What are you currently researching?
There are several strands to my current research. Firstly, I’m using large-scale data (the National Pupil Database) to look at inequalities in attributions to young children of different special educational needs and disabilities (SENDs). I’m interested in how children’s own characteristics – including birth month, gender, and family background – affect propensities to disparate diagnoses.
I’m also investigating variation by school and local factors, and at how things have changed over the past decade, within a shifting environment of policies, funding, and narratives. I’ll look at how variations in early ascriptions of SENDs are related to children’s continuing experiences, like school attainment and exclusions.
Secondly, I’m using the Millennium Cohort Study to research topics ranging from parents’ religious beliefs (and the link between these and the school their child attends), to biases in perceptions of pupils’ ability, to factors influencing breastfeeding.
Lastly, I’m continuing work with CASE colleagues, exploring inequities in experiences of and access to pre-school care and education.
What attracted you to this area of research?
I spent almost a decade working directly with children and young people, and subsequently became a researcher in the (then) Department for Children, Schools and Families.
This generated an enormous raft of research questions that ever grows. I enjoy exploring, in large-scale quantitative data, ideas germinated through lived experiences and wider reading, and I focus on research with direct utility in addressing, challenging, and informing policies, practices, and the lives of children and families.
How will your research improve or have a wider impact on society?
Because it applies to current issues, I hope my research can contribute evidence to public debates that are important in shaping lives. Discovering new patterns in the data can identify issues that may otherwise go unseen and unconsidered; I think it’s fundamentally important that this information is unpicked, reported and discussed.
What do you hope to do career-wise, long term?
Academia is my third career-bundle, after working directly with young people, and government research (alongside a sprinkling of freelancing, and two small people thrown in during my PhD).
I’m enjoying my postdoc very much, as I did my doctorate; it’s a massive privilege to be paid to have the freedom to research and write under my own agenda. I currently hope to stay in academia in the long term, perhaps with occasional side-steps back into policy and practice to keep my thinking fresh and relevant.
What are your top three tips to prospective students on the most effective way to approach research and keep stress levels down?
I think that prioritisation and saying ‘no’ are very important, though I don’t always manage to put this into practice!
Stepping back and (re)assessing the aspects of my work that I find intrinsically rewarding and meaningful, and focussing here (and less on things that are the priorities of other people or systems!) can help.
Finding genuinely sympathetic, supportive peers and /or senior mentors can also make a big difference; and it’s important to pay back in and support others, to help create a reasonable and enjoyable environment.
What resources are available at LSE to help early career researchers?
The communications and public relations teams at LSE have been helpful in promoting and disseminating my work and that of colleagues.