You can listen to an audio recording of this article here.Professor Ross Day was a prominent academic psychologist both in Australia and internationally. Born in Albany, Western Australia, he graduated from the University of Western Australia and went on to hold academic positions at universities in Australia, UK and the USA. Ross is credited with creating a world-renowned psychology department at Monash University. He received numerous awards in recognition of his significant contributions to the discipline of psychology.
Ross was born in 1927 into a family of bakers in the Western Australian town of Albany. He described his childhood as an 'idyllic existence'. Although his early years were spent during the Great Depression, he felt free and safe as he wandered the town and explored the surrounding bush with his brothers and school friends. One of his favourite memories included helping his two brothers deliver bread in the holidays in the Day Brothers Bakery horse-drawn cart. Ross attended Albany Infant School, Albany State School and Albany High School, which were all a short walk from home. At high school, he was a self-confessed “know-it-all”, especially in fields such as geography and history. So much so, that by the time he reached high school, he was affectionately known as 'The Doc’. Of all of his subjects, however, it was biology and chemistry that he loved the most. In 1944, Ross became the chemistry cadet (lab assistant) and in 1945 he became Prefect. Ross graduated Albany Senior High School in 1945, the year that World War Two ended. During the war, his high school form endured air raid exercises and looked on as air raid shelters were dug around the school and windows were made shatterproof. Nevertheless, he believed that his high school education held him in good stead for his future studies.
There was no doubt in Ross’s mind that he would go on to university to continue his studies. He graduated from the University of Western Australia with Honours in 1949. While still in his third year he was appointed to a staff position by Professor Tim Marshall and became interested in experimental psychology. In 1950 Ross went to England by sea to undertake his PhD while working as an Assistant Lecturer at Bristol University. Ross married fellow University of Western Australia student Grecian Snook in Bristol where their first child was born in 1952. Life in post-war England left an enduring impression on Ross. On returning to Australia he often talked to his family about the agony of being a homesick student on the other side of the world before the days of telephones and air travel. He also talked about the freezing living conditions when coal for heating was rationed and the constant shortage of food in post-war England. After five years in England Ross and his new family returned to Australia where he joined the psychology department at the University of Sydney. In 1964 the family moved to Melbourne when Ross was appointed foundation Professor of Psychology at Monash University. Following his official retirement at 65, Ross was appointed Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Latrobe University. He continued his work at Latrobe in an honorary capacity until his 84th year.
Ross’s tenure at Monash University had a large impact on the discipline of psychology. He was tasked with establishing the Psychology Department, and for that, he had a distinct vision. Firstly, he believed that psychology was a biological science and, due to Ross’s insistence, Monash placed his department in the Faculty of Science instead of the Arts. This was a first in Australia. He also believed that Psychology should be treated as an experimental discipline, and funded as such. He insisted on working with and guiding those under him and was admired for leading "by example in a style of leadership which demanded inquiry, rigor, commitment and productivity", (Monash University, 2019). Ross is credited with establishing a very strong department of Psychology which, to this day, has an excellent reputation worldwide.
Throughout his career, Ross’s research led to many significant findings. He was interested in the area of perception, which is how the brain processes what we see, hear, smell and touch. His PhD from the University of Bristol examined perception and skills involved in controlling high-performance aircraft. His findings on the motion-after effect is one piece of work of which he was particularly proud, as was his explanation of the Ames effect, where a rotating trapezium-shaped object can cause the distortion of direction. Ross was also one of the first to research neural inhibition and excitation and their after-effects.
Ross received numerous awards and recognition for his work in the field of psychology. He was awarded a foundation fellowship of the Australian Psychological Society for his contribution to psychology. He was awarded a fellowship of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia for his contribution to the field of Social Sciences. He was awarded a fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science, which is a "fellowship of the nation's most distinguished scientists, elected by their peers for outstanding research that has pushed back the frontiers of knowledge" (Australian Academy of Science, 2019). At the age of 90, Ross was awarded a Jubilee Fellowship by the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. Ross’s many awards through his distinguished career acknowledge his contribution to psychology.
Australian Academy of Science. (2019). Fellowship. [online] Available at: https://www.science.org.au/fellowship [Accessed 17 Jan. 2019].
Coltheart, M. 2011. Professor Ross Day, psychology. [Online] Australian Academy of Science. Available at: https://www.science.org.au/learning/general-audience/history/interviews-australian-scientists/professor-ross-day-psychology [accessed: 15/01/2019]
Monash University. (2019). Ross Henry DAY (1927 - 2018). [online] Available at: http://Ross Henry DAY (1927 - 2018) [Accessed 15 Jan. 2019].