UCL News


Seven questions with Aisling O'Sullivan and Jia Su

9 February 2017

This week, meet Aisling and Jia Su (Jerry), two UCL medical students who are passionate about raising mental health awareness.

Seven questions with Aisling O’Sullivan and Jia Su The duo are the masterminds behind 'What Do You Think?' - an interactive UCL mental health awareness event, which will include a mindfulness rave in Tavistock Square Gardens.

1. Why you are both interested in studying medicine, and what do you hope to do in the future?

Aisling: I initially chose to study medicine because I want to help people and I like science, but from my time in the medical school I've learned how much I enjoy hearing people's stories and lives and how this plays into their health and mental health in particular.

This is why I would like to eventually become a psychiatrist because the field is teeming with patients who are the most at risk of feeling ignored or looked down on because of how mental health is treated.

Jerry: I've scarcely been able to imagine myself following anything else other than a medical career. To me, medicine is the one profession where I feel that I can make the most of myself as well as the most positive difference in other peoples' lives.

This will probably come across as more cliched than I already sound, but I quite fancy myself a surgeon of some sort in the future. I'm a very hands-on person and quite like seeing results happen in front of me, and many branches of surgery fit nicely into that foil.

2. You are also involved in organising the event 'What Do You Think?' in February. What motivated you to organise this event and what does your role involve?

Aisling: My family has a lot of experiences with mental health, and at the start of the year my sister was very unwell. As I was very concerned for her, I did a lot of research and discovered many things about mental health that I didn't know or understand, and I wanted to do something that would help me feel more useful in that respect. 'What Do You Think?: a UCL mental health awareness event (11 Feb) was the result.

We'd very much like for it to run annually at UCL, and that more and more people  become involved either as organisers or attendees. There's just so much more to explore about mental health, and we think this event is a good way about that.

In terms of my role, I've sourced and talked to speakers, coordinated the committee, written timetables for the event, and made decisions about which ideas and options to run with. Being enthusiastic is also a big part of what I do to keep the collective momentum going for an event this big!

Jerry: Like Aisling, I've had experiences with family members struggling with mental health. My family never really talked about mental health even as it was so present, and it was hard for me to understand what was going on for years.

I more or less jumped at the opportunity to involve myself in an event aimed at opening up discussion of mental health when Aisling first talked to me about it.

Like her, I think there's a lot of promise in having an annual event, such as this, to push for people to even begin talking about mental health, and I'm keen on seeing how far we can really go with expanding this event beyond what we've got planned for February 11.

I like to think of myself as the amateur wordsmith for this event. I wrote up the initial application for funding with Aisling's input, and I've also helped with publicising our event by writing factsheets and articles.

3. Explain some of the challenges involved in working on 'What Do You Think?'

Aisling: Organising the morning mindfulness rave was a lot more difficult that I'd expected. Initially we were given the green light to hold it in Russell Square but then we ran into some issues that had us move it to Tavistock Square Gardens instead.

I had to learn about insurance to cover the rave, which wasn't something I'd dealt with before. I also had to learn how to manage my committee and make sure everyone was doing what they were supposed to do, which again was sort of being thrown into the deep end of things.

Jerry: I think the biggest challenge was deciding which ideas we wanted to have for the event, because there were just so many and it wasn't feasible to run them all on the same day.

After we'd narrowed the list down and began confirming speakers, we also had some difficulties with people dropping out after agreeing to help us with the event, so that caused a bit of a scramble in getting new speakers and refilling vacant spots. But it's all come together again, and we're really excited to see how everything will turn out!

4. What has been a personal highlight so far?

Aisling: We had so many ideas for the event in the preliminary stages that it was nearly impossible to fit them all on one sheet of paper!

It was the best feeling whenever we were able to confirm a speaker or activity to definitively run on the day itself; there's just something about seeing an idea that had been there since the beginning coming to fruition in the weeks leading up to the event.

Jerry: Probably when we first heard that we'd gotten approval for funding from UCL ChangeMakers. I'd helped to draft the application with Aisling over a few weeks to make sure that it really captured the spirit of what we hoped to achieve with our event, and hearing back that ChangeMakers believed in our cause and was willing to support us was the most heartening thing.

5. If you were Provost for the day what one thing would you do?

Aisling: I would appoint a UCL Mental Health Ambassador, whose role would be to look into how mental health is currently being managed and recommend improvements for UCL to take on.

UCL Psychological Services have a lot of students to look after and I feel this is an area of UCL that needs to be prioritised right now. There really is a lot more that can be done to improve the quality of help that students should receive.

Jerry: Scaling back expansion would be a good place to start. I don't think it helps that academia is already stressful enough for staff and students alike, and being forced to work with unrealistic expectations makes things worse.

Obviously improving the quality and quantity of research is important for any world-class university, but it shouldn't come at the expense of burning out everyone involved.

6. Who inspires you and why?

Aisling: My mum inspires me. She puts her 100% into everything she does and never expects anything in return. I'd always looked up to her as a leader and she has been my main role model in giving my all to making this event a success.

My dad has also given me a lot of guidance in making decisions; he's much better at that sort of thing and has in many ways taught me to do that as well.

Jerry: My parents were able to raise me and my sisters on top of them both having full-time jobs and not coming from very much wealth. That they've done so very much to carve out a comfortable life for my family gives me all the motivation I need to someday return the favour.

7. What would surprise people to know about you?

Aisling: I get a lot of funny looks when I tell people I was born and raised in Newcastle! They don't really expect it given my name and accent but I'm not as northern as many people would think.

Jerry: People always guess I'm the middle child in my family, which is quite close, I have three sisters.