Working as a Research Fellow in Parliament

Our PhD student Alison Lacey was on a 13-week placement at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). POST offers Research Fellowships to approximately 30 PhD students a year from a range of science disciplines, and Alison’s was funded by the British Psychological Society. As part of her fellowship, Alison was seconded to the Health and Social Care Committee. Her job involved supporting the Expert Panel to evaluate the Government’s commitments to maternity services in England. The Panel’s report was finally published last week, and Alison has now had time to reflect on her experience of working in Parliament:

It has been a privilege working with the Expert Panel on their assessment of the Government’s progress against its maternity services commitments. It’s strange to think that the first-ever CQC-style rating for a UK government department came to life on my computer a few weeks ago.

I started my 13-week POST Research Fellowship placement a lifetime ago in April, seconded to work with the Health and Social Care Select Committee’s Expert Panel with another Fellow, Florence Young from Cambridge University. While most POST Fellowships follow a predictable and well-tested structure, we knew quite early on that this was going to be different. In the first week, whenever we mentioned we were working with the Expert Panel at our induction meetings, colleagues would give a sympathetic head tilt and “Ah, you’re going to be busy!” Probably a good thing that we didn’t know then quite how true this would be.

The Expert Panel was fabulous to work with, despite the intimidating number of honorifics and titles: Sirs and Dames all over the place! The Panel is Chaired by Prof Dame Jane Dacre, and we had private fortnightly meetings with her, which were often master classes in the art of charm and diplomacy. We were supervised by Previn Desai, Head of the Expert Panel Secretariat, who gave us as much autonomy as possible, but kept us tethered with regular informal meetings and a review of his worry list.

One of the most exciting parts of the process was that no one knew what the end product would look like – or even what it would say. The task was to distil evidence from multiple sources into four main CQC-style ratings which, given the complexity of the subject, was not always easy to achieve. 

During the process, Florence and I analysed the initial formal response from the Department of Health and Social Care and identified important follow-up questions for meetings with Department and NHSEI officials. To supplement this, we developed a qualitative framework to assess written submissions from key stakeholders (which we will be writing up!), arranged and facilitated roundtable events with midwives and obstetricians, and attended and analysed a focus group transcript with women from East African backgrounds who had experienced recent poor maternity care. The focus group was a very important reminder of how a system can only be as good as the most vulnerable people it serves, and the testimony from the women was extremely powerful.

We were also able to attend and contribute to other Committee work, including attending evidence sessions for the current review of inpatient care for Autistic people and people with Learning Disabilities and that session with Dominic Cummings for the ‘Lessons learnt from COVID’ inquiry.

However, timescales were tight and delays to some formal responses meant that the final write-up of the Expert Panel report was a race against time. One evening, I was finalising edits until almost midnight after being told Jeremy Hunt wanted ‘eyes on’ at 9 am the following morning. Not someone I had ever anticipated would be marking my homework!

But we got there, and I think the report is something to be proud of. We structured the report to highlight the central importance of safe staffing: not just numbers but skill and effective deployment with a proper focus on staff retention and wellbeing. Health inequalities were a persistent concern throughout, and we decided to include this as a separate chapter to highlight the work that needs to be done to address the unacceptable discrepancy in outcomes for Black and Asian women, as well as women from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

It has been an incredible experience, and I will miss the buzz of policy work and the wonderful people I have been working with, especially Florence and Previn. Who knows, maybe I’ll be back?

When she is not working in Parliament, Alison Lacey is interested in the development of social and emotional competence in young children. Her doctoral thesis, supervised by Dr. Kathryn Lester and Prof Robin Banerjee, investigates how playing with other young children may influence social skills learning and how parental supervisory practices may impact the quality and range of children’s play. Alison is also a contributing author of the PlayFirstUK policy recommendation document calling the UK government to prioritise children’s access as part of any lockdown exit plan.

Tagged with: ,
Posted in PhD research

Greener conferences

By Dr Charlotte Rae

Conference season is upon us, and this year lots of us will be attending virtual meetings instead of travelling to conferences in person.

Although many of us are missing seeing our colleagues in person, online conferences can have a number of benefits, from inclusivity and better accessibility, especially for those with caring commitments or visa difficulties, to the carbon saved by not having thousands of academics flying around the world.

I recently attended the online Organization for Human Brain Mapping meeting. The last time this conference was in person (Rome, 2019), the carbon emissions from all the participants’ travel added up to around 3,500 tonnes of CO2. That’s roughly 636 elephants!

Klower et al (2020, Nature) undertook a comprehensive assessment of how much carbon is saved by online conferences compared to in person, and it’s a staggering amount – you cut carbon by over 99% if the meeting is fully online (see figure).

