Mark Bradshaw, Professor of Psychology, 1961–2004

Mark had a short but highly productive life. Born in Larne, Northern Ireland he joined the Merchant Navy when he was 17 and earned a Distinction for his OND in marine engineering at Glasgow College of Nautical Studies. This allowed him to gain an entry to the University of Glasgow where he gained a first in his MA in psychology and was awarded the Henry Watt Prize for Experimental Psychology. He then moved to Sheffield Psychology Department’s Artificial Intelligence Vision Research Unit to read for a PhD on the combination of stereo and motion information with John Frisby and John Mayhew. After receiving his PhD in 1989 he spent five months working with Barbara Gillam at NSW University in Sydney.

Between 1990 and 1995 Mark was employed as a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford. This involved working in Brian Rogers’ world-leading vision group on an EC Esprit Initiative funded programme of work on “vision in a natural environment”. During this time Mark was involved in the development of Brian’s new laboratory including the design and development of all the software and devices at the cutting edge of stereoscopic research.

Mark was originally appointed to Surrey on 1st September 1995 under the University of Surrey ‘New Blood’ foundation lectureship scheme. Mark’s outstanding contribution to the field of computational and psychophysical aspects of human visual perception lead to a promotion to Reader in April 1999 and to Professor in April 2003. We were also fortunate to have had Mark as a warden during his time at Surrey.

Mark’s main line of research, which he began in Sheffield and continued in Oxford and Surrey, was into the cues by which we see the three-dimensional structure of objects and surfaces. The information from stereoscopic disparity and from the observer’s own motion were shown to interact, and moreover to do so in ways that depend on the visual systems’ own internal estimate of the absolute viewing distance. These conclusions were derived from a series of complex and highly technical experiments, which required precisely calibrated equipment and sophisticated programming techniques. The expertise with which Mark carried them out perhaps demonstrates the beneficial effects of having a qualification in marine engineering as well as in psychology, as much as to Mark’s own skill and perfectionism. The results were presented in a series of classic and highly cited papers, and contributed to the reputation of Mark’s lab for producing reliable data at the cutting edge of research.

His next pioneering and technically demanding research was on the role of vision in guiding hand movements towards objects in order to grasp them. Again, the complex interplay of cues from stereopsis and motion in constraining action within a multi-parametric response space was demonstrated with care and mastery. As if this was not enough, Mark then went on to study the development of these abilities in middle childhood, with implications for developmental dyslexia, and to apply the findings to practical situations such as the optimal operation of telepresence systems. He also extended his range of investigations to cognitive studies of attention, the perception of emotion in biological (point-light) motion stimuli, visual illusions, eye movements and the perception of objects in natural scenes.

The way Mark ran his own lab and worked with his students was a model of team working and productivity. He had strong views on how research students should be managed and a very clear idea about the need to have all his students working as a team and supporting each other. He even forewent the offer of a larger office so that it could be used to keep his students and researchers together. He wanted, and expected them to share ideas and expertise and was concerned to see a coherent team emerge from his lab. Many of his students have gone on to good jobs in some of the best departments of psychology in the country like Cardiff, Bangor and St. Andrews.

He favoured a direct, data driven approach to his research. He counselled his students to do experiments rather than spend too much time reading about other people’s work. While he was no fan of bureaucracy he maintained a rigorous system of lab books and encouraged his students into such good practices from the outset of their research careers. He had numerous collaborations with Ian Davies, John Groeger, David Rose and others at Surrey as well as with Andrew Glennerster (Oxford) and Keith Langley (UCL) among other key researchers in the field. In 2002 alone he produced 14 high quality refereed journal articles mostly with students or former students.

Socially Mark was a very friendly and easy person to be with. He loved to tease his friends and he had a wicked sense of humour. Sometimes you had to lever him out of his lab to go for a drink but once this had been achieved the effort was always rewarded by a convivial evening. He met people on their own terms and despite spending long hours worrying about the minutiae of his highly specialised area he could talk to anyone about almost anything. Leave him alone in a pub for 5 minutes and he’d strike up a conversation with a complete stranger and the chances were he would find he had something in common with them.

Sport was a great passion both watching and playing. An avid supporter of London Irish and a vice president of the Oxford Union RUFC, he was keen golfer and had just taken up sailing when his illness curtailed some of his activities. He also loved horse racing and acquired a considerable background knowledge of the sport.

Mark died of complications associated with his cancer at home on the 11th of October. He had been ill for some time and had been through the full panoply of treatments. Although he had known that the outlook was not good he retained his sense of humour and was fun company. He never lost his enthusiasm for vision research and continued to publish prodigiously to the end. He was working on several new papers in the last week of his life. He was 43.

Dr Chris Fife-Schaw, Prof John Groeger and Dr David Rose
University of Surrey