Dr Emma Halliday, a Senior Research Fellow at Lancaster University and a member of LiLaC, talks to us about working in public health research.
What are your main research interests?
I’ve worked in the Centre for Health Inequalities Research (CHIR) at Lancaster university since 2010. In recent years, my research interests have mainly focused on evaluating the health impacts of place-based / area regeneration programmes as well as community empowerment/participation. I’m also very interested in the role of stigma and discrimination in health inequalities, an issue arguably under-acknowledged within public health research and practice.
Can you tell me about your work with the NIHR School for Public Health Research?
I joined SPHR as a senior research fellow in 2014 and this has enabled me to get involved in a range of interesting projects across the School’s research programmes. A primary focus of my work during the first phase of SPHR was the Communities in Control study (CiC), an on-going evaluation of the Lottery’s Big Local initiative. The research is evaluating the impact of Big Local on the health and wellbeing of residents directly involved in delivering the programme, and on the health of local populations living in Big Local areas. After the second phase of SPHR got underway, I led a project to develop resources for public health practice linked to the learning from this research.
Another project I’ve worked on was a PHPES funded evaluation, which assessed whether concessionary and free leisure schemes in North West England contribute to reducing inequalities in physical inactivity levels.
What impact has this research had?
While national and international public health strategies often refer to the importance of community empowerment for health inequalities, few studies have actually tested this link to health. The CiC research aims to address this gap.
The findings also illuminate how residents living in places experiencing the burden of neighbourhood stigma (which other research has shown to have negative impacts of life chances and quality of life) are taking positive action to challenge stereotypes about particular communities and places.
What made you decide to have a career in public health research?
After finishing my PhD this led me into research roles in mental health services and suicide prevention. Although I didn’t start out as a public health researcher, much of the research I was involved with repeatedly drew attention to people’s lived experiences of inequalities, which led me to continue a career in this field.
I’m a historian by background and remain interested in how historical perspectives can be better integrated into our understanding of health inequalities. In this respect, public health offers the possibility to draw from a range of disciplines.
What has been the highlight of your research career?
A recent highlight was the opportunity to visit Johannesburg as part of a British Academy Newton fund workshop. This brought together researchers, practitioners, and policy makers from the UK and South Africa to develop new collaborations, present our research and share knowledge from across countries.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in public health research?
It’s important to be realistic that pursuing a research career funded by external research programmes can be akin to snakes and ladders! There is still considerable job insecurity for researchers in the sector more generally and this affects career opportunities people have open to them.
This is where longer term programmes like SPHR can make a positive difference for researchers at all career stages – whether this relates to supporting people to develop as future public health research leaders, providing opportunities for people to gain experiences of applied research in a variety of settings as well as hopefully offering research posts that offer some degree of job security.