Source: M. Klöwer (2019)

Looking forwards, many of us will want to retain the benefits of both online and in-person meetings. Klower et al highlight a number of ways this could be achieved sustainably, from hybrid meetings, where you choose to be either in person or online, to hub-and-spoke conferences, where there are multiple locations and you travel to your nearest hub – combining the benefits of seeing colleagues while reducing the amount of intercontinental travel that comes with the highest carbon costs.

The pandemic has forced us to consider alternative conference models, but the ongoing climate crisis means that we need to reshape the way we do academic meetings in the longer term. If your society isn’t taking action on creating a vision for a sustainable post-Covid meeting, ask them what their plan is. If you want any advice, get in touch with me ( – in the OHBM Sustainability group I chair, we are currently producing an action plan for OHBM and also have lots of resources on our website.

Dr Charlotte Rae is the Faculty Green Officer at the School of Psychology at Sussex and the Founding Chair of the Organisation for Human Brain Mapping’s Sustainability and Environment Action Special Interest Group. Charlotte also leads the Adaptive Behavioural Control Lab, which researches the processes by which how we feel (interoception) influences how we behave (action).

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Green Tips

Sussex Education Awards 2021

Sussex Education Awards

The Sussex Education Awards recognise faculty and professional services whose work had / is having a positive impact on the Sussex community. During March, students and staff nominated candidates for one of the six categories. And last week, the winners were finally announced in a virtual ceremony attended by hundreds of people.

Psychology continued its fantastic success with many colleagues nominated and short-listed.

Dr Jennifer Mankin, who was nominated in five categories, won a Sussex Spirit Award. This award recognises staff who embody the University’s values of kindness, integrity, inclusion, collaboration and courage. Jennifer’s students praised her inclusive, fun and engaged approach to teaching. 

Prof Alison Pike won an Extra Mile Award for creating an optional seminar to help final year students discuss concerns and feel less lonely during the pandemic. This new category celebrates staff who have gone above and beyond to support our students during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Additionally, Dr Jessica Horst presented the Teaching to Disrupt Award, which recognises teaching staff who dare to be different in their approach to teaching.

We also want to send a big shout out to all the Psychology nominees. Well done everyone!

Better World

Sussex Spirit

Teaching to Disrupt

Transformative Technology

The Extra Mile (new for 20-21)

Tagged with:
Posted in Teaching & Learning

Virtual group music-making during lockdowns

By Maruša Levstek

people playing the guitar together during a Zoom call

When the pandemic hit in late 2019 and the whole world had to practically retract to their homes, everyone was talking about furlough, lockdown, and home-schooling. However, there was barely any thought about the extra-curricular activities that used to be an incredibly big part of many young people’s lives and a great source of wellbeing for many. This blog is about the many music groups that didn’t give up and decided to replicate group music-making experiences virtually, which I have studied alongside.

I wrote about the psychological and social benefits of group music-making in my previous blog post. In summary, engagement with activities in which young people have the freedom to express themselves, be validated and supported by others have been especially important for their emotional and social development. In fact, this has been especially vital for those who do not get to access such experiences elsewhere, such as those less likely to participate in mainstream music education, which is often closely tied with marginalisation.

Marginalised communities have also been disproportionally affected by the pandemic, which means that in addition to the challenges all young people experienced in this time that already hindered their wellbeing and social life (e.g. loss of independence, and increase in loneliness; see this report that I have contributed to for further details), young people also lost the safe spaces that nurtured this. Many projects that I have worked with before the pandemic have attempted to replicate such activities virtually. In this context, I have studied the extent to which those experiences replicated the opportunities for growth observed for group music projects when delivered in-person.

I imagine not many know what virtual group music-making actually looks like, which I didn’t either before 2020. Although there is software designed specifically for remote group music-making, most music groups I have worked with met on Zoom, as it also allows for video interactions, despite a load of audio difficulties I believe all are familiar with by now. I find this preference particularly interesting as it is clear that music groups prioritised replication of social contact rather than a profound musical experience.

There are various ways in which music groups attempted to replicate group music-making, with the most common two being what I named ‘together on mute’, which involves everyone playing with no sound on Zoom alongside a pre-recorded video or designated individual playing, and ‘turn-taking solo’, which involves individuals taking turns in playing with sound, often interactive in nature. Another less common kind of virtual group music-making observed by other researchers was listening to a multi-track of pre-recorded individual contributions mixed together.

