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Finding The Impact

It's coming up to two years since I started with the group. I’m a research assistant. Before that, I didn't really know much about YPAGs at all. I've been in industry for most of my life, so it was quite a new experience for me. I was brand new to Oxford and Oxford academia.

Gabi and Ilina started the group with a set of common principles, and that guided the evolution of how this YPAG sits. It's really fortunate compared to other YPAGs, in that it's had sustained funding over five years. That makes a huge difference. A major part of my work has been looking at how best to widen involvement and diversity, which is a massive topic. Essentially, it’s things like: how do we include more young people? How do we make it more accessible to young people outside of Oxford?

Rather than the YPAG being seen as just an enrichment activity, it was about making it appeal more broadly, to those of mixed academic ability, those who perhaps haven't had those opportunities before. We want to get more voices in here but it's really hard to do so, especially when you're recruiting to a physical YPAG in an Oxford College with an application process. But I think we did get over some of that. We specifically focused on state schools within Oxfordshire. And then we looked at applications to think, you know, how can we include more of these young people when we're still using an application process? We can work with different groups who work with the individuals we want to reach. And then it's more of a collaborative approach. That's what we started to develop. We called it a digital YPAG, because it was before Covid. We thought that digital might be the answer and ironically, when we were forced to do everything digital, it was the perfect opportunity to test that theory.

When it comes to widening involvement, it’s about being a bit more creative in the way we do research, and the methods as well. Research needs to be robust, but if we want to involve more young people, we also have to be more creative with it. There are ways to involve them, but we need to work out the opportunities and the limitations. We need to motivate researchers and really support them in finding new ways of working with young people. That's something that’s evolved out of the role. Much of it is about building the relationships with the young people, and it's their guidance that's helped us drive that creativity. The young people have made it, to be totally honest.

Part of the attraction of being involved is doing the research, I love the reading. I love the depth of knowledge of the research side, but also the feeling that it's made a difference to the individuals that are involved. The knowledge and experience those individuals have, it has an impact on you, and it makes you think quite differently. I've got four girls of my own, two teenagers, two are younger, but still, there's so much we can learn from every young person that you meet that's different. They don't need to have a label, they just have different experiences. And I think, through widening involvement, and looking at equality, diversity and inclusion – it's about welcoming everybody's differences and similarities. I think I've learned a lot about that.

It's definitely changed my approach to research, because now I can't imagine doing research without involving the public or young people. Part of me just can't see how meaningful it could be. I don't mean to disrespect a lot of good research that happens. But what we’ve done is something that I'd like to share with other researchers. It just takes a bit more effort. It's working out those limits and opportunities. Mental health research with the involvement aspect has given me a much broader view of how everything should fit together. It's made me challenge myself a little bit more about how I want to be involved in research.

None of my parents have a degree, I'm the first in my generation to have one. My family were working class really. Coming to Oxford University, for me, was probably as big as it was for some of these young people. And I think that's why I can understand how these young people might feel coming to an Oxford College, because to me, the first YPAG session was the first time I'd ever been in an Oxford College too. I've never even looked around one. And yeah, I think it's quite daunting. I think the more we can open that up and show that you can join, you are welcomed, you can be involved in research, it shouldn't matter what your background/history is.

I had freelanced for 12 years around my children. In 2016, I decided to study psychology. I learned a lot of skills, I did built relationships and worked with some really great teams. But it wasn't rewarding enough, the impact was not there. That's why I changed career. Now I can see the impact, I’m helping individuals, which makes a difference to them and to me. Working in mental health with this generation, I can see the future that I want my kids to have, and I could potentially help them affect that future. That's what’s really rewarding.


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