Taryn Farr never saw herself as a criminal psychologist, but after two University of Waikato Summer Research Scholarships looking at aspects of crime, she thinks she may have found her calling.

Taryn has just completed a Bachelor of Social Sciences at the University of Waikato majoring in Psychology and Public Relations and is now completing an honours year in Psychology. She hasn’t shied away from hard topics.

Working in conjunction with staff from the University’s health team, Associate Professor Anthony O’Brien and Graham Holman, Taryn has been investigating ‘suicide by cop’ – when someone has committed a crime, is being pursued by the police and decides that they would rather commit suicide than be arrested, or when people who are already contemplating suicide and decide that provoking law enforcement into killing them is the best way to act to achieve their objective (the Aramoana massacre in 1990 was one such instance of the offender shouting at police to kill him.)

Taryn was looking at common factors across cases in New Zealand. What surprised her was the number of this type of police shootings there have been. She’s still doing a lot of cross referencing, working on collating and assessing the results of her research.

“I really didn’t go to university thinking this’d be the path I’d go down,” Taryn says. “The first summer research scholarship made me realise the different avenues you can go [in psychology]. There are so many opportunities and once you take up one, other random ones open up for you.”

That first summer research scholarship saw her working the Department of Internal Affairs to study the psychology of terrorists and how they become radicalised online. Her supervisor was Dr Andrew Evelo who is conducting a research project on reducing extremism in New Zealand.

Radicalisation is defined as 'the process whereby an individual adopts extreme religious, social or political ideals' and usually happens when two conditions are present. First, there has to be a person or group that holds a specific point of view and wants to recruit people to support them or take action on their behalf. And secondly, individuals being targeted will more often than not share common characteristics or circumstances and have some form of vulnerability.

It's this area of research that Taryn plans to focus on for her honours study – furthering her work to understand the processes and effects of radicalisation.

And she says while Public Relations and Psychology aren’t a common combination, she’s found it a useful pairing.

“I hadn’t planned to study PR, but I did some communications papers and found I enjoyed them, and I think studying communication has given me the skills to explain what can often be complicated ideas in a clear and concise way.”

Taryn says she’d definitely recommend doing a Summer Research Scholarship.

“I had no idea of all the opportunities and connections that would open up from it. I’ve been really fortunate to have worked with some experienced people and have learnt a ton of new skills from working with them and putting the research process into practice.”