To better understand how virtual group music sessions allowed young people to experience self-development and social support observed in in-person sessions, I have worked with three music education hubs delivering in total 13 different virtual music activities during the first and second national lockdown in the UK. I observed 16 separate sessions and analysed the hubs’ staff, young people, and parent surveys. The results revealed that everyone was extremely grateful for those virtual opportunities that enabled them to stay connected, continue making music in challenging times, and preserve their musical identities and the sense of being good at something. However, it was also clear that everyone was extremely keen to meet in person and create music together as soon as possible. This exposes how it is not only the aspect of spending time together, but also the experience of creating something together and bonding through making music that is vital to those part of an orchestra.

In fact, this lack of physical group music-making enabled me to study its meaning further, as the research and theories attempting to better understand the connection between the two never had to consider the physical context, or rather the lack of psychical context. Based on the data I obtained through observing virtual sessions, during which I recorded staff behaviours and the sense of connectedness of the group, there was no direct connection between virtual group music-making and the sense of connectedness. However, there was an indirect connection, demonstrating that virtual group music-making leads to more supporting behaviours displayed by the staff members, which, in turn, nurtured the sense of belonging amongst the group. I am excited to study this further once in-person group music-making is possible again, as I suspect that this model has a lot of potential for further development of theories of bonding through making music together. 

To conclude, I like to compare music groups’ experiences with my experiences of connecting with friends during the pandemic. I was extremely grateful to stay in touch via FaceTime and enjoyed our quiz and Skribbl nights, but realised that nothing can replace the sleepovers, nights out, and spontaneous weekend trips. It appears that virtual music-making can replicate the psychological benefits of group music-making to a great extent, more than expected by many music leaders, actually. However, the experience of making music together is an integral part to the orchestra experience that everyone missed dearly.

Please feel free to email me or contact me on Twitter @LevstekMarusa if you would like to reference the results of this project, read the academic paper, or just chat about my research. I truly hope these results will enable the continuation of such amazing projects and motivate for more in the future.

This research project was enabled by Future Creators and the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex. I would particularly like to thank my students Rubie and Katie for their help with the observations, without them this would have not been possible.

Would you like to know more about Maruša’s research?

Maruša Levstek is a PhD student under the supervision of Professor Robin Banerjee. Her doctoral research explores young people’s experiences of inclusive music-making and the psychology behind it.

Find out more about our research on Developmental and Clinical Psychology

Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in PhD research

World Refugee Day 2021: Together we heal, learn and shine

By Dr Varuni Wimalasiri

British Red Cross volunteers wearing either red or blue refugee week t-shirts

The significance of World Refugee Day

World refugee day is on the 20th of June every year and is a day designated by the United Nations (UN) to raise awareness about the lives, realities and hopes of refugees all around the world. The theme of this year’s refugee day is ‘Together we heal, learn and shine’, a statement of the UNHCR’s recognition that there needs to be an improvement in healthcare, education and opportunities for refugees in countries of resettlement, all-round the world. 

WRF was initially held in June 2001, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the 1951 convention, passed by the international community and lead by the UN, to protect those fleeing from the atrocities related to World War II.  Amongst those who would have been safeguarded under this protocol include Sigmund Freud (Wotruba and Cernovsky 1987), Albert Einstein (Robinson 2019) and the School of Psychology’s very own Marie Jahoda (one time head of the Social Psychology group)(Billig, 2021). They were all refugees who migrated to their final host countries, where they made some of the most significant contributions to science that we have yet known, with the help of the opportunities afforded them at the time by their host communities.  

Creating opportunities for women refugees through work during resettlement

Economic empowerment helps to promote independence, planning for the future, meeting members of the host society, providing the opportunity to develop language skills, restoring self-esteem and encouraging self-reliance for refugees (Bloch and Levy 1999, Tomlinson and Egan 2002, HomeOffice 2019). The benefits of employment include time structure, socialisation opportunities, a sense of purpose, status, and opportunities to engage in activity needed for wellbeing (Jahoda, 1971).

Resettlement agencies attend to males first to reduce case-loads and satisfy the needs of larger numbers, since women’s work-related needs tend to be more complex (Halpern 2008). This strategy shows a lack of insight in prioritising work placement and creates a systemic disadvantage for women in resettlement. There is now evidence showing that resettlement is creating a low-income minority within the refugee communities resettled into host communities (Gowayed 2019) particularly among women (Wimalasiri, 2021).

My research looks at the long-lasting effects of forced displacement on the working lives of women refugees during resettlement. This work examines how the complex interplay between system, psycho-social factors and the displacement experience creates actual and perceived disadvantages and barriers to work in this population; in view of understanding

  1. what can change to help these populations engage with more sustainable waged work
  2. identify ways of creating better diversity practices to make workplaces more welcoming and psychologically safe for these populations
  3. identify practicable work trajectories. 

