UCL Grand Challenges


Adolescent Lives

UCL Grand Challenges' Adolescent Lives initiative has supported work spanning across all six Grand Challenges, with multiple impacts emerging from these new collaborations.

In 2017-18, UCL’s Grand Challenge of Cultural Understanding led a pan-Grand Challenges initiative focused on Adolescent Lives, to support cross-disciplinary activity from across the UCL research community. The work addressed three topics: what is adolescence, youth prospects, and youth identities. Details of all the projects funded under this initiative are available here

The initiative aimed to enable the voices of young people to be heard on a range of areas including environment, housing, ownership of culture, and issues of inclusion and exclusion; to understand how they articulate concerns, and to explore the changing nature of a sense of person, place and community. In addition, the Adolescent Lives theme sought to question the limits and scope of adolescence (as defined in social, educational and medical contexts), and answer the question, "what does the term 'adolescent' encompass?" Through the lenses of different cultures, and social and economic perspectives, what does adolescence mean in modern Britain, and in other nations globally, today?

The projects generated significant impact, as was apparent during a one-day showcase workshop in which the projects presented their emerging, innovative, cross-disciplinary research activities and findings. An outline of these multiple impacts and the cross-disciplinary research harnessed under the inititaive are detailed below. More in-depth details of the projects' impacts can be found on the Grand Challenges Adolescent Lives blog

Teen Views on Adolescence (Dr Emily Emmott and Dr Francesca Vaghi)

Dr Emily Emmott from the UCL Thomas Coram Research Unit in the Institute of Education and Francesca Vaghi organised a one day workshop asking a group of teenagers to share views and opinions about what 'adolescence' means to them. Their findings are a fascinating glimpse into what adolescence is all about today:

Between Spaces: Museums and mental wellbeing in young people (Dr Humera Iqbal, Dean Veall, and Dr Katie Quy)

Dr Humera Iqbal, Lecturer in Psychology, Department of Social Science, Institute of Education, in collaboration with Dean Veall, Learning and Access Officer, Grant Museum of Zoology, Professional Services, and Dr Katie Quy, Lecturer in Psychology, Department of Social Science, Institute of Education explored what impact using ideas from museum spaces and creative practice had on young people based at psychiatric inpatient settings. The project asked how can we foster a sense of belonging in young people with mental health needs in inpatient hospital settings a) to wider society (and a connection to the outside world) b) within the unit as a space of wellbeing?

People Like Us: Participating in youth lives in rural Somerset (Dr Alison Macdonald, Lasse Johansson, and Sally Dennehy)

Dr Alison Macdonald, from UCL's Department of Anthropology, collaborated with Lasse Johansson a documentary filmaker at UCL, and Sally Dennehy a state school teacher in Somerset, to produce a film aimed at understanding adolescence in the context of permanent school exclusion in non-selective state schools and to challenge societal misconceptions about the ‘excluded kid’. 

Autistic Adolescents' Use of Social Media (Dr Will Mandy and Laura Hull)

Dr Will Mandy, Senior Lecturer in UCL Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology, and Laura Hull, PhD student in the Research Department of Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology at UCL collaborated to develop a guide for autistic adolescents' using social media.

Cannabis, Adolescence, and Identity: Beyond the 'stoner' (Dr Claire Mokrysz and Dr Will Lawn)

Dr Claire Mokrysz and Dr Will Lawn from Clinical Psychophamacology, UCL Clinical Educational & Health Psychology, worked with colleagues in UCL's Applied Health Research unit to examine what London-based adolescents think about cannabis use, identity and the pros and cons of cannabis use. The project also investigated longitudinal associations between cannabis-related identity and cannabis problems in teenagers. 

Adolescent Identities: The untapped power of young adult literature (Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold and Dr Leah Phillips)

Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, Senior Lecturer in UCL Information Studies, and Dr Leah Phillips, PDRA at UCL's Knowledge Lab, examined what impact a lack of diversity in young adult fiction is having on adolescents. The project created an infographics and reading list, YouTube channel, and blog. 

160 Characters (Dr Geordan Shannon and Dr Anna Kydd SHM Foundation)

Dr Geordan Shannon, UCL Institute for Global Health, collaborated with the SHM Foundation on the 160 Characters Project aimed at creating a new, interdisciplinary research framework for understanding the potential of mobile messaging for the treatment of mental health. The research aimed to crack the 60,000+ messages generated by Project Khuluma - a peer to peer social support program for adolescents living with HIV in South Africa. In August 2018, SHM Foundation and UCL Global Health convened a workshop that involved analysis of the messages using the ‘six voices’ framework. The voices of medical science, social science, literature, technology, implementation science and participants themselves came together to generate new insights into the mental health and wellbeing needs of adolescents living with HIV.

Expanding the Social Self through Theatre in Adolescents with Autism (Dr Jamie Ward and Professor Antonia Hamilton)

Dr Jamie A. Ward, UCL Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience, worked with colleagues at Goldsmiths and the Flute Theatre company on the project, 'Expanding the social self through theatre in adolescents with autism'. The project found that by visualising each child’s engagement over the course of a performance, it is possible to highlight subtle moments of social coordination that might otherwise be lost when reviewing video footage alone. This is important because it points the way to a new method for people who work with autistic children to be able to monitor the development of those in their care, and to adapt their therapeutic activities accordingly. 

Neurobiology and Sociology of Sleep/sleeplessness in Adolescents (Kim Whitehead and Professor Matthew Beaumont)

Kim Whitehead, early career researcher in neurobiology and Professor Matthew Beaumont, Professor of English Literature and Co-Director of UCL's Urban Lab, joined together to explore the little-understood world of sleep and sleep disorders through the disparate disciplines of neurology, literature, and art. Their project asked: is the concept of sleeplessness learned in adolescence and, if so, does this explain why insomnia is rare before adulthood? In a recent issue of The Lancet, they also argued for the need for an inter-disciplinary approach to sleep research.