As part of our #BristolUniWomen campaign to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re meeting women from across the University of Bristol community who have been using their expertise to tackle the pandemic, from carrying out world-class research to helping on the frontline of the NHS.
Your research has focussed on COVID-19 recently. Could you tell us a little more?
I sit on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) – the group tasked with providing scientific advice to aid government decision makers during the pandemic. As co-chair of SPI-B, the sub-group that provide behavioural input to SAGE, I’ve been giving evidence-based advice and expertise, particularly in supporting people to implement measures designed to reduce the impact of the virus. My main research focus is on empowering people to take control and self-manage their health by developing and evaluating digital interventions. I’ve led the development of the ‘Germ Defence’ web app which helps users adopt better infection control in the home and has been adapted to create specific guidance to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic?
Because I have been providing behavioural advice to the government through SAGE and SPI-B the biggest challenge has been trying to work out every morning what is happening with the fast-moving pandemic situation and what we need to do about it! However, it has been very rewarding being part of such a committed and collegiate multidisciplinary team of scientists.
What is it like being a woman in academia? Have there been times when you have either faced inequality or had to challenge it?
Things have changed enormously for women over the time I have been an academic. In the early days it was assume that you must be a secretary (sic) when you walked into an academic meeting such as the exam board. Then there was a period when I always had to be at the front of the stage at graduation to prove there was a female member of the professoriat. Happily, now I can lurk at the back of the stage as there are plenty of women professors and indeed senior managers represented.
Which women have inspired you in your career?
I am actually most inspired by the many women (and of course men) that have been part of my digital health research team for the past dozen years – their amazing supportive team spirit and dedication to creating the best digital health interventions we possibly can are what make me enthusiastic to carry on with this work.
What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?
I think many young people worry terribly about whether they are making the right decisions – but what I have found is that whatever choice you make it can always lead to something good as long as you choose something you that excites you and give it your best effort.
What are you most proud of?
My very first piece of research was to develop and trial a ‘Balance Retraining’ booklet that helps people with chronic dizziness to get rid of their symptoms. Many successful clinical trials and a website later, it is still my favourite intervention as it is so simple and works so well!