Rachel Searston

Dr Rachel Searston


School of Psychology

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD (as Co-Supervisor) - email supervisor to discuss availability.

Rachel is a Lecturer in the School of Psychology at The University of Adelaide. Her research group studies expert visual cognition and decision-making in a range of applied contexts, including medicine, forensic science, defence, and education. Rachel was formerly a McKenzie Fellow at the University of Melbourne and completed her PhD in Cognitive Science at The University of Queensland.

Professionals in a variety of domains are capable of extraordinary feats of expertise. What gives rise to the ability to diagnose a rare disease, develop an elegant solution to a programming problem, spot a familiar face in a crowd, or discriminate highly degraded samples of evidence left at a crime-scene? How do our mental representations and decision processes change with experience and expertise in a given area? What makes an expert an expert? What is the best way to optimise expert performance with training, collective decision-making, and/or cognitive aids?

The Expert Cognition Lab focuses on fundamental questions about the nature, development, and communication of expertise as they apply to practical problems in industry. We are interested in understanding how best to create expert performance in contexts such as medicine, forensic science, defence, and education. We are working to develop a scientific basis for the selection, training and assessment of expert performers. We are also interested in understanding how people evaluate the credibility of experts in these contexts and how they weigh up their opinions when making critical decisions.

Our research in forensics is helping to better understand the nature of expertise with fingerprints and other forms of evidence that rely on the perceptual judgments of professionals. We collaborate with practitioners and industry partners to create selection, training, and assessment tools with a tangible operational benefit. The outcomes of this research assist forensic examiners, in policing, intelligence and security systems, to make accurate and timely decisions, reduce the risk of error, and reduce the time and resources taken from frontline policing to train experts. We aim to reveal general principles for capturing, creating, and predicting expertise that can be applied across professional domains.

Honours Projects 2021

Honours projects will investigate basic and applied problems of expert cognition: What makes an expert credible? What factors affect public trust in scientific experts? What is the best way to present expert scientific evidence in a legal context? To what extent does transparency about uncertainty affect perceptions of expert credibility? What are the characteristics and skills of an expert clinician? These projects will involve a combination of quantitative and experimental methods, and may use mixed (quantitative and qualitative) methods. 

Searston, R. A. (2020-2021). Defence Innovation Partnership AI for decision making project ($AU 20,000) on 'Improving the visual communication of uncertainty in artificial intelligence'. 

Tangen, J. M., Searston, R. A., Thompson, M. B., Edmond, G., Eva, K. W., Osborn, S, McCarthy, D., Hayes, R. (2018-2022). Australian Research Council Linkage Project (LP170100086, $AU 534,188) on 'Creating perceptual experts in Australia's policing and security agencies'. 

Lodge, J. M., Searston, R. A., Fidler, F., Bailey, J., Little, D., Nolan, D. (2018). Melbourne Networked Society Institute Seed Funding grant ($AU 37,368) on 'Combating fake news and misinformation online: Evaluating and updating conceptual understanding in the networked society'. 

Searston, R. A. (2017-2020). University of Melbourne McKenzie Postdoctoral Research Fellowship ($AU 282,245 + $20,000 project costs).

Searston, R. A. (2013-2016). Australian Government Australian Postgraduate Award ($AU 73,959).

I coordinate and teach the capstone course on research methods: Doing Research in Psychology Advanced. I also teach a fourth year course on Mind, Brain & Behaviour.

  • Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2020 Co-Supervisor Biometrics for child protection: exploring ways to improve human performance in identifying children from images Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Eden Skye Clothier
    2019 Co-Supervisor Misinformation and 'Post-Truth' Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Natasha Renee Van Antwerpen
  • Other Supervision Activities

    Date Role Research Topic Location Program Supervision Type Student Load Student Name
    2019 - 2019 Principal Supervisor What is the optimal rate of image presentation for recognising people? The University of Adelaide Psychology Honours Full Time Carlos Ibaviosa
    2019 - 2019 Principal Supervisor Detecting changes in paintings and scenes The University of Adelaide Psychology Honours Full Time Athina Kakkos
    2019 - 2019 Principal Supervisor Discriminating artistic and naturalistic style in visual crowding The University of Adelaide Psychology Honours Full Time Carly Sullivan
    2018 - 2019 Principal Supervisor Perceptual expertise with classifying fingerprints The University of Adelaide Psychology Honours Full Time Anneliese Cavallaro
  • Position: Lecturer
  • Phone: 83130057
  • Email: rachel.searston@adelaide.edu.au
  • Campus: North Terrace
  • Building: Hughes, floor 7
  • Room: 7 15
  • Org Unit: School of Psychology

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