When I was in Year 9, my Psychology teacher suggested we get involved with YPAG as a sort of hobby in our spare time, which she implied would be very helpful for our futures in the subject. I joined because at the time, I really, really loved psychology. So it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a small job - because it was partly paid for - whilst also learning more about the subject I was hoping to do at University.
At the very beginning, it involved helping with modifying studies and discussing how research could best be carried out with young people. So it was commenting on research that had already been designed, sort of pointing out flaws and positives in what they'd done or were planning to do, showing them where things may not be as effective as they may have thought. We were a group of young people who predominantly did have mental health issues as well so we could point out how someone who may have anxiety might not respond to the questionnaire how they had hoped, or how group sessions may not have been the best approach.
The researchers who ran it sort of had to learn as they went along, taking feedback along the way. That was very productive because it meant they could quite quickly and efficiently change the little things that we were uncomfortable with and make sure that everyone who was there felt able to contribute. There was obviously nerves and anxiety and stress to begin with, but the way that it was run in small groups, and with people of a similar age, made it productive quite quickly from the start, I'd say. I think it worked really well.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was able to share personal experiences with new people and was able to make bonds with people a bit faster, because you're talking about things that would usually be quite hidden. In that group setting, you feel a lot more confident talking about theses things. Everyone was very compassionate and empathetic with each other, which was really lovely, because it sort of showed how you can talk about those things, and that a lot of other people have experienced them too.
As it got more established, we became more involved in the start of the process. We helped with the initial design, and with the coding of information. We were able to see the project go from the start to the end, whereas at the beginning, our involvement was only towards the end of the project. So for example, we did a project called Digital Diaries. We were able to see participant responses and put them into categories and decide how they should be grouped together; decide what was important information and what wasn't, which affects the results of the study much more, which was new. I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the entire process, because it means you see it sort of grow into what you wanted it to be at the start, and you can see how the way you've been involved has helped affect the running of it. As I've gone through more years being part of it, it's got more in depth, and we are more involved in bigger projects with larger scopes, which is very enjoyable, because you sort of see it from all perspectives now.
At the beginning having it prompted and with more structure really helped build people's confidence in giving their opinions. Further down the line, everyone felt more comfortable talking in front of each other, and sharing personal experiences as well, to sort of backup their points, which I think at the start, if we had been expected to do that, wouldn't have been as productive. Being able to feel comfortable enough to share our experiences alongside our opinions meant it was a lot easier to change everyone else's mindsets. Everyone can understand a lot easier, why that change is necessary and why they might agree to it as well.
The group progressively got smaller as people either went to University or weren't able to attend anymore, so we introduced new YPAG-ers. We helped with the introduction meetings for that and helped run things at the start of their experience, which was very lovely because you knew how you had progressed to the point where you were and you knew what you needed to do, so then you could help teach others to get there as well, which was lovely. Both parties got a lot out of being involved, it was symbiotic.
Personally, I think it's helped a lot of things. I think it helped me feel more confident in my choice of Psychology and helped me know what I'd be expected to do in the long term as well. It also helped with general confidence in teaching and talking about my personal things. It was also one of the main talking points in my personal statement for University. I'm doing Psychology at Birmingham University at the moment and I love it, I really enjoy it. I feel like I've gained a lot of confidence and, as well as academic success, I feel more able to help guide young people starting through a similar journey.
I’ve also gained knowledge in research and how it’s run. It showed me how necessary it is to involve young people in research about themselves. Obviously, as you get older, you just get less connected to what young people need. I'm interested in Mental Health and Childhood Development. I think this experience has helped shape how I would research that and how I would approach it. I feel like I want to involve young people as much as possible in my future research, which is very good for my own future in the subject as well.
Every part of YPAG was a learning curve. Being able to get involved in a really productive way and to stay involved for such a long period of time, was just a very lovely thing.