Case-study on compassionate resettlement for women and work

I recently led a study and a related report in partnership with Plymouth City Council. It’s key aim was to gain a better understanding about the resources available to assist women refugees into work in the South West region of the UK. Also, to understand why there are only a small number of women refugees engaging with the labour market in the area, compared to the overall resident refugee population. The initial concept for the project was developed during a project and funds (2017-2018) called ‘Women’s Work’- Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs programme start up grant, partly funded by a Big Lottery grant (LPA-000 000 6543). The study was steered by and supported by Plymouth City Council, the local refugee population in the Southwest region, the Department of Work and pensions, The Red Cross and a number of other local community organisations.

Amongst other findings, the outcomes of the study made clear an extraordinary effort made by local communities and stakeholders to assist refugee women to overcome the barriers to work. The study found a compassionate effort and exemplary network of formal and informal support and resources, dedicated to the refugee community, in relation to work. The approaches used in this region showed a justice-led approach to resettlement which has grown out of the needs of women refugees in the region.

However, the efforts of the stakeholders tend to be limited in the face of systemic barriers including lack of funding for skill-building, local employer prejudices which are still at large due to negative media messages about refugees, poor engagement with mental health rehabilitation following displacement due to a multitude of factors. Further barriers included intersectional cultural predispositions. These barriers contribute to a vicious cycle of poverty, similar to those experienced by women in refugee communities all over the world (UNHCR, 2021). Recommendations were made for improving local practice and policy in the report.

A seminar entitled ‘Women refugees and work in resettlement’ will be hosted in partnership between Sussex University and Plymouth City Council to mark this report, later this year. We hope to bring research, practice and users together to better understand this all-important topic and how we can make practicable changes based on findings from various projects related to this area. The select group will include academics from the School of Psychology, the School of Education and Social Work and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex. We will be joined by representatives of the refugee community, the UNHCR, Department of Work and Pensions, Odils learning foundation (Plymouth) and Institute of Employment Studies (IES, Brighton), as well as other project stakeholders.

Healing ‘Together’

Coming back to the theme of this year’s refugee day, Together we heal, learn and shine, it is clear from this study that any actions to improve the lives of refugees needs to be a multi-pronged, multi-party approach to achieve practical and equitable outcomes. A more coordinated effort is necessary from research, governments, international organisations, NGO’s, employers and community organisations, and the refugee community to make the real difference that is needed (as well as more responsible and balanced media coverage about refugees).

Extracts from report:

Wimalasiri, V. in partnership with Plymouth City Council (2021) Plymouth’s approach to enabling refugee women into employment and the government action required to prevent ongoing, sustained poverty and isolation within this population. Sussex University-Plymouth City Council.

Dr Varuni Wimalasiri is a lecturer in organisational psychology at the School of Psychology of the University of Sussex. Varuni is part of the Social and Applied Psychology group. Find out more about Varuni’s research on gender resettlement.

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Faculty research

Autistic Pride Day

by Prof Nicola Yuill

Autistic Pride flag. Rainbow infinity symbol on a golden background
Creative Commons Licence Autistic Pride Flag by Autistic Empire is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on a work at

It sometimes seems there is an awareness day, week or month for every possible cause – June sees Loneliness Awareness, Men’s Health, National Candy Month and Employer Branding Awareness –  so it’s unsurprising that people can become cynical about such things. June is of course also Pride Month, which has become global and celebrates, most notably with parades and the rainbow flag, LGBTQ+ lives. June also sees Autistic Pride Day on 18 June, first celebrated in 2005 by Aspies for Freedom, and now a community event run by autistic people. It’s represented by an attractive rainbow infinity sign.

There are many controversies in autism, from the language used to describe it, to the call for truly participatory research that is co-constructed – research with rather than research on, or ‘nothing about us without us’, representing the broader call for autistic people themselves to create a world in which they thrive and contribute.

One challenge to this is the very broad spectrum covered by the label ‘autism’. A significant proportion of autistic children have a learning disability, and for many, this means that they communicate through non-verbal behaviour to present their take on the world. This is very often not well understood by neurotypical people, and that’s why more participatory research is needed to gain a better understanding of the perspectives and voice of young autistic people. Joint projects at the Universities of Southampton and Sussex are doing just this, using their Autism Community Research Networks and 18 June is a good day to celebrate the progress made so far.

The Digital Stories project, instituted by Prof Sarah Parsons and her team at Southampton University, focuses on representing the experiences and viewpoints of young autistic children with little or no spoken communication, and particularly on trying to understand and smooth the transitions these children face, for example when moving from nursery to primary school, or from college to more independent living. Digital Stories are videos curated with the child or young person and their carers. They are from the child’s point of view and focus especially on their strengths and interests. Recording the videos involves extensive use of wearcams to capture the world from the child’s own visual perspective – where is their attention? what activities or objects are the focus? what movements or vocalisations show potential interest and animation? Prof Parsons explains the idea more fully on the Autism Transitions website.

