Post-doctoral launching fellow
Children, young people & families, Public mental health programme
University College London (UCL)
Social media usage and mental health and evaluating social media interventions.
Ruth's Academic Career Journey
Ruth’s interest in psychology research began during her undergraduate degree at the University of Cambridge where she studied politics, psychology and sociology and specialised in psychology in her final year. It opened her eyes to how psychology research can be applied to many fields and help improve people’s health and well-being.
To explore how she could apply what she had learned and understand more about having a career as a researcher Ruth became a Research Assistant at The Anna Freud Centre, Evidence Based Practice Unit in London. Ruth used routinely collected outcomes data to provide service evaluations of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). This gave her experience of coding and analysing complex and large datasets using statistical software programmes, which was an invaluable skill to learn and develop as a psychology researcher. This experience helped Ruth to develop her passion for health and psychology research and become certain she wanted to pursue a career as a researcher.
To pursue her research interests in psychology in clinical/health contexts Ruth undertook a master’s degree at The University of Nottingham in rehabilitation psychology. As part of this course Ruth developed further understanding of how social science research could be used to help those with complex health needs. Her project explored professionals’ attitudes towards using smartphone applications to help children and adolescents with memory impairment due to acquired brain injury, which she published as her first paper. The experience of conducting this research and disseminating it to an academic audience was hugely rewarding and Ruth decided to fully pursue a career in research with a focus on using social science theory and methods to improve health.
Ruth decided she wanted to gain more experience of doing research in other sectors before committing to academia. She began working at the children and young people’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent in London. This gave Ruth insight into how research can be used to influence policy and understand the differences between working in the third sector and academia. As part of her work Ruth worked directly with young people to understand their experiences of cancer diagnosis using both quantitative survey data and qualitative focus groups. After reflecting on her research experiences, Ruth really enjoyed the fast-paced nature and policy impact of conducting research in the third sector but decided to pursue a career of research in academia, as it offered opportunities to work on a variety of research projects, conduct in-depth doctoral research and develop new skills.Read More
Ruth successfully applied for a PhD at UCL in the Department of Applied Health Research that was funded by The Health Foundation and supported by the NIHR North Thames Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) and The Policy Research Unit in Cancer Awareness, Screening and Early Diagnosis. For her PhD Ruth helped to develop an online tool to help medical students improve their clinical reasoning skills, thereby improving their ability to gather information and make an informed diagnosis. The tool was an online patient simulation (named eCREST) that allowed medical students to ask ‘patients’ questions and formulate a diagnosis. Ruth’s PhD focused on evaluating the feasibility of using eCREST in medical schools and exploring how improvements in reasoning can be measured. Ruth conducted a feasibility randomised controlled trial at 3 UK medical schools to understand this. She found that those who used eCREST were significantly better than controls at gathering the most essential information from the patient and that the tool was highly acceptable to students. She also conducted a qualitative Think Aloud study where she observed 16 students using eCREST to understand how it worked. She found that students used different clinical reasoning strategies when using eCREST and that eCREST could influence these strategies by prompting students to reflect and reconsider their diagnoses, which could be helpful to avoid diagnostic errors. While her PhD was not without its difficulties, such as difficulty recruiting participants and learning to use new statistical software, she had a fantastic experience in her PhD, where she learned a variety of research skills and made great connections.
After completing her viva Ruth began working as a Research Fellow in the Research Department of behavioural Science and Health at UCL. Ruth worked on a project for The Policy Research Unit in Cancer Awareness, Screening and Early Diagnosis. This project sparked Ruth’s interest in exploring social media and public health. Ruth completed a scoping review looking at the impacts of social media interventions and public health campaigns on cancer prevention and early diagnosis. The key findings from this review were that social media interventions are often not evaluated or based on theory, so it is difficult to understand their impact. Many public health campaigns for cancer prevention tend to focus on fundraising activities rather than health messages related to cancer but it is unknown to what extent they may change people’s behaviour and encourage them to attend cancer screening.
Inspired by her previous project Ruth was successful in applying for an NIHR post-doctoral launching fellowship with SPHR, to explore the role of social media in public mental health. Ruth is based back at the Department of Applied Health Research where she undertook her PhD, working alongside her PhD supervisor once more. Ruth is looking into social media use and its impact on mental health, and how social inequalities influence this relationship, using nationally representative cohort data. She is also exploring how public health messaging on social media can influence mental health and how users interact with this messaging.
Her aims for the fellowship are:
a) to continue working on publishing her papers from her PhD and working with her supervisor on testing and developing eCREST for a variety health professions;
b) undertake research regarding social media and mental health to prepare for applying for her next fellowship.
- NIHR SPHR Post-doctoral launching fellow
- UCL Department of Applied Health Research
- Research Fellow
- UCL Department of Behavioural Science & Health
- UCL Departments of Applied Health Research
- Research Officer
- CLIC Sargent, London
- University of Nottingham
- Research Assistant
- CAMHS outcomes research consortium, The Anna Freud Centre
- BA Politics, Psychology and Sociology
- University of Cambridge