Alex Wood, PhD, Director of the CAMEHELP: The Cambodian Mental Health Project,
Professor, Behavioral Science Centre, Stirling Management School, University of Stirling
Honorary Professor, School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester.
From the Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences (Springer, forthcoming):
Biography: Wood, Alex
Professor Alex Wood, PhD, Chair in Psychology at Stirling Management School, University of Stirling is a world expert on individual differences in well-being, which he defines very broadly as ranging from clinically impaired functioning to optimum living. He rejects the separation between “good” and “bad” well-being, seeing well-being to involve progressive degrees of functioning, and as such rejects the separation between personality, clinical, health, and positive psychologies. Since high school, his over-riding interest has been in explaining why some people are happier and have better social relationships than others, which naturally lead to a focus on the whole well-being continuum, whilst noting the distinctiveness of certain problems and clusters of symptoms. He has also been very interested personal growth, as a construct, and as a way to increase both the well-being and good living of oneself and others, which has led to a keen interest in the philosophy of moral ethics. Repeatedly going against strong early career pressure to specialise, Wood’s eclectic collection of over 100 publications span a huge number of topics and fields, which eventually came to be recognised as a cohesive contribution to knowledge on mental health and well-being. On impaired mental health, he has published on topics including alcoholism, anxiety, body image disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, psychotherapy, sleep disorders, stress, and suicide, as well as on the environmental causes of impaired mental health, and the link between mental and physical health. On positive mental health, he’s published on happiness, life satisfaction, and positive moods, as well as positive psychological mental health subdomains such as authenticity, autonomy, environmental mastery, gratitude, positive relationships, and personal growth. In 2010 Wood founded the “Positive Clinical Psychology” approach, through editing the seminal issue of Clinical Psychology Review (2010), which began the approach, and through editing the Wiley Handbook of Positive Clinical Psychology (2016) which brought together the explosive work over the preceding six years and demonstrated that the approach was now accepted in the mainstream. Positive Clinical Psychology aims to focus equally on both the positive and the negative when understanding or trying to improve well-being, an approach that emerged from his earlier eclectic research focus.
Wood was born in 1983 into a wealthy middle class background in Wales, and he attended mixed socio-demographic social schooling in the capital, Cardiff. His experiences of this period was traumatic, dominated by alternating un-supportive and abusive home and school environments. He attributes his lifelong research interests as having stemmed from these experiences, initially through wanting to understand the nature of individual differences, and later to avoid others experiencing the same suffering. He has stated that he has benefited from both psychotherapy and medication, which he sees as complimentary; psychotherapy to help with personal growth and medication to remove hormonal defects from early life stress and to make growth process more achievable and with less suffering. He now describes himself as having a high quality of life, based around his work and several very close relationships with later life friends; he attributes his growth as much to “my group of Glasgow based musician friends than anything I read in those damn books or swallowed in a pill”.
Educationally, pre-university, Wood’s grades were erratic, often being the highest in the class if he was engaged, or amongst the lowest if he was not, with mental health playing a large part in determining which. He was rejected from his undergraduate degree place at the University of Manchester for not meeting expected grades, although they later offered him both his first employment and an honorary Chair in Psychology for outstanding contributions to the field of mental health research. As he joked at the time; “I always knew they’d come crawling back”. Instead Wood began an undergraduate degree at the University of Leicester, a top tertile UK university. He began with the same erratic performance of his high school years, until he took his third year out where he confronted his mental health issues including through counselling and medical treatment with the anti-depressants citalopram and fluoxetine. This, and a misplaced mortality scare, lead him to decide he wanted to spend his life in academia and he returned to graduate with 1st Class Honours (Summa Cum Laude) in 2005 and an undergraduate dissertation which was later published in the field leading journal Emotion. He was offered PhD Scholarships from several universities because of his dissertation, and another eventually published extra-curricular research project which he had also been running. He selected the world elete University of Warwick where he graduated with a PhD in 2008 and about 10 publications including those in field leading journals. On the basis of these publications he was offered a Lectureship (Assistant Professorship) before the end of his PhD at the University of Manchester (in 2008). He was promoted in 2011 to Senior Lecturer (Associate Professorship), and offered a conditional Chair in 2012, which he declined in favour of an offer to develop and direct a new Behavioural Science Centre in the University of Stirling. Already a world expert in well-being, he accepted this Chair aged 29, four years after completing his PhD, making him the youngest full professor (Chair) in UK history in any field.