At the Children & Technology Lab (ChaTLab) at the University of Sussex, Prof Nicola Yuill, Dr Samantha Holt and Devyn Glass are working with Prof Parsons, Dr Hanna Kovshoff and Dr Asha Ward on a new ESRC-funded project, Our Stories, to look at how we can use technology such as wearcams, 360-degree cameras and virtual capture of environments to represent the perspectives of children and young people on the autism spectrum. At Sussex, we’re working with two existing local projects: Time for Autism and Just Right.  

Time for Autism is based on the award-winning Time for Dementia project at Brighton & Sussex Medical School, and will help medical students gain a better understanding of the experiences of autistic people and their families, leading to better-informed and empathic provision of healthcare services. Samantha will be supporting some families and students to create their own video stories, helping them to understand each other’s perspectives.

Just Right is an emotion-regulation scheme developed by Sadie Gillett and Karen Milton at Brighton and Hove Council’s school inclusion support service. Devyn Glass is combining this with Digital Stories to help children reflect on and manage their emotions and to self-regulate their moods so that they can feel ‘just right’ and ready to learn. Devyn is co-creating the stories with school teams and young autistic learners to represent their transitions between different mood states. The Southampton team are working in a range of schools and settings, co-creating stories for transition and also working with a tech company, Autek, to make online tours of settings for virtual visits.

This kind of approach is finding new ways for autistic learners with limited or no verbal communication to have their say, and to have their perspectives represented, maybe leading to an even more inclusive Autistic Pride in the future.

Nicola Yuill is professor of Developmental Psychology in the School of Psychology at Sussex. She is part of the Developmental and Clinical Psychology research group, the director of the Children and Technology Lab and one of the founders of ACoRNS.

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Faculty research

Who helps the helpers? 8 tips for voluntary groups

Three volunteers at a food bank

Local voluntary mutual aid groups have been critically important for many people during Covid. But keeping the momentum going is difficult even when the need for the kind of help these groups provide is still high.

Groups & COVID: Community, Support and Mutual Aid, a project led by Prof John Drury, aims to understand how psychological group processes can be used to develop and sustain shared identity and social solidarity during pandemics

Dr Maria Fernandes-Jesus interviewed 32 organisers of COVID-19 mutual aid and community support groups from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. She also reviewed previous studies on community solidarity after disasters, collective action and social movements.

As a result of her study, Dr Fernandes-Jesus has compiled a list of 8 tips to help organisers of volunteering groups sustain participation over time:

1. Clarify group’s goals

People may arrive to the group with different expectations of the group’s goals, approach and purpose. It is important that the goals and actions of the group are understood as consistent, achievable, successful and relevant.

2. Enhance sense of belonging

Groups should promote practices that facilitate feeling part of the group, such as regular meetings. This should however be promoted in a way that is non-exclusionary to other people and communities.

3. Promote socialising and celebrating moments

Some groups have been able to create social and/or celebratory events during the pandemic. This has been considered important for facilitating community engagement and simultaneously to keep the morale of the group high.

4. Engage with the community

Informing the community about the group’s activities is crucial for facilitating community engagement. Make sure that the local community knows how to join the group, participate in its activities and where to ask for help.

5. Encourage care and support

Care strategies are important to avoid burnout in activist and group settings, and they should be considered at an organisational level.

6. Ask people to contribute

It can be tough to ask for help. People may feel anxious, ashamed and uncomfortable. It is easier to accept help when people feel that they are also contributing something. This will also increase the spirit of solidarity and mutual support.

7. Promote collaborative relationships

Building alliances and collaborative relationships with others is key for ensuring an effective community response in which everyone receives the help they need. This facilitates access to resources and an effective provision of help.

8. Be flexible in terms of roles and procedures

While coordination and leadership roles are important, informal and flexible leadership roles are particularly valued. Groups should facilitate structures that are not too hierarchical and rigid in their roles and procedures.

Are you part of a support group and/or want to know more about this research? Consult their Mutual Aid Groups & COVID-19 May 2021 Newsletter.

Group and COVID is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and UK Research and Innovation. Dr Maria Fernandes-Jesus is a social and community psychologist, specialising in the study of participation and collective action. John Drury is Professor of Social Psychology and part of the Social and Applied Psychology Group in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Faculty research

Spirit of Sussex Award -Psychology Nominees: Bushra Farooq

The Spirit of Sussex Award (SoSA) Connector team has been in contact with Psychology students to highlight their impressive extra-curricular activities. Log onto the Spirit of Sussex Award website to start logging points for your own extra-curricular activities to secure a Bronze, Silver or Gold Award. 

