Name: Dr Valeria Skafida
Age range: 29
Research institution: College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, Centre for Population Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh
Research career length: 6 years
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and British Academy
Brief summary of research: Social Science & Mathematics
Sweden: Social studies ‘direction’ for three years of high school education
MA (Hons) in Social Policy and Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh
MSc by Research in Social Policy, University of Edinburgh
PhD in Social Policy, University of Edinburgh
Postdoctoral research (8 months) at the University of Bath
3-year British Academy postdoctoral Fellowship grant carrying out follow-up research from PhD , University of Edinburgh
People’s health is affected by many factors, including wealth, access to resources and their culture and behaviour. Social scientists, like Valeria Skafida, use powerful analytical tools to understand how the way we live our lives affects our health. The evidence from this type of research is often used in political decision-making.
My research makes use of one of the largest surveys ever done in Scotland, called ‘Growing up in Scotland’, which follows many aspects of the lives of thousands of children right across the nation from infancy through to their teens. I’m investigating how children's eating habits are formed and how this changes over time for infants and toddlers. I explore how these changes relate to the family’s income, family characteristics and children's health.
I completed school in Stockholm, Sweden, which has a different system from the UK in that you choose a general theme of study for three years in high school. I chose social sciences. I decided to come to the UK for graduate studies because the University of Edinburgh is world renowned, and has very high quality social science courses on offer. I then studied for a four year MA (Hons) in Social Policy and Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh – traditionally degrees in Scotland take four years and often a Master’s degree is awarded at the end. After my degree, I applied to do an MSc in Social Policy using ‘quantitative’ methods, which was a dramatic change of direction from ‘qualitative’ methods used during my first degree. Quantitative approaches are more mathematical, while qualitative are more in-depth and descriptive. Though each has its place in social science research, fewer researchers are skilled in quantitative methods, and this was the approach I applied in my ESRC funded PhD in Social Policy; and I continue to make use of them in my current follow-up research.
There are a number of reasons why I ended up doing what I now do. There was a university Lecturer who spotted some potential in me after I completed my first degree and encouraged me to apply for an MSc and PhD. Another was how the Swedish educational system taught me to love both science and learning and gave me the chance to study things that interested me. When I was around ten, my mother did a PhD, and I reckon I was also influenced by some of the discussions that we had at this time. I had a passionate interest in the connections between people’s eating habits and the social and political factors that lead to health inequalities.
I believe carrying out research helps you to grow as an individual and you learn how to use a logical sequence of steps when making decisions, both in your working and personal life. Research teaches you not to take anything for granted and to question things you might otherwise have simply accepted.
The best part of my job is the luxury of having time to explore a research question in depth, while I continue to learn and challenge myself. As far as my future career is concerned, I would like to continue having my research projects funded, and would be keen on gaining a university lectureship or researcher position in a research organisation/institute. I might be interested in an advisory role, perhaps working for the Scottish government, or for an organisation involved in fighting health inequalities. If I were very lucky, I could end up at a large international organisation, such as the EU, Unicef or the World Health Organisation, doing work that affected international public health policy. That would be fantastic.