At the start of 2007, eight and a half years after completing his PhD, Wood had authored over 100 academic publications, been cited over 7,000 times in academic texts (h-index > 42), attracted over £1 million in research funding, and presented 50+ external seminars, skills classes, workshops, and keynote speeches to conferences, other university departments, and industry partners. Wood currently serves on several editorial boards, including the Journal of Research in Personality, having previously been the senior editor of a special issue of Clinical Psychology Review and preformed ad hoc reviewing for over 70 journals, publishers, and funding bodies. His research is regularly covered in over 50 news outlets, including Time Magazine and the Financial Times, and he recently appeared on BBC Radio 4’s “All in the Mind” and "The Human Zoo". He is passionate about training and mentoring high flying young academics, and in his first four years in Stirling he developed and directed the Centre for Graduate Research in Management, which oversees all aspects of the doctoral training of 80 PhD students across accounting and finance, business and management, economics, and marketing and retail. His guide for PhD students and early career researchers on his website has had more than 50,000 hits. He has personally supervised PhD dissertations in business, economics, medicine, psychology, and social sciences, and he teaches resilience on his School’s MBA and the MSc in Behavioural Science for Management. All his PhD students have completed successfully and with a job offer at the end, most with top tier publications prior to completion.
Most recently, Wood’s work has taken a radically new direction after he expressed career dissatisfaction linked to his belief that most academic work doesn’t make much real-world difference; “Academics in their Ivory tower, writing publications so that they can be cited by other academics who only cite them to get their own papers published, whilst neither the academic nor the knowledge leaves the tower”. He is now a strong proponent of most academics only conducting research around their end-users needs, with their involvement, with negotiated topics that both contribute theoretically to the field and have an immediate impact, in which the academic is involved and which is quantified to scientific levels of rigour. With such a model, he believes, academia can maintain or improve the quality of publications whilst having impact which is presented in such a way that is compatible with existing models of institutional evaluation and research funding allocation. In response to this, he has stepped back from a lot of roles to focus on developing the first international quality mental health service in his beloved Cambodia, his primary goal before turning 40. Wood has recently set up and is Director of the Stirling – Cambodia Mental Health Initiative, which researches new questions in diagnostic assessment, treatment, and psychological factors in mental and physical healthcare, and where the results are immediately implemented in his partner hospitals who quantify the impact on their services. Wood retains a full-time Chair at the University of Stirling but now splits his time between both Cambodia and Stirling, continuing to supervise PhD students on both continents and merge the worlds of academia and clinical practice in the developing world. In 2016 he was involved in a near fatal motorbike accident, whilst visiting waterfalls to swim in rural Laos. Despite a 20% fatality estimate, he walked out of hospital two weeks later apparently recovered. On returning to work six weeks later, he was asked whether he had any long-term mobility problems, to which he answered; “Yes, apparently I’m a terrible motorcyclist”. When asked whether the experience would lead him to scale back his work in Cambodia he answered; “Absolutely not; I’ve just been saved by the finest surgeons, in the best hospitals, simply as by accident of birth I was born in a country where travel insurance came with my bank account. I plan to redouble my efforts for people who following a similar accident would be dead”. At the time of writing, he was back in Cambodia, using a motorcycle to visit a rural hospital from a location which is not accessible by car.
Professor Alex Wood
3B54 Cottrell Building, Stirling Management School, University of Stirling, Stirling, Scotland, FK9 4LA.niversity of Stirling, Stirling, United Kingdom