I have recently started as a PhD student at DECIPHer in Cardiff, completing an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Wales Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) Studentship. My current role involves developing a new school-based intervention to reduce alcohol, tobacco and drug use in young people aged 11 – 16. The aim of my research is to explore the relationship between Welsh Government policy, school policy, and the content of drug prevention interventions in Wales. I will also be examining the influence that these policies and peers have on alcohol, tobacco and drug use, both individually and in combination.
My research will explore the alignment of national government policies pertaining to substance use with school-policies and substance misuse interventions. In particular, it will examine the barriers and facilitators to implementing national policy and interventions in schools using the socio-ecological model as a framework for analysis.
My research interests are poly-recreational drug use among young people and the public health consequences of adolescent substance misuse, and the social, behavioural and psychological factors associated with it. Prior to starting as a PhD student at DECIPher, I undertook a number of roles related to my current studies, including Substance Misuse Worker for a local authority youth service, and Research Assistant in Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust working across a number of National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) portfolio trials. My most recent post was a Service User and Carer Involvement Lead across ABM Health Board; advancing the co-production benchmark set by Welsh Government, and improving service user and carer involvement in the design, delivery and evaluation of health and social services.
I specifically wanted to complete my PhD at DECIPHer because their main aims fit so closely with my key research interests, such as their focus on developing and evaluating multi-level interventions that will have an impact on the health and wellbeing of children and young people. Working with DECIPHer also offers me the opportunity to begin exploring and addressing substance misuse in young people across different levels, including the policy, community and individual level.
Furthermore, DECIPHer has a strong collaboration between researchers from a variety of disciplines, practitioners, policy-makers and members of the public. This collaborative approach will also allow me to produce research that translates into tangible and sustainable action, with an impact on population health. As well as designing interventions that are effective, DECIPHer aim to evaluate their research to discover how to implement and maintain these interventions in a way that ensures long-term health improvement. Therefore, the opportunity to be a part of DECIPHer as a doctoral student and to learn and develop my research skills and portfolio in such a setting was an opportunity I was extremely keen to pursue.
Alongside my own research, I also work on the DECIPHer ASSIST+Frank study. The primary aim of the ASSIST+Frank project is to develop, pilot and assess the feasibility, acceptability and delivery of two informal peer-led interventions designed to prevent illicit drug use among secondary-school students, as well as to assess trial recruitment and retention rates.
Since joining the centre in October 2015, I have already acquired a vast amount of knowledge as I seek to understand the fundamentals of complex interventions. My research journey so far has taken me through a plethora of literature around complex science, the sociological perspectives of structures and agents, and implementation success and failure. I’m really looking forward to the next three years with DECIPHer, and the prospect of how it will help to shape me as a researcher as I become more and more immersed in my studies!