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Jo Dawes

Pre-doctoral fellow

Public mental health programme, Health inequalities theme

University College London (UCL)

Jo's reflections on a NIHR SPHR pre-doctoral fellowship

My NIHR SPHR (pre-doc) fellowship felt like a bit if a leap of faith. Prior to the fellowship, I had a permanent academic teaching position, but for some time had been unable to secure sufficient time for the research I wanted to pursue, due to a high teaching and administration commitment. So, I took up the fellowship, with the intentions of developing my research skills, working on increasing my publication output, dedicating time to funding applications and aiming to secure doctoral research funding.

I started the fellowship as the UK was heading into COVID-19 lockdown one and just as my partner had been discharged from hospital after a serious health event. The early months of navigating an unwell partner, the home schooling of two young children and working remotely in my new job was far from easy. However, after a few months, I got into my stride, and got involved in some large scale COVID-19 research, as well as designing smaller projects of my own. I undertook research training online, contributed to several different research and teaching and got started on my NIHR Doctoral Research Fellowship application. I also found some great online academic communities at UCL and more widely in the NIHR SPHR network that helped me navigate research whilst working remotely. My senior colleagues and the academic community at UCL were extremely supportive, flexible, and encouraging.

Now that I have reached the end of my fellowship, I am delighted that I have been successful in securing Doctoral Research funding from the NIHR and am excited to be entering the next chapter of my research journey. I am in no doubt that although leaving my secure teaching position felt like a risk, having done so, I have directed my work towards the research I always wanted to do. I am certain I would not be where I am now, if I had not taken that leap of faith to take on the temporary NIHR SPHR (pre-doc) fellowship two years ago.

Research Interests

Jo is interested in physical health problems amongst people experiencing homelessness and their access to and need for health services like physiotherapy. Jo is also interested in physical activity for health gain, in particular the value of physical activity for excluded and marginalised populations. Jo has experience in qualitative methods and intends to develop her skills in quantitative approaches and mixed methods research. Jo is very keen to ensue excluded groups are reached in patient and public involvement activities to inform research.

Practice Engagement

Jo is well connected to health service providers in the field of homelessness via many years of involvement with homelessness charities Pathway and Crisis. Jo intends to work with colleagues at Pathway to plan and carry out future research. Also, from working as a physiotherapy clinician and academic Jo has good relationships with physiotherapy practice and education.

Public Involvement & Engagement

Joe has carried out public and patient involvement work with “Experts by Experience”, a group of people experiencing homelessness. This session provided extremely useful insights into need for and access to physiotherapy amongst people experiencing homelessness.

Hear more about Jo's work

Jo's Q&A

  • What has been your career journey so far?

    I started my career as a clinical physiotherapist, initially rotational within NHS Scotland acute hospitals, then specialised as a physiotherapist for people experiencing homelessness in a primary care setting. I then spent a number of years as a lecturer in Physiotherapy (in University of East London, then St George’s, University of London). I have also spent time as a researcher in HIV counselling and testing in Zambia and undertaken a research secondment with NHS Education for Scotland.

  • Why did you choose to do a pre-doctoral fellowship in public health research?

    Ever since working in homeless health services in Glasgow, I have held an interest in public health and health inequalities. I have several research ideas that I am keen to progress with, but in my previous roles I found it difficult to protect time to develop my research ideas. The NIHR pre-doctoral fellowship seemed like an excellent opportunity to dedicate time to working with experts in the field of public health research, and to focus on moving my research plans forwards.

  • What is your research focus?

    Since starting my pre-doctoral fellowship, I have focussed my research on physical health problems amongst people experiencing homelessness, in particular, musculoskeletal problems and frailty. I also intend to better understand the need for and access to physiotherapy and the value of physical activity for helping manage physical health problems amongst people experiencing homelessness and other excluded populations.

  • Why is it important?

    It is widely recognised that people experiencing homelessness live with far poorer health than the general population, and their access to health services to meet their health needs is far poorer. It is important that we better understand the causes and solutions to physical health problems in this group if we are to reduce the health inequalities they experience.

  • What are you looking forward to during your time with NIHR School for Public Health Research?

    I am looking forward to working with experts in public health research and developing my research skills and ideas.

  • What are your main achievements from your fellowship?

    Improved quantitative research skills. Increased research networks in my field. Two lead-author and several co-author publications. I have successfully secured NIHR DRF funding.

  • What are your aspirations now you have completed your fellowship?

    To continue in Public Health research and complete my PhD.


Papers published

Dawes J, McKinlay A, May T, Fancourt D, Alexandra Burton. (2021) Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and wellbeing of parents with young children: a qualitative interview study. BMC Psychol 9(194). doi:10.1186/s40359-021-00701-8

Dawes J, Barron DS, Lee LE. (2021) Capturing learning from public involvement with people experiencing homelessness to help shape new physiotherapy research: utilizing a reflective model with an under-served, vulnerable population. Health Expect; 1- 10. doi:10.1111/hex.13397

McKinlay AR, May T, Dawes J, et al. ‘You’re just there, alone in your room with your thoughts’: a qualitative study about the psychosocial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic among young people living in the UK. BMJ Open 2022;12:e053676. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2021-053676

Pre-prints, under review

Burton, A., McKinlay, A., Dawes, J., Roberts, A., Fynn, W., May, T., & Fancourt, D. (2021, August 10). Understanding barriers and facilitators to compliance with UK social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic: A qualitative interview study.

Tom May, Jo Dawes, Daisy Fancourt, Alexandra Burton A qualitative study exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on People Who Inject Drugs (PWID) and drug service provision in the UK: PWID and service provider perspectives doi:


Impact of COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing and social isolation on parents of young children in the UK: a qualitative study. Dawes J, McKinlay A, May T, Fancourt D, Burton A. In: PHE Public Health Research and Science Conference 2021 [online]

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people experiencing homelessness (PEH): a qualitative interview study with PEH and service providers in the UK, Dawes J, May T, Burton A. In Pathways from Homelessness 2022 [in person and on line]

Additional funding and grants

Public Involvement Funding from London RDS (£350).

UCL COVID-19 Career Support Equity Bridging Funding (£10,000)

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