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Professor of Developmental Psychology, Claire Hughes

Professor Claire Hughes. Photo credit: Julia HedgecoeClaire Hughes has been Professor of Developmental Psychology in Cambridge since 2012. She is the Deputy Director of the Centre for Family Research, and a Fellow of Newnham College. Prior to her professorial promotion, Claire was a Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, and then Reader in the University. Before taking up her first academic post in Cambridge, Claire had worked for six years at the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Research Centre (Institute of Psychiatry, London) as an MRC Research Fellow and Lecturer. The two years before this saw Claire working in Paris as a post-doctoral Fellow at the Fyssen Foundation (based in the Hopital Robert Debré), and at the Université de Paris V.

After completing her BA in Cambridge (in Experimental Psychology), Claire remained here to pursue her PhD; the title of her thesis was Executive Dysfunction in Autism. Following on from her PhD, Claire's early research interest was focussed on autism but, during her time at the Institute of Psychiatry, her research focus shifted to hard-to-manage preschool children. Claire has been engaged over a number of years in a Health Foundation/ESRC-funded longitudinal study, which has followed a group of children from a variety of backgrounds, from the age of two. The study is investigating individual difference in theory of mind and executive function, and their relation to adjustment to school and social relationships. The study's methods include filming participants interacting with their close family members, friends, and other peers.


"Managing the work/life balance has been a challenge. My husband works 3 days a week in another city such that for the majority of each working week I am effectively a single mother of 3.  I had a nanny for a year when my first child was very small, but for most of my children’s early years I relied on nurseries – and they were great; a real home-from-home for my children.  Things got more complicated when children started at primary school as the school day is so much shorter than the working day, but I’ve been fortunate in having school-based friends who were always happy to collect children from school if work commitments meant that I couldn’t make it.  Getting the work hours in has meant working in the early morning and at weekends (and often in the evenings too).  Crazy, but then I know that I have plenty of colleagues without children who also work 24/7 – and being able to switch off from work when with the children has always been a real tonic.  Two of my children are now big enough to get from A to B by themselves and so I am starting to see light at the end of the tunnel – and maybe even the possibility of going out to a film without needing a babysitter!

My periods of maternity leave were all taken before the returning carers scheme; but my colleagues were supportive and I was able to combine maternity leave with sabbatical leave, which really helped.  I work in the Centre for Family Research, and one of the reasons I left London was because I hoped that a research centre with that name would have to be family friendly – and I have not been disappointed at all.  If I need to work from home (or even, in extremis, bring a child into the office) I have always felt that this was not a problem.  I’d have liked to have had more contact with other women in the university who were attempting the same juggling act – but there was not a network that I knew of (and we would probably all have been too busy squeezing work into every available slot that we would not have made it to any event!).

I’m not sure I’ve had a specific role model as such, but I have met and been inspired by many wonderful female academics during my career who made it clear that it was possible to combine motherhood with academia– including Uta Frith, Judy Dunn, Frances Gardner, Usha Goswami and Lynne Murray; to name but a few."

Claire is a highly-cited scientist, and her research has been published in range of journals, including the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Developmental Neuropsychology. Claire is the author of Social understanding and social lives: from toddlerhood through to the transition to school, which was published in 2011 by Psychology Press. For this work, Claire received the 2014 Academic Monograph Award from the British Psychological Society. This Award is presented for "...a significant scholarly work ... that has contributed to, defined or redefined an area of psychological knowledge" (BPS website Book Award page).

Claire is a member of The Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP). Through a range of activities, the CSaP helps the sciences and technology to serve society.

As the Department's WiSETI contact, Claire is taking positive action to support and promote other women in science.

Claire has three school-aged children.

Read More

Claire's profile at the Centre for Family Research

The Toddlers Up Study

2014 British Psychological Society Awards

Guardian article on Claire's five-year study findings (2011)