Lab Director

Dr. Gillian Sandstrom

Email: gsands (at)

My undergraduate degree was in Mathematics and Computer Science, at the University of Waterloo, in Canada. I worked as a computer scientist for 10 years before deciding to return to higher education. I took two Psychology classes by distance education, volunteered in a lab, and then took the plunge and applied to do a Master’s degree in Psychology at Ryerson University (Toronto), on the topic of Music Cognition. An internship/placement that I completed during that degree led me to move to the University of British Columbia for my PhD, where I started studying conversations with strangers and acquaintances (weak ties). Next, I moved to the U.K. to take up a postdoctoral position at the University of Cambridge. Since 2015, I have been at the University of Essex, continuing my work on minimal social interactions.

Post-doctoral Research Assistants

Dr. Caitlin Kelly

Email: ck19844 (at)
ResearchGate profile

I completed my PhD in Developmental Psychology with a cross-emphasis in health in August 2018 at the University of Utah. Broadly, I study social relationships in the context of chronic illness across development. My work includes examining how other people may help or harm self-management efforts for individuals with diabetes – mainly, type 1 diabetes. Currently, I am expanding my program of research to understand ‘difficult conversations’ in a new project with Gillian, which includes how to get individuals with a serious chronic illness – like  cancer – and their friends to be more comfortable talking with each other.

PhD Students

Shaaba Lotun

Email: slotun (at)
ResearchGate profile

I am interested in understanding relationships formed between creative influencers and their followers on social media, and what this can tell us about relationships more broadly.