This month the SOSA Connector team wish to highlight the activities of Bushra Farooq, who studies an MSc in Clinical Psychology and Mental Health.

Have you been involved with any societies whilst at Sussex? 

I was invited by the South Asian Society for a collaboration on a cook along as I have an Instagram page called @anotherfoodstory_ for One World Week which was held 15-20 March 2021. I’ve been an advocate for physical and mental health for years and my page is just a channel for everyday tips on nutrition and overall wellbeing.  

What have been your personal highlights at Sussex outside of class time? 

I’ve not had any particular highlights at Sussex because I stay off-campus. That being said, walks in different parks around Brighton. My favourite spot has to be near the beach as I feel so much more at peace and helps me disconnect from the immense overload of sensory experience. I believe being on your own does not have to be unhealthy or toxic, allowing yourself to sit with uncomfortable feelings, such as disconnection with others, allows you to know more about yourself, which contributes to personal growth. 

What have you been doing during lockdown?

 I took up the 56 miles running challenge with Cancer Research UK to raise money for cancer research. I successfully completed 56 miles in February and have gotten into a healthy exercise routine. I’m hoping to continue as it feels like a great way to connect with nature and listen to my favourite podcasts. 

What motivated you to get involved in those activities? 

Working towards a cause and being able to make a contribution motivates me to continue those activities. And a bigger picture of my overall health.

Where do you hope to take your activities in the future? 

I’m hoping to promote different health challenges within the University of Sussex for students from different clubs and societies and to encourage them to raise funds for organisations. I also want to create further awareness on the importance of nutrition, mental health and sleep in our lives.

Have you done any charity work in the past 12 months? If so, what did you do to raise money for those charities?

Role: Director in Public Affairs and Campaign Strategy at Child Awareness Project (CAP) (2016-present) 

This year, unlike previously, the majority of the advocacy projects moved online. One of the moments this year that I believe made a difference was a collaboration work with over 10 different individuals including myself on topics such as productivity during the pandemic, self-care and mindfulness, cyberbullying, habit formation, gratitude, resilience building, journaling, laws surrounding children, physical health and mental well-being and importance of handwashing. We all seem to be aware of these topics in passing but going in-depth and working with my team on making a consistent flow for the youth and children who follow us on social media was the most impactful and successful online campaigns CAP has run. 

Role: Project Leader at Shashwat Jigyasa (2020-present) 

Bushra delivering a training workshop on menstrual hygiene for Shashwat Jigyasa

In March 2020, I began a project on menstrual hygiene education for girls with Autism in Lucknow, India. We ran a successful workshop and were going to continue running in-person workshops for parents, caregivers and schools with special children, but due to the pandemic, I had to put a hold on on-field activities. I’ve been in the midst of training volunteers online and educating them about sexual education and menstrual hygiene and speaking with the girls’ parents to make the training more relevant and address the challenges mentioned by them. Lastly, the proudest moment of mine was raising over £500 for sanitary products for the schools so girls don’t have to miss school and be comfortable if they get their period during the school hours. Ongoing work with creating training manuals in Hindi and English for the parents. 

Other positions: 

"Taking the time and effort to go beyond what's expected of you and ensure that communities around you are being helped is what truly makes you a representative of TheirWorld"

Youth Opportunities – Global Youth Ambassador (Representative for India) 2020 

Theirworld – Global Youth Ambassador (Representative for India) 2020- present 

I’ve been doing work in communities for over eight years now in India, Oman, Vietnam, Malaysia and now the UK. My inspiration stems from the principle of paying it forward. 

Do you have a part-time job at University? If so, what is it, and what do you do in the role?

I currently hold three different positions:

International Student Ambassador (Part-time Job) 

My role focuses on working with the international student support and marketing team to help with Open Days, and emailing/speaking with students on the experience at Sussex, especially during the pandemic. Stating the pros and cons of being an international student in the UK and painting an honest picture of what the options are for the overseas students arriving at Sussex. 

Post Graduate International Student Representative (School of Psychology) 

My role focuses on being a voice for the international students at the School of Psychology. Whether that is talking about the attainment gap, feedback for examinations, further academic support for essays, providing further global examples in teaching and more. In addition to this, I also work with the UG International representative to create and leading events e.g. International Student Social.

This role is extremely important to me as there is a lack of representation for International Students at school level. The University of Sussex is a strong research-based university but it has a long way to go in catering completely for international students. 

