Liam Spencer is a Mental Health Research Fellow with the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North East and North Cumbria (NENC) and is based at Newcastle University.
His background is in youth and community work, and he completed his undergraduate degree alongside this work. His is now completing a PhD, whilst undertaking a Mental Health Research Fellowship with the ARC North East and North Cumbria.
Three words to describe your path in research
Rewarding. Engagement. Impact.
Tell us about your background before you got into research
I spent seven years in youth and community work practice, for local authority, charity, and private organisations.
Initially I worked with young people in collaboration with a regional newspaper – the Northern Echo, to create written articles, podcasts, blogs, radio shows and videos.
I then moved to an early intervention and prevention team, working in detached, street-based, drop-in and youth club contexts.
I worked with Barnardo’s and was involved in holiday scheme provision, and regular short-break respite and personal assistant support sessions, mainly with young people with autism and/or behavioural issues, focussing on their social integration, anxiety management, and outreach within the community.
I also worked for YoungMinds, in a role that was designed to increase young people’s participation and engagement with the YoungMindsVs campaign. This included developing and delivering mental health issue-based universal intervention sessions in schools, colleges, and youth clubs.
Tell us about your first steps into research
I continued to work in practice alongside my undergraduate Psychology studies. After graduating, I began to look for new opportunities in my field of interest – particularly around children and young people’s mental health.
This led me to my first part-time role which was as a researcher on the NIHR programme SIPS Junior; comparing the effectiveness of a face-to-face brief intervention with an electronic brief intervention (smartphone app) designed to prevent alcohol-related harm in young people aged 14-17 years presenting at A&E.
Working on this project provided an opportunity for me to bring my existing skills and experience to a new discipline, whilst developing new research skills and teaching me how I could have a positive impact and bring about real change through research.
How did that develop into where you are now?
Following six months working on the SIPS Junior project, I became a full-time Research Assistant at Newcastle University. Since then I have completed an MSc in Social Science and Health Research, and I am currently in the fourth year of my PhD, which I am undertaking part-time by published work.
I have been involved with a variety of different research projects at Newcastle University. These include: the NIHR SPHR Public Mental Health programme; ATTUNE (Understanding Pathways to Stimulant Use: A mixed-methods examination of the individual, social and cultural factors shaping illicit stimulant use across Europe); Using Behavioural Insights to Improve the Uptake of Support for Services for Drug and Alcohol Misuse in Hartlepool; Tyne and Wear Citizens’ Living Well: Mental Wellbeing and Public Life in the North East; and PROMOTE: NE (Preventing Risks Of Mental illness Onset and Treating Early in the North East).
What are the next steps for you?
I am currently completing my PhD, whilst undertaking my ARC Mental Health Fellowship which runs until July 2024. This fellowship is a fantastic opportunity to form new collaborative working relationships with partners across research and practice throughout the North East and North Cumbria – building research capacity in the field of mental health and developing plans for future work.
What advice would you give someone working in a social care role at the moment who wanted to get involved in research?
Transitioning from a face-to-face practice role into research can be challenging, but it is incredibly important to have people from practice backgrounds involved in research, bringing such relevant experience, and important perspectives to the table.
It is great to be able to engage with people and groups in a meaningful way and feel as though you are helping to represent their views in important policy and practice relevant work.