There’s one benefit of what my PhD colleague calls Interdisciplinary Imposter Syndrome, I feel I can be part of both the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science (SGSSS) and Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities (SGSAH). So, I took advantage of their summer schools’ wide range of talks and training in the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately, I was doubled booked for the Interdisciplinary Round Table! Instead, I was at the Health and Inequalities in an era of Crises symposium. There was an interesting range of health inequalities talks covering population and individual health, discussing crises from austerity, to populism and Brexit and including methods from discourse analysis to structural equation modelling.

The symposium stressed the urgency of dealing with health inequalities, describing how progress has stalled and is likely to worsen if action isn’t taken.This is one of the reasons why my research focusses on this area. One area I’m exploring, is how this research has been dominated by social epidemiology and needs to broaden the view of what it considers to be causal evidence. A related area is how research needs to be more in touch with lived-in experiences. So it was great that the symposium also raised these points and talked about how a mix of social epidemiology and qualitative research is vital. Both for understanding what health inequalities looks like from an individual perspective but also examining ways to help to articulate messages. It’s always nice have confirmation that your interests align with research and societal needs!

My research looks at psychosocial factors, which are any factors that affect health outcomes through psychological mechanisms. It was interesting that although this wasn’t discussed in the symposium as a topic most talks referred to specific factors, such as fear, loss of control and meaninglessness, which are directly related to this field.

How do I explore mechanisms? Again the graduate school training has been a help. SGSSS held a great workshop on Critical Realism and Realist Evaluations, something which interested me prior to beginning this PhD. There was a helpful prompt from one of instructors reminding me why I signed up for a PhD. Mechanisms, compared to outcomes, are time and resource intensive to investigate. Which is why we have a lot of evidence, for example in the field Arts and Health, of what works. On the other hand, the body of evidence explaining why something works is less well established. Therefore, a PhD with its luxurious 3 year timescale (which still feels too short), rather than 3 months, is a great opportunity to pursue this; we should make the most of this rare opportunity to dig deep!