Course Representative for MSc Clinical Psychology and Mental health program

My role focuses on creating a space for the students to contact me about any queries they might be having, whether they are course related e.g., EC claims or about their own physical or mental health. I help to provide resources on and off-campus after consulting with the student experience team, I make sure to inform the Student Director so they can provide any extra information. 

Are you feeling inspired? Log onto the Spirit of Sussex Award website to start logging points for your own extra-curricular activities to secure a Bronze, Silver or Gold Award. The award is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students at Sussex, and you will receive your certificate at your Graduation ceremony. 

Tagged with:
Posted in Masters students

ToyBox: a mental health start-up founded by students

Théoni Fernando is one of our students in the Occupational and Organisational Psychology MSc that we run in collaboration with the University of Sussex Business School. She and her friends Chloe, Diva and Arjin are the founders of ToyBox, a start-up company that promotes mental health. I’ve asked Théoni to explain a bit about their business and how they came up with the idea.

The concept behind ToyBox is that the mind is very much like a toy box. Toy boxes are usually filled with the same type of items: teddy bears, toy cars, building blocks, etc. But the combination and actual contents vary from box to box. This is similar to the mind. Most components are the same, such as the ability to feel or to think, but for every person it’s slightly different and has a different combination. This results in different personalities and individualities. As we are all so similar yet so uniquely different, the way we cope with mental health also varies. The purpose of ToyBox is to provide services and advice tailored for each individual, as well as to create a safe space for anyone who needs it.

We first had the idea of a business to promote mental health when we were studying for an undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Kent. As students, we encountered poor mental health, whether mild or severe, and we became passionate about helping people to navigate the obstacles to access mental health services. We felt that, although steps have been taken to normalise mental health, there was still more to be done.

Since then, we’ve joined business start-up events at Kent, Sussex and outside uni. We started developing skills, learned how to pitch ideas, write business proposals, and figure out the intricacies of running a business. The project started feeling real when we wrote a 10-page business proposal and applied for 2 funding opportunities. This motivated us to get things started. We organised bi-weekly meetings and pushed our idea even further to create amazing things!

toybox logo

The current global pandemic has highlighted the importance of wellbeing and mental health. It has also made it difficult to provide any sort of in-person services or events. For this reason, in November 2020 we decided to launch our Instagram account @toybox_uk to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of mental health. Since then, we’ve also expanded into Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Spotify to reach a wider audience.

After much preparation, in January, we started themed months. Each month we tackle a different mental health issue through a variety of content. We publish posts full of information, meaningful quotes and stories of people who have struggled with mental health. We do Instagram live sessions to discuss issues surrounding the topic at hand. And we’ve also compiled a list of different media, such as tv shows, books and movies, that we think portray the mental health issue fairly. So far, we have discussed depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And this April we are discussing autism for National Autism Awareness Month.

At the end of every month and after thorough research, Arjin choreographs and performs a dance to represent the mental health topic being discussed. We hope to show people a more honest and realistic portrayal of mental health in a unique and interesting way.

I host a podcast, “MusicBox Chatters”, which also airs near the end of the month. I present the topic in an enjoyable and educational manner. Occasionally, I also invite guests with experience with the monthly topic so that they can provide an insider’s perspective. At the beginning of the month, we ask our followers on social media to share their experiences with mental health or as friends and family of somebody who have experienced it. We hope real-life first-hand stories will help to educate and raise awareness, and thus reduce the stigma that mental health issues are all bad and scary.

To wrap up the month, we host a discussion session on Zoom called “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” During these sessions, we recap the topic and give the public the chance to share their views. The event is not just for people who have experienced mental health problems. Our goal is to raise awareness. Everyone is welcome! 

If you’re interested in mental health, you can follow ToyBox on Instagram @toybox_uk where you’ll find more information and links to all their other social media channels. This month ToyBox is discussing autism. You’re invited to join their FREE Zoom discussion session on the 30th of April 2021 at 1pm (BST). Sign up now

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Masters students

Creating a society that works for autistic people: The ACoRNS Health webinar

By Ethan Lam and Prof Nicola Yuill

The Autism Community Research Network Sussex was launched last year as a collaboration between Psychology and Education researchers at the University of Sussex and local autism stakeholders involved in education, health and social care services. ACoRNS is a sister organisation to AcoRN Southampton and seeks to develop, research, understand and share good practice in services used by autistic children and their families. The launch event focused on re-imagining education: 1 in 100 children in UK schools is autistic and the Covid-19 pandemic threw into sharp relief the pressures that autistic pupils can experience.

ACoRNS logo, an upside down acorn with 3 stick men on the green part covered by a rainbow. The acorn is surrounded by the message Autism Community Research Network

We held our second event on 24th March, focusing on Re-imagining Healthcare in Autism. The Westminster Commission on Autism identified many ways that autistic people experience greater health risks and reduced life expectancy compared to the general population. How can healthcare be made more accessible? Seven speakers presented their experiences and new initiatives.

