2013 at DECIPHer


The decorations have come down, Christmas books have been finished or abandoned, and the shops are full of Easter eggs – January is well and truly underway. Before everyone get swept away in the month-long life-catchup that inevitably characterises the first month of the year, we asked two DECIPHer people at very different stages of their research – new PhD student Hannah Littlecott and research associate Beki Langford – to share some of their reflections on the past year.

How would you sum up your 2013?
Hannah: 2013 was an exceptional year, full of great experiences; I had just moved to Cardiff to begin my first full time job as a Research Assistant in Public Health so I was able to explore a new city and gain valuable research experience in a field that I am passionate about. I was also able to travel to Norway and Alicante to build international partnerships and to work on collaborative research papers. 

Beki: 2013 for me was a year of hard work and frustration but with the very gratifying outcome of seeing it all come to fruition just before Christmas. I’ve been working for an extremely long time on a very large and complex Cochrane systematic review into the World Health Organization’s Health Promoting Schools framework and after a huge amount of very hard work we finally finished all the meta-analyses, wrote up the report and submitted to our Cochrane Review Group on 16th December.

What was the highlight of 2013 for you? 
H: My highlight was attending and presenting a poster at the UK Society for Behavioural Medicine (UKSBM) conference at Oxford in December. I was given the opportunity to present a research paper on ‘Partners’ perceptions of success of a local public health collaborative to promote active ageing in the community’ that I have been writing up from the MSc dissertation I completed in 2011. It was really interesting to hear about all the research that is being conducted in this field and to meet new people. I hope this will be the first of many!

B: That’s easy. Pressing the ‘submit’ button for the review! It was so wonderful to have a Christmas break knowing that it had been submitted. There’s still more to do – it needs to be internally reviewed by Cochrane first and then sent out for peer review – but it was a great feeling to have hit that first important milestone.

And anything that wasn’t so good?
H: I applied for a PhD studentship in February and was given an interview, but unfortunately it was offered to somebody else. However, I did secure a DECIPHer PhD studentship in November, which I began last week. This is a mixed methods PhD focusing on the School Health Research Network (SHRN) in Wales.

B: I think my real low point was when I updated the searches for our review and they came up with another 12,000+ papers to go through, on top of the 35,000 we had from our first search. Public health systematic reviews are a real test of grit, determination and sticking power! 

                                                                                                      Probably more than 35,000 papers. But not many more.

Tell us something good from 2013 that you want to share with our readers. 
H: I was really interested to read new research using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which found that increased time spent in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA) was associated with improved academic performance in English, Maths and Science among adolescents. 

This is particularly interesting for me as my PhD will involve multilevel modelling of large datasets to assess the association between various health behaviours (such as physical activity, nutrition, mental and emotional health, and substance use) and academic achievement. I also feel that such findings are extremely important for increasing buy-in from schools for health improvement interventions.

B: There’s not much about the current UK government’s policies that I can agree with, but I was really pleased to hear that all Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 students in England will now be eligible for free school meals. Good nutrition is so important for children, both for their health but also for their ability to concentrate and learn. I really hope someone is going to be evaluating the impact of this policy.

What are your predictions for 2014?
H: Lots of hard work! I will be very busy working towards my PhD and starting data collection in September.

B: I can confidently predict that 2014 for me will involve a whole lot of writing! The final version of the review will be published but there’s still a lot more we want to say, so we’re planning a number of other publications to accompany it. It’s important that we can disseminate our findings to as wide an audience as possible so that it can hopefully start to inform research, policy and practice.

Image sources: Photo of women with rackets – Bromford, via Flickr
Photo of papers – Walter Parenteu, via Flickr.

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