Nina Higson-Sweeney

Tired all the time: Fatigue in adolescents with depression
University of Bath
Hi! Tell us a bit about yourself – what stage of your PhD are you in and what’s your project about?

Hi! My name is Nina and I am a first year PhD student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath. I am funded by the Economic and Social Research Council through the South West Doctoral Training Partnership, and my project is focused on furthering our understanding of fatigue within adolescent depression. What we know so far is that depression often starts during adolescence, and fatigue is one of the main symptoms reported. Fatigue can be highly problematic and disabling, yet it is not routinely addressed or treated within child and adolescent mental health services. There is a lot we do not know about fatigue in adolescent depression, so my project is predominantly exploratory, with the aim of starting to address this gap in our knowledge.

What does a typical day or week look like for you?

As I have just started my PhD (and we are in the middle of a pandemic), it is difficult to say what a typical day or week looks like. It changes based on my priorities, deadlines, and any events I am attending, alongside changes in everyday life. At the moment, I am focusing on drafting protocols for my studies, reading the literature around my subject area, and attending workshops that help to hone my skills as a researcher. I have recently finished marking my first batch of undergraduate lab reports, which was a steep but enjoyable learning curve – if you had asked me this question a week ago, I would have said “Reports! Lots and lots of reports!”.

What’s one thing that you’ve enjoyed the most during your PhD?

I have enjoyed being able to focus on one topic that I am really passionate about. I loved my undergraduate and Masters degrees, but the focus is more on breadth than depth, with the exception of dissertations. It is interesting to gain knowledge about a range of different areas, but I am definitely enjoying my chance to explore something in greater depth and become an expert in this particular field.

What’s been the most challenging part of it?

The most challenging part has been starting a PhD during the COVID-19 pandemic and how isolating it can feel. When I submitted my application in January, my idea of what a PhD would be like is vastly different to how it currently has to be, mostly in relation to homeworking. My university, department and cohort are trying very hard to make sure we develop strong, supportive networks through online platforms, but it is just not the same as face-to-face contact. I have my fingers crossed that things will be different this time next year.

Where do you see yourself 5 years after completing your PhD?
It is hard to say, because five years prior to today I had only just started my undergraduate degree and had minimal knowledge of what a PhD was! Things can change so much in that time. However, my dream would be a career in academia, splitting my time between conducting research in child and adolescent mental health, and helping the next generation of psychologists get ready to go out into the world. It would also be great to have the opportunity to do more face-to-face work, either in the NHS or the third sector, to help bridge the gap between research and real life.

What’s one piece of advice that you’d offer students that are thinking of doing a PhD?
Pick your topic and supervisor wisely. You will live and breathe your chosen topic for at least three years, so it needs to be something that you find genuinely interesting and are passionate about, to help keep you motivated. I would make a similar point about your supervisor – this is the person who will be helping to guide you through the next three years. I chose my supervisor because I already had a great working relationship with her and knew that our styles of working nicely matched. This is not always possible when choosing a supervisor, but take your time to find out more about them. Examples of ways you could do this is to read their research, check out their Twitter, or even ask about the possibility of an informal meeting. Taking the time now will be helpful to you later on.

What makes your university a good place to study?

The University of Bath is a brilliant place to study for many reasons – it has a fantastic reputation, a beautiful campus, and so many opportunities for growth. For me, the strength of my department and the doctoral college were particularly important considerations. The Department of Psychology is one of the best in the UK, with such diverse, inspiring research being conducted on a daily basis, and I feel lucky to be a part of it. There are also so many opportunities available through the doctoral college in terms of training, professional development, and networking. Something is always happening, even during the pandemic, and that really helps with feelings of isolation.

Lastly, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I absolutely love to read; you can rarely find me without a book (fiction, mind you – I read enough non-fiction for my PhD!). I also enjoy gaming, arts and crafts, and watching too much television on Netflix. I have a close relationship with my family, so enjoy spending time with them when I can, although this has not been as possible recently. The same goes for travelling – I cannot wait to get back out there.

Want to learn more about Nina?

Follow her on Twitter and check out her University and ResearchGate pages using the links below:

Twitter | University Profile | ResearchGate

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