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What’s in a work space? Ian Deary and his unique furnishings

by Guest Author on 30 Apr 2014

Standing desk

Ian Deary and his standing desk

Ian Deary is Professor of Differential Psychology at the University of Edinburgh and Director of the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing-funded Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology. He showed Hazel Lambert around his huge office where airy windows framed by wood-panelled walls overlook George Square gardens.

Standing desk

I’d always liked standing to read if I was thinking about something, sometimes walking up and down. So I thought, why not get a standing desk? It can go up and down. It was a bit of a surprise, because once I got it I didn’t put it back down again; I do all my writing and work and reading at this standing desk and I find it very refreshing to be able to do that. I have four computer screens, making a single large one. I’ve always wanted a ‘desktop’ to be a desktop. If you have a proper desk you spread things around on it. It seemed limiting to have one little screen and to have everything piled on top of it. With four screens you can spread things around. But I think probably the best object in the whole room, are the three large windows; it’s a lovely outlook.

Little blue bird by the windowLittle blue bird

My son Matthew drew this scary little bird when he was six. I had it laminated and stuck it there with Blu-Tack. He is now 26 and an oil painting conservator, so it’s 20 years old.

The Borderland (by Sir Arthur Streeton)

The Borderland

The view is of the Eildon hills and the river Tweed. It’s actually Sir Walter Scott’s view, and he’s interposed the Kelso Bridge. Scot’s view is near the beginning of the St Cuthbert’s Way that I walked with my father and my son just a couple of years ago, so the picture had all sorts of things going right for it.

Alumnus of the Year Award

I think this is quite an attractive object. It’s made of copper andAlumnus of the Year Award is extremely heavy. It was made by a student at Glasgow Caledonian University; it was my award for Alumnus of the Year in 2009. Before I did my medical degree I first did a Higher National Certificate in Medical Laboratory Sciences at Glasgow College of Technology, which then changed into Glasgow Caledonian University.  They considered me one of their alumni. So, even before I came to Edinburgh University to do my medical degree I had that medical laboratory background. It was great training. Some of the best teaching I ever received was in the Higher National Certificate. It was an unusual route to university.

Dr James Drever’s chair

Dr James Drever’s chairThis chair was presented to Dr James Drever in 1931 by the staff of the George Combe Psychological Laboratory on the occasion of his appointment as the first Professor of Psychology in the University of Edinburgh. His son was the second. It’s not particularly comfortable; it does still get used though when my meetings are too big.



BikeCardboard bike mat

I cycle three and a half miles to work and back in all weathers. Sometimes it’s wet and I don’t like to get marks on the University’s carpet, so I put this torn up potato crisp box under the bike years ago. The bike oil and mud have accumulated a bit on the cardboard, but the carpet underneath is clean, so it’s done its job.

Portrait of Sir Francis Galton

Portrait of Sir Francis GaltonThis is a likeness of Sir Francis Galton surrounded by all the things he discovered; for example the anticyclone in weather mapping and the normal curve for heights. My approach in psychology is to understand the nature and causes of individual differences in psychological traits. He was the first to try and systematise the study of individual differences in cognition and personality.




These are the four books I’ve written. Intelligence: A Very Short Introduction has been translated into 10 different languages. I’ve tried to keep at least one copy in each language. I also like to keep the great historical books in my area as well. The blue books on the second shelf are all the studies of the Scottish Mental Surveys that my research is based on. I refer to them a great deal. It’s surprising how often you need to go back to a result that was collected in the 30s, 40s or 50s.

Portrait of Godfrey Thompson

Portrait of Godfrey Thompson

This is a portrait of Godfrey Thompson by R.H. Westwater (who also did Compton Mackenzie and Hugh MacDiarmid). It was painted when he was knighted. Thompson devised the mental test that was used in the Scottish Mental Surveys. A lot of my research is based on following-up the research he did from the 30s to the 50s. As I did more research on the Scottish Mental Surveys I also wanted to learn more about Godfrey Thompson’s work and life. He was a talented statistician who published a lot on the structure and importance of human intelligence differences.


A version of this article was first published in the Spring 2014 edition of Network.



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