Alessa Teunisse

Hello internet, I am Alessandra Teunisse (but feel free to call me Alessa) and I (almost) have a PhD. My journey here wasn’t a direct line from high school to Higher Degree Research, so I thought I’d give you a little more detail.

After high school, I decided to do a Media degree that majored in writing. I knew that one day I wanted to write a book. I did my undergraduage degree, taking classes in media, cultural studies, creative writing, linguistics, and anthropology. At the end of the degree I enrolled in the additional honours program, wrote a thesis, and earned a first class honours. I had ideas for a bigger project, but I was ready to leave academy and earn some money. I found a job working for a publishing company as a sales representative and did it for three years, after which I realised that I desperately missed learning. So I went back to university and enrolled in a Bachelor of Psychology.

Fast forward a few degrees later (Bachelor of Psychology, Master of Research, and now PhD), and here I am. I have written four theses (or dissertations, if you prefer), with the last one *almost* counting as a book. In terms of my research interests: There is an abundance of research into why some scams or certain persuasion techqniues are more effective than others. All this research into techniques used by perpetrators such as scammers is important and needs to be done. However, I always thought this research left out an important element – the victim of this transaction. There must be a reason all those persuasion technqiues are more effective on some people and not on others. What is it about their personalities and decision-making styles that makes them vulnerable to exploitation? And, more importantly, how can we fix this?

Now, this could easily be misinterpreted as victim-blaming (which I’m thoroughly opposed to). My main interest is to determine what potential vulnerabilites exist (such as certain personality traits and thinking styles) in order to help people protect themselves. My belief is that certain individual differences could cluster together to make a person more vulnerable to becoming a victim of a bully, a psychopath, a scammer, or domestic violence. For example, being gullible, impulsive, having a poor sense of self etc. could all work together to undermine your own self interest and make you vulnerable. So, over and above the techniques used by these perpetrators, it is important to understand these vulnerabilities so we can protect ourselves.

Outside of my research, I have spent years mentoring and teaching undergraduate students at Macquarie University. I have supervised two honours students so far and I have tutored in personality psychology, social psychology, psychology of human relationships, and introductory undergraduate units across 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year. I have given lectures on cognitive biases and heuristics, the effect of the internet on human relationships, and the effect of personality on human relationships (including the Dark Triad). I have developed an intense six-week seminar series on the psychology of gullibility that guides students through the research process using gullibility as a case study. For the last three years I have been the assistant co-ordinator on a 2nd year undergraduate unit in personality and social psychology and in 2019 I was nominated for a teaching award.

Outside of academia, I have written two articles for the Australian Skeptic Magazine and presented at their annual conference (Skepticon, 2018), as well as at the Sydney Science Festival in 2017. I have been interviewed on Australian ABC radio and on a podcast, Scamapalooza (if you want to have a listen, click here).

I have also managed to have a life outside of research. I was co-founder of a children’s pantomime company in Sydney’s Northern Beaches (Manly Panto) and I wrote and directed 5 pantomimes (I had to use that writing degree for something). Since I was 11 years old, I have been involved in amateur theatre companies around Sydney performing in many a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, as well as shows such as Cabaret, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, and Wicked. I have recently become obsessed with podcasts (I have so many recommendations) and have played around with the idea of starting one (who hasn’t?).

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