UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Young-Jin Hur, PhD student, Clinical, Education and Health Psychology

"When asked about my motivation for pursuing a PhD, I said, 'If I don’t do a PhD at UCL with my prospective supervisor, I would regret not having done it my whole life.'"

Young-Jin Hur, PhD student, Clinical, Education and Health Psychology

Young-Jin Hur, from South Korea, is a fourth year student studying a PhD in Clinical, Education, and Health Psychology at the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences at UCL.  

1. What is your educational background?

It’s approaching a decade since I first came to UCL, as I started my BSc in Psychology here in 2010. Since then, I pursued academic roles in various institutions and departments, completing degrees at the Department of Management at the LSE and the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge on the way. Since 2015, I have been at UCL as a PhD student at the department of Clinical, Educational, and Health Psychology, supervised under Professor Chris McManus. 

2. What are your motivations for pursuing a PGR?

Since a young age, there was always a side to me that wanted to develop and analyse ideas that meant much to me. The choice to sit down and research an idea for 3-4 years as a PhD student thus felt not only attractive, but also seemed as a natural course of my life. I still recall during my PhD interview that when asked about my motivation for pursuing a PhD, I said, “If I don’t do a PhD at UCL with my prospective supervisor, I would regret not having done it my whole life”. 

3. Why did you apply to UCL Brain Sciences?

I applied to UCL Brain Sciences because of my primary supervisor, Professor Chris McManus. He is a leading expert in the small field of research, i.e. empirical aesthetics, I am pursuing. Upon my first meeting with him prior to my PhD application he was incredibly kind too. 

4. What is the best thing about your course?

I know I won’t be the only person saying this, but the variety and liveliness – both academically and non-academically speaking – within the course was attractive. UCL Brain Sciences is an incredibly large unit. But if one makes the right kind of effort, one can discover a wealth of research projects and individuals.

5. What do you find interesting about your field of study and what inspires you?

I research aesthetics, specifically the 18th century notions of the sublime and beautiful, through an empirical framework of psychology. This means that I take theoretical ideas from philosophers, and try to see if these ideas still hold in the 21st century, using quantifiable measures and experiments on 21st century people. The research is cutting edge, and I adopt a wide range of methodologies including physiological measures (e.g. SCR & fEMG) and behavioural measures (e.g. body movement & rating). Through these measures, I test the physical properties of objects that affect sublimity and beauty, and I look in what emotional processes are involved in sublime experiences.

The research has not always been easy, however. There is little empirical/psychological infrastructure, and I initially had to encounter disagreements from psychologists, philosophers, and artists alike. However, we are rigorous in our scientific methodology, and our data is coming out with consistency. If anything, I believe that what is real is measurable, and what is measurable, can be demonstrated. To find that an ancient idea holds true in the modern world, and that there are so many potential applications to these findings (e.g. architecture, music, etc.), is truly inspiring. 

6. What are your career plans once you’ve completed your current programme of study at UCL?

I am interested in a post doc position. Specifically, I am interested in continuing with what I have done during my PhD, to understand both the physical properties of things that are considered sublime and/or beautiful, and their psycho-emotional consequences. Yet I am also interested in looking into the sublime of other domains and modalities, such as in architecture, music, and sometimes both, using a wide range of technologies including VR and eye-tracking. However, as a South Korean male, I will have to complete my national service for two years before that. 

7. Do you think studying at UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences is a good investment?

If one believes in one’s research, and if one believes that research can be further expanded via the means of a knowledgeable and understanding supervisor, I think studying at UCL Faculty of Brian Sciences is an excellent service to oneself. 

8. Have you undertaken any networking opportunities either as part of your degree or outside of your studies?

I have been lucky to be able to attend numerous conferences both internationally and nationally. I have also had the chance to conduct visiting research at the University of Vienna. Through these opportunities, I was able to engage in networking opportunities.

9. What is it like studying in London and how do you think it has benefited your studies?

If UCL has a unique vibrancy, I think this vibrancy has much to do with the energy that London brings as a socio-cultural metropolis of the world. During my time in London, I have especially made use of the cultural riches London has to offer. These include theatre, concerts, gigs, galleries, etc. The range of fascinating people that one can engage with in this setting is also a truly London experience. By meeting these people, I was able to gain a new insight into both my research and my life.

I shall leave perhaps the most notable for the last. Thanks to London, I was able to seriously develop my hobby as a classical music critic. To this day, I review concerts in London, played by world famous musicians and ensembles. Needless to say, by being in touch with the art world, I believe I am able to further understand my PhD research, on how people experience aesthetic emotions. 

10. If you received funding either through a scholarship, award, studentship or bursary, how has it helped you achieve your aspirations and what impact has it had on your studies?

As an international student, the tuition fees of UCL can be rather hefty. I am a recipient of the UCL Overseas Research Scholarship (ORS), where I am covered of my tuition fees. I am also a recipient of the UCL Global Engagement Funds (GEF), through which I was able to conduct visiting research at the University of Vienna, using machines and technologies available there.

More recently, I have been awarded the UCL School of Life and Medical Sciences Graduate Conference Fund (GCF), which allowed me to attend esteemed conferences relevant to my field of study in Liverpool, UK, and Toronto, Canada.

I have also won a couple of awards, including the UCL Cecily de Monchaux Research Prize and the UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences Postgraduate Research Symposium Prize. However, most of the money to cover my living cost derives from teaching at UCL and at nearby institutions.