testing, but really any method that allows us to infer what is happening when people learn. This includes various imaging approaches, but is also highly dependent on the outstanding research produced by many scientists in many disciplines.

Who was your favourite teacher?

Having done maths through school and at Uni, I changed to Psychology, and my favourite teacher there was Graham Hitch. He managed to get me out of my maths idea that problems were given to us and we had to find the correct solution, to the much more nuanced view of psychologists, that some problems though difficult to formulate and address are actually really important, making a real difference in the world.