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60 seconds with Brainwaves Postdoctoral Researcher Emma Soneson

60 seconds with Brainwaves Postdoctoral Researcher Emma Soneson

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF, AND WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO WORKING AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD?  

I joined the BrainWaves team as a postdoctoral researcher in September after completing my PhD in Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge. After finishing my degree, I knew I wanted to conduct research that could create meaningful change and improve the lives of children and adolescents. The aims and values of the BrainWaves Study therefore aligned perfectly with my own goals, particularly given its focus on schools and population-wide approaches. Even though I’ve only been here a few months, I’ve really enjoyed the work and getting to know the team, which is full of inspiring, enthusiastic, and innovative people!

WHAT IS YOUR VISION OR HOPE FOR THE PROJECT/RESEARCH YOU WORK WITH?

The part of BrainWaves that I’m most looking forward to is the development of a new platform to evaluate mental health interventions in schools. As it stands, it takes over a decade for evidence-based interventions to be adopted into regular practice. My hope is that this innovative new platform can help shorten this window so that as soon as we know something works, we can get it into practice as soon as possible in order to achieve maximum benefit for adolescents.

WHAT IS CURRENTLY AT THE TOP OF YOUR TO-DO LIST?

Right now, we’re exploring how to consent adolescents to take part in the BrainWaves Study. This is a really important piece of work, as we know that consent processes have a substantial influence in terms of who does and does not participate in research. Therefore, it’s crucial that we get this right. I’m particularly passionate about designing a process that helps increase participation for groups of adolescents who are traditionally underrepresented in research. This will ensure that any intervention, approach, or policy informed by BrainWaves research is designed with the particular needs and preferences of these adolescents in mind.

HOW DID YOU GET TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?

I had quite an unusual path to end up as a postdoctoral researcher in Psychiatry! Growing up I wanted to be a medical doctor, so in secondary school I worked at an orthopaedics lab, where I gained my first ever research experience before heading to university. In the US, there is no requirement for which university degree you need to go to medical school, so I did two very unrelated bachelor’s degrees: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Italian Literature. In the summers, I researched mother-infant interactions in rhesus monkeys at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Only very late in university did I realise that I preferred a research career to a clinical one, so I completed an MPhil in Public Health to get me started on this path. I then completed my PhD on public health approaches to improving the identification of and response to child and adolescent mental health difficulties, which led me to my role within BrainWaves!

Taken together, the different experiences in this non-linear path have given me a unique outlook on adolescent mental health, and I am excited to learn from and share ideas with others with diverse perspectives!

WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?

I’m very fortunate to work in a field with many incredible researchers who have devoted their lives to improving the mental health of children and adolescents. I’m particularly inspired by researchers such as Professors Mina Fazel, Tamsin Ford, and Cathy Creswell, who’ve all had a substantial role in shaping my own research and career trajectory.

IF YOU WERE NOT IN YOUR JOB CURRENTLY, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE DOING?

In another life I think I’d like to teach literature to secondary school students. This was always one of my favourite subjects at school, and as I mentioned above, one of my undergraduate degrees was in Italian literature. I particularly value the ability of classic and modern novels to teach us about the world and the people within it, and I think it’s a very special thing to inspire in young people a lifelong love and appreciation of reading!