Helen O'Connor

I won! I cant believe it. thanks so much to everyone who voted

Favourite Thing: Using what I know about how the mind works to help people make positive changes in their life and reach their goals.



St Andrews School, Ashtead, Surrey 1986-1990 (GCSEs and A Levels)


1992 Middlesex University (English degree); 2005-2008 London Metropolitan University (Diploma in Psychology & Masters in Sport Psychology)

Work History:

Since becoming a psychologist I have worked at a weight loss camp for children and teens, and in South African township schools giving sport psychology workshops. Before that I worked in telecommunications for 10 years doing project management. And before that all sorts of things including an internet cafe and cleaning jobs


As I’m self employed at the moment I am my own boss (unfortunately I’m quite a tough boss!)

Current Job:

I am a self employed sport and exercise psychologist, based in London but I travel all over the world

Me and my work

Sport and exercise psychologists often do a combination of scientific work (like research and writing) and practical work (using psychology to help people improve their sport performance or be healthier)

One of the benefits of working in sport psychology is the variation in the work I do each day, especially as I am self employed. My work and activities fall into four main categories.

1. Continuing to develop and improve my skills

This might include reading papers and books, meeting other psychologists, and attending training courses and conferences

2. Research

Because psychology is a science, I also have do scientific research or write scientific papers. In the past I have researched what athletes think about performance enhancing drugs and also what kinds of things might help people do more exercise. My latest piece of writing is looking at something athletes have, called “mental toughness”, and whether it is always a good thing to be mentally tough.

3. Practical psychology (applied psychology)

This is the real nuts and bolts of my work and where I get most pleasure and satisfaction. I work with individuals and teams to help them improve their sport performance (like cope with nerves about a competition or work together better as a team). I also work with people who want to improve their health by increasing the amount of exercise they do. These people need help to start a new exercise routine and stick with it, and often need to get more confidence about doing it, especially if they are overweight and feel self-conscious going to the gym or doing sports. I have had several great experiences so far, including working at a weight loss camp, working in South Africa, and next year I am hoping to work on the team of psychologists who support runners in one of the international Marathons.

4. Teaching and communication about psychology

I don’t work in a university or school, so the way that I do the teaching and communicating part of my job is mostly by giving talks about sport and exercise psychology at sports clubs or gyms, and writing on my blog or writing other articles for magazines. I like this bit of my job too because I think psychology is so interesting and I would love other people to think so too. That’s why I was so pleased to be selected for “I’m a Scientist”.

My Typical Day

I might start the day working on an article or blog I am writing, or do some background reading for my latest research project. I also try to spend time looking at new opportunities for work (like chatting to gym managers who might want me to come and give a talk). Then I would maybe see one or two clients (exercisers or sports people/teams) then write up my notes after those sessions

What I'd do with the money

I would use the money to create videos and podcasts about sport psychology topics that I could send back to the township schools in South Africa where I worked and to other underprivileged schools

I delivered a series of sport psychology topics to children and teenagers in some of the poorest townships schools in South Africa.

Here is the type of room we had to work in


And here is a group who were the rugby team at a school called Isaac Booi


We looked at topics like “what is confidence”, “how to deal with anger on the pitch/court”, “working together as a team” and “developing your own positive mental attitude”. Here is an example of an “A-Z of confidence words” that we did in one of the groups


I only worked with a small group in each school, and the feedback was so positive that I would love to make some DVDs or videos and podcasts that I could share with more children in the future, both in South Africa, and elsewhere. It would be great if this could be a ‘twinning’ project, with a school in the UK twinned with one of the township schools so we could share ideas between our cultures.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

organised, impatient, talkative

Who is your favourite singer or band?

The Nextmen are my favourite hip hop DJs, but GaGa is most often on my gym playlist

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Fun and Horrific: I did the world’s highest bungee jump in South Africa this year. Trying to waterski was also fun (but a disaster)

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

(1) have no regrets (2) find the confidence to try new things, and even fail at them (3) make money doing what I enjoy

What did you want to be after you left school?

I didnt really know. I did A Levels just because everyone else did them, but I didnt apply for any University places when I was in the Sixth Form, I just went out to work for two years until I realised I did want to go to Uni. But it took me a long time to decide I wanted to be a psychologist

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Yes I was. I never wore the correct school uniform as I was trying to find my own style, and they were pretty strict back then. Also, I used to always try to get out of PE (which is ironic considering the work I do now)

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I really enjoyed doing research for my Masters dissertation, which was interviewing athletes about their attitudes to performance enhancing drugs. Since then, some of my most rewarding work has been with underprivileged kids in South African townships

Tell us a joke.

How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but the light bulb has got to WANT to change