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A day in the life of a St Andrew’s Research Assistant

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Elanor and, since October 2019, I have worked as a research assistant within St Andrew’s. A career in research wasn’t always the job I had planned. In fact, my job aspirations have constantly transitioned throughout my life, from Blue Peter presenter, to ballerina, to best-selling author – all roles which I am yet to pursue, but the latter looking most likely at the moment – watch this space for my publications news!

In fact, my journey into a career in research began on a whim decision to study A-Level Psychology, back in 2013. Seven years and an undergraduate and master’s degree later, I landed my first role, working within the Research Centre here at St Andrew’s.

No two days are ever the same…

Unlike the majority of research assistant posts, my role is fairly unique in that I don’t work on a singular project. I get to be involved in a whole range of research and innovation activities, covering the application of virtual reality in the treatment of social avoidance and the development of digital technology for those living with dementia, to the prevalence of early trauma and the associated impacts on mental and physical health needs.

Why St Andrew’s?

Before starting my role here, I held a voluntary role in a local community wellbeing service for children and young people. Working directly with service users and their families was incredibly rewarding and a huge motivator underlying my drive for a career in psychology. However, I also recognised the value of the potentially life-changing impacts of clinical research and developing current knowledge around mental health. So the opportunity to work within the Research Centre (and now Research & Innovation) of a unique mental health setting was the perfect role for combining the two, offering patient engagement through research experience.

Additionally, the unique ability to work so diversely across multiple projects has meant that I have been able to dip into many different areas of psychology, which has allowed me to identify my particular research interests.

More than just experience

The skills that I have learnt over my first year have been instrumental in my development, and working within such a supportive and encouraging team has had a huge impact. However, the rewards extend far beyond simply ‘work experience’.

Perhaps most importantly are the interactions that I’ve had, and continue to have, with the patients. Whilst a lot of my week is typically spent reading, writing and researching at my desk, the time that I do get to spend on the wards is incredibly valuable, and the way I think about and approach discussions around mental health has changed.  An insight into the experiences and challenges faced by those in our care, as well as the motivation, strength and resilience shown through recovery has definitely helped me to develop a more compassionate approach to others, whether that be family and friends, strangers, or my own self. 

This time next year…

I hope to be back at university studying for a PhD. Since my initial decision to study psychology during sixth form, I have been fairly sure that a career in mental health was the path I wanted to pursue, but the time I have spent in my role at St Andrew’s has undoubtedly confirmed that.