What attracted you to take up your position at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE)?
I am a long-time fan of UCL! I did my Masters and PhD degrees here, and two post-doctoral research positions at the Health Behaviour Research Centre and Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience before moving to the University of Oxford for a fellowship.
I was very excited to move back to the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), and in particular to work at the Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE). I had seen how, within the autism research field, CRAE was unique in the way it performed cutting edge research but also engaged with the autistic community throughout. It was an ethos I firmly believed in, and I was very keen to get involved!
Which UCL graduate programmes do you contribute to in the current 2018/19 academic year?
I currently teach on the Special and Inclusive Education MA and on modules which are taken by those on the Educational Neuroscience MA/MSc and Psychology of Education MSc. I also supervise dissertation students from these programmes as well as those on the Speech, Language and Communication Needs in Schools MSc and Child Development MSc.
What do you most enjoy about your position and why?
I most enjoy the public engagement events that we run at CRAE. These include the Brain Detectives Science Club for young people, panel discussions, film screenings and lectures. They are incredibly hard work to organise, but they are a real team effort, and it's wonderful to see people of all levels working together.
I also think that these events are an important part of making sure that our research and other activities are in keeping with the wishes and interests of the autistic community. It's crucial that we collaborate with autistic people, parents, teachers and other professionals as much as we can.
What is the focus of your research and what benefits do you hope your discoveries and/or insights will bring?
My research focuses on superior abilities in autism, specifically with respect to attention and perception within the condition. Though autistic people face many challenges, I hope that my work will help change overly negative perceptions, and promote awareness of the many strengths that are also associated with autism.
We are also interested in impact of these skills in daily life, and whether they are being recognised. With that in mind we started a programme of research looking at the employment experiences of autistic adults and how these might be improved, inspiring the Deutsche Bank internship for autistic graduates. With only 16% of autistic adults currently in full-time employment, this is a vital area of research.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
I think that I am most proud when autistic people tell me that my research is meaningful to them, or has helped them understand aspects of their day-to-day experiences. I think it's all too easy for us researchers to become disconnected from those we are aiming to help, so for me, positive comments from the autism community are very important to make sure I stay on track!
How has being in London and/or at UCL in particular benefited you?
I feel very lucky to be based in London and to be part of the UCL community. Being so close to a number of other universities (Birkbeck, City etc.) facilitates great collaborations. For me, however, what particularly stands out is the UCL support for enterprise and entrepreneurship. There is a dedicated team who offer business advice, fundraising support, mentors and networking opportunities. I urge everyone to give it a try! I did, with my colleague Jake Fairnie (UCL Brain Sciences), and the result is MiniManuscript.com.