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Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering

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Laura Tishel: How do babies' brains develop?

8 August 2018

How do babies' brains develop? Discussing views on infant development in a community in the rural Gambia

I had an idea to adapt a series of training workshops on infant brain development, developed by the London Brain Project and which is usually run by psychology undergraduates, so that it could be delivered by health workers to a community in Keneba, a rural village in Africa. These health workers and volunteers are involved in thehealth workers involved in thethe project staff of the BRIGHT project hosted by the Medical Research Council Unit, The Gambia. This was a bit daunting, as no one had ever applied to do anything quite like this before, but Professor Clare Elwell and the whole team in Gambia were on board, and keen to make it work.

I applied for a 
Train and Engage award to fund the project. Train and Engage is a scheme for postgraduate research students run by UCL Public Engagement. You attend public engagement training (this takes place once a year, in the Spring term) and then apply for grants of up to £1,000 to deliver a specific engagement project. The sessions are interactive and challenging, feature group and individual work and help you to develop your own ideas for public engagement in your research.

The project was a great success, and I’m really proud of what we achieved. The team members acquired a lot of new learning around brain functioning, infant development and mental health issues which will help them deliver better care to the community, and feedback from parents was very positive. We had whole families coming along and engaging with the sessions, and some really lively question and answer sessions where we were able to dispel a lot of myths and fears (for example, about whether epilepsy is contagious). A lot of the fathers were also village elders and therefore very influential – they were keen to go back ttheir villages and spread the word.


As for me, the experience wasn’t just fun – it was invaluable. I am now at the stage where I am interpreting data from my research and it is really useful knowing what the perceptions are in the population I’m working with. It has helped me, as a researcher, to contextualise my findings. If you are a student, I would say that Train and Engage is the best way to deliver your first project. You get so much support and training and it’s a great first step into public engagement.