Neil Humphrey and Ola Demkowicz
Ola's thesis is entitled 'Investigating the relationship between cumulative risk exposure, resilience and mental health during early adolescence and how young people experience this process'.
What are the areas in which you most like to supervise?
At the moment most of our funded research is about children and young people’s mental health and how schools help or hinder the support of this aspect of their lives. About ninety percent of the PhDs I have supervised over the last ten years have addressed some aspect of this in the educational context. Many of my PhD students are attached to larger research projects, which is different to the more traditional model. My research students use data from these larger projects in their theses. This is not common practice at the Manchester Institute of Education, but it can be found more frequently in other fields of research.
Why do you enjoy supervising Ola?
Ola is a funded student. She is the first of three doctoral candidates to work on the 'Head Start' project, funded by the National Lottery. Head Start is a seven year longitudinal study that focuses on improving resilience among young people. I knew Ola before she started the PhD as she had completed a Masters in Psychology of Education here at MIE.
Her PhD focus is the mental health of female adolescents, and the factors that might predict their experience of emotional symptoms. In particular, she is working with data from Year 7 students (aged 11-12). This is an interesting time in children's lives because it is the period when girls and boys start to differentiate most clearly in terms of their experience of mental health problems. Ola drives the research and I chip in as a 'critical friend' and point to relevant existing literature on the topic.
Methodologically, we also see eye-to-eye, which is great. She is using mixed methods: quantitatively, she uses data from our Head Start longitudinal cohort of about 20,000 young people; qualitatively, she interviews female adolescents considered to be 'at risk' about their experiences.
Personally, we get on very well. When we recruit PhD students, we want academically able candidates, but we also need people who can work effectively as part of a wider research team because of the model that we use. We dedicate some supervision sessions to the funded project, and others to the PhD thesis. We make sure the former doesn’t overtake the latter so that Ola can graduate after three years with a high quality thesis. I also enjoy supervising Ola and students like her because it allows me to explore areas that I wouldn't otherwise have the time to do. Driven by mutual interest, we are able to push the research agenda forward together.
What's your research about?
My research is focused on cumulative risk exposure and protective factors as predictors of emotional symptoms in early adolescent girls, using mixed methods. My aim is to understand more about how cumulative risk is associated with these outcomes, including the mechanisms through which this relationship occurs, and what factors can possibly moderate these effects.
What's it like to be supervised by Neil at the Manchester Institute of Education?
My experience so far has been incredibly positive. I've had the freedom to make autonomous decisions and develop my skills as an independent researcher while having Neil's expertise and guidance to hand. Neil is very knowledgeable in the areas I'm researching and he has helped me to build on my original proposal to create a more specific focus that makes a clear contribution to the evidence base. Every few weeks I send him a draft of my proposal for him to go through before we meet for a supervision, and the feedback he provides is always very thorough. He's supported me in developing my skill set as well as my written work, and we talked early on about what my career plans are for after my PhD so that he can be aware of what I'm working towards and have that in mind when we make certain decisions. So far I've felt supported at every stage and I look forward to continuing my work with Neil over the next two years.