Dr Stephanie Daley from the Brighton & Sussex Medical School (BSMS) shared their progress of setting up a ground-breaking new programme, Time for Autism, based on the award-winning Time for Dementia initiative. Families were concerned about doctors’ lack of awareness and understanding about autism, meaning that it is a challenge to provide care and treatment in ways that consider the specific needs of autistic patients. Parents felt that communication between healthcare professionals was not efficient and that they, as the experts of their child, wanted to be listened to more. Time for Autism starts in September 2021 as a mandatory part of medical student training at BSMS. Each student will visit a family with an autistic child over the course of a year. The goal is for medical students to develop a relationship with the families and understand more about their lived experiences, creating a new generation of doctors who can adapt to better suit the needs of families and their autistic child. The project is encouraging families to sign up to take part.

Dr Samantha Holt, a researcher in autism from the Children and Technology Lab (University of Sussex) shared her experiences as a parent of an autistic daughter. She described how challenging a visit to the GP can be. Being in an unfamiliar and busy environment creates anxiety and having to sit and wait exacerbates the level of stress her daughter experiences. Sam shared some of the strategies she has developed over the year, including bringing a DVD player with her daughter’s favourite movies playing and asking for a separate place to wait. She recalled a time that her daughter was seriously ill and the difficulty of getting into an ambulance, as the system could not cope with them arriving in their own familiar car.

Following the tragic death of Oliver McGowan, his mother Paula McGowan started a petition to campaign for mandatory training for autism and learning disabilities in health practitioners and she shared the recent progress of the scheme with us. The Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training in Learning Disability and Autism Awareness, co-designed by autistic people, is based on the Capabilities Framework for Supporting People with a Learning Disability and Autistic People. It aims to educate all health and social care staff on what these issues are and how they affect people living with it, how to apply reasonable adjustments consistently across contexts, and for staff to reflect on their own behaviours, biases and prejudices. Another goal Paula hopes to achieve is for health practitioners to develop skills to communicate well with the patients themselves and to work with them collaboratively on their treatment. The ultimate objective is for healthcare for learning disabled and autistic people to reach outcomes at the same level as in the general population.

Dr Jennifer Parry, consultant in paediatric dentistry from the Sussex Community Foundation NHS Trust, talked about overcoming the difficulties of attending dental care experienced by autistic people. Dental surgeries can be very challenging for autistic people with sensory sensitivities: the bright lights, the closeness of the dentist and the probing instruments in the mouth, as well as the smells, can all trigger real distress. The trust has increased training for staff in ASD following feedback of experiences during the pandemic. The training consists of 2 videos, the first from an autistic person’s point of view showing some possible triggers for anxiety they may encounter in a dental surgery. They then ask staff to reflect and think of possible solutions to ease these anxieties. The second video shows how they might adapt their practice and the way they talk to their patients, such as explaining what is going to happen and why, and giving time for patients to process the information they have been given.

Dr Ian Male and Will Farr of the autism diagnostic clinic at Sussex Community Foundation NHS Trust shared their current project on improving the diagnostic pathways for Autism. The pandemic has accelerated the move from in-person practices to more digital ones like online GP calls and video observation. The project came about because of the concerns about the long waiting times and growing waiting lists for autism diagnosis. Many families saw the use of video observation as positive, but it also places challenges to standardised testing, as variations in the environment affect the reliability and validity of diagnostic testing. They also spoke about integrating different professionals across fields to improve competencies and skills.

Finally, Professor Nicola Yuill from the Children & Technology Lab shared the early work on the new Our Stories project, in collaboration with the University of Southampton ACoRNS group. Our Stories builds on the Autism Transitions project which co-creates video stories showing the perspectives of autistic children. The Sussex part of Our Stories is working with Time for Autism and with Just Right, an initiative in Brighton & Hove schools that aims to support autistic children manage their emotions in the classroom environment to help them be in the best frame of mind for learning.  The project is working with a technology company, PALS Society, to produce video stories with children and young people,  and virtual tours of settings so that people can ‘walk round’ virtually before they even enter a building.

The breakout groups produced lively discussions about how health services could adapt, and how quickly these new initiatives might help close the health gaps.

Ethan Lam is a Psychology undergrad student doing a placement year with the Children and Technology Lab (ChatLab). Nicola Yuill is a professor of Developmental Psychology in the School of Psychology at Sussex. She is part of the Developmental and Clinical Psychology research group, the director of the Children and Technology Lab and one of the founders of ACoRNS.

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Event

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.