Poppy Brown is a PhD student in the Oxford Cognitive Approaches to Psychosis (O-CAP) team supervised by Professor Daniel Freeman and Dr Felicity Waite. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Philosophy at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. During her undergraduate studies she also worked for the High Education Policy Institute (HEPI), on behalf of whom she published a policy paper on student mental health that was discussed widely in the media and within government and universities. Keen to stay working in mental health research, she began her PhD in the O-CAP team in 2017.
Tell us a little about yourself and what attracted you to studying/working at the University of Oxford?
It was only after completing my undergraduate research project with Professor David Clark and Dr Emma Warnock-Parkes in the Oxford Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma (OXCADAT) team that I realised how much I enjoyed academic research. When I saw an opportunity advertised to work in O-CAP on developing treatments for paranoia using virtual reality (VR), I immediately applied and was fortunate enough to get the position. Having watched with interest the growing research into VR therapy, I was excited to be working in such a fast developing field. I also loved living in Oxford during my undergraduate, so I was very happy to be staying put in the city.
What is your vision for the team/project/research you study/work with?
A major theme of my team’s work is testing and implementing psychological therapies that use automated VR technology. The current focus is on a VR therapy targeting anxious social withdrawal in individuals with psychosis. While this project is predominantly considering outpatient services, I’m interested in the potential of having VR therapy available on inpatient psychiatric wards. Patients staying on wards have very limited access to evidence based psychological therapy, and wards struggle with shortages of trained staff. Automated VR therapy may be a way to help solve some of these problems, and could transform inpatients’ experience of staying in hospital. I’m therefore working on a study that is assessing the feasibility of implementing VR therapy onto inpatient wards, and hope that this could be something that would be possible in the future.
What is currently at the top of your to-do list?
I’m going into my final year of my PhD now, so I’m keen to get experience that stretches beyond conducting research studies. I’m doing an internship with the mental health policy team of the Department of Health and Social Care, working on a COVID-19 recovery action plan as well as legislation regarding the Mental Health Act. I’m also gaining as much experience as I can working clinically, through assisting with the delivery of CBT to some of the patients taking part in our trials. I’ve also recently enjoyed doing pubic engagement work, such as helping facilitate workshops in schools with the MYRIAD team, and writing an article for The Conversation.
How did you get to where you are today?
My supervisors have been extremely thoughtful in ensuring that my PHD has given me broad experience that fits with my own interests and aspirations. I’ve learnt a huge amount from them and the rest of the O-CAP team, and I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without them all!
Who or what inspires you?
The patients who take part in our studies! It’s easy to become disheartened by the many problems around access to mental health support, and the fact that no treatment works for everyone. The kindness, perseverance, and understanding of the patients I have worked with inspires me to keep working and trying to make a difference, no matter how small.
If you were not in Your study programme/job currently, what would you like to be doing?
I might have tried to get a job in policy for either a think tank, or going down the civil service route. I did also consider studying music at undergraduate level, though I’ve never been good at practising my violin for long hours so I definitely wouldn’t have made it as a pro!