Name: Dr Joanna Brooks
Research institution: Centre for Applied Psychological Research, University of Huddersfield
Research career length: 11 years
Research Council: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded PhD, Macmillian Cancer Support and the Bupa Foundation
Location: Huddersfield, England
Brief summary of research: Health Psychology
A-levels: History, Theatre Studies, English Literature, French, General Studies
BA Psychology, University of Manchester
PhD in Significant others and chronic fatigue syndrome
Research Assistant, University of Manchester
Research Associate, Macmillan Research Unit, University of Manchester
Research Fellow, University of Huddersfield
Medical conditions that affect people over a long period of time are referred to as ‘chronic’. People differ in the ways they cope when living with these conditions. As a psychologist, Joanna Brooks researches how the presence of ‘significant others’ can affect how a person with a chronic condition experiences the illness, and the extent to which they are able to lead a fulfilling life.
The Centre where I work, aims to promote and develop the use of psychological ideas in real world settings. As psychologists, our focus is on the way people behave and the nature of their experience, recognising that this is always shaped by the social worlds they inhabit. We have a very practical approach to research design, believing that the methods used should match problems being addressed. My personal research interests centre on chronic illness conditions, including cancer and an illness called chronic fatigue syndrome (sometimes referred to as ME). I am particularly interested in exploring the role of ‘significant others’ (such as partners and family members) on the condition.
This current research follows a path of my previous research jobs which included looking at what happens to cancer survivors when they returned to work after treatment, how ‘significant others’ affected perceptions of illness and work participation in patients with persistent back pain, and the evaluation of a palliative care service - where terminally ill people have their pain and discomfort managed.
My current duties include undertaking research, lecturing, supervising postgraduate students, bidding for external funding, and management and organisation of research centre activities, such as seminars, workshops and conferences. I submit articles to academic journals and give presentations at conferences. I am lucky to work at an institution that is genuinely committed to promoting excellence in research, and to supporting and developing those who wish to develop academic research careers. I am additionally fortunate to be supported by both an excellent line manager and great colleagues.
For women, the time when their research career is taking off often coincides with when they might wish to start a family. I can’t say that this isn’t a challenge, but my experience shows how, with the right support, it is possible to be both a mother and researcher.
My first pregnancy occurred less than a month into my PhD, and was entirely unplanned and unexpected. I assumed that there was no way I would be able to continue with my studies, but my wonderful PhD supervisor was incredibly supportive and encouraging, so I was able to continue. Both my supervisor and research funders also supported me through my second pregnancy, which sadly ended in stillbirth, and then through a subsequent successful birth.
There are a number of reasons why I chose to take this particular career path. I had a great experience as an Undergraduate , including studying a subject I really loved. The idea for my PhD studies developed from an undergraduate lecture, in which we heard the personal experience of a family member of someone with a chronic illness. Families are important in other ways too. I am the first person in my family to go on to postgraduate study - a choice that was admired and valued by them. Other sources of support and inspiration include my PhD supervisor, who was my role model and mentor, my current line manager, and my husband, who also works in research, and thus fully understands the demands and expectations of the job. I now happily combine a full time research position with managing a busy home life with three daughters and three stepchildren. In my experience, a research career has allowed me to achieve a fulfilling work-life balance whilst undertaking stimulating and enjoyable work that has, I believe, the potential to make a genuine impact in real world settings for other people and their families.