|Verity Westgate is the Trial Co-Ordinator for the Relationships in Good Hands Trial, which is a project led by the University of Glasgow, but the Child and Adolescent Research Group here in the Department of Psychiatry is one of the key collaborators.|
Tell us a little about yourself and what attracted you to working at the University of Oxford?
I have been at the University of Oxford for over 20 years, since I came up to Worcester College to read Modern History. After that, I worked in a number of roles at the Bodleian Library, gaining my masters in 'being a librarian' and later becoming Chartered. I moved into clinical research management in 2015 and have not looked back! I am very proud to work for a world-leading university, and particularly working in clinical research, to be at the very edge of making things better for people.
As well as my (part-time) role in the Department, I am very busy with expert by experience work centred around my experiences of perinatal mental health difficulties and autism. I work with NHS England, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Autism Oxford to try to make things better for autistic women facing mental health difficulties in the perinatal period. I have somehow as a result found myself doing a PhD at the University of Exeter looking at the experiences of autistic women accessing community perinatal mental health services. This was never in the plan (if I ever had a plan!) but I seem to be in the right place at the right time to do this.
What is your vision for the project/research you study/work with?
In the department, I am working on the Relationships in Good Hands Trial (RIGHT), which is a project led by Professor Helen Minnis at the University of Glasgow. It is the world’s first randomised controlled trial of Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy, a type of therapy used with children who have been abused and neglected in their early life and are now in stable placements in either permanent foster care or with adoptive families. Our vision is to create an evidence base that will provide better support for children experiencing maltreated associated psychiatric problems.
In my PhD, my dream is to ensure that autistic women who need to access community perinatal mental health services get the best support that they can that meets their needs and that staff feeling confident working with them. I was incredibly lucky with the care that I received from our local perinatal team which was literally life-saving and I am motivated by a strong sense of wanting to give back some of what I received.
What is currently at the top of your To-Do List?
At the top of my to-do list is supporting our study sites with recruitment of participants and supporting the research nurses who carry out the baseline and follow up assessments with them. This is the biggest task in making the trial run smoothly. Engagement with different organisations is also very important at the moment as we seek to promote the trial to get the participants that we need.
I also represent disability/neurodiversity on the Department’s People and Culture Committee and we are currently organising our neurodiversity month for May. I hope lots of people will come to the workshop that we are running called 'Supporting our neurodivergent community'.
In my PhD, I am currently working on my systematic review which examines autistic women’s experiences of the perinatal period – I am just about to start the thematic synthesis which is really exciting.
How did you get to where you are today?
My career path is somewhat wonky – a history degree – a librarianship career – and now a career in clinical research management with a side-helping of a PhD and lived experience work.
I have at times struggled in both life and the workplace as a result of poor mental health and I was diagnosed as autistic three years ago after experiencing severe perinatal depression. Looking back, I can see that times where I struggled were often due to that undiagnosed autism and not knowing how to make adjustments to help me cope. I am lucky that in my current role, I am able to work from home which helps me to control my sensory environment and limit social interactions to more planned ones, and I am able to manage my time which helps me to create a necessary sense of structure and routine.
However, whilst I might never be a “high-flyer” or someone who has a sparkling career, I am very fortunate to have had an interesting working life, partly as a result of my intense interests that are a characteristic of being autistic, and partly as a result of luck!
Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by so many people in my life. I am lucky to work with and meet so many people who I can learn from and who help me develop, whether that is my colleagues on the RIGHT trial, the other experts by experience that I work with, and my four-year-old daughter who repeatedly shows me how important learning is and gives me a purpose to my work on my PhD.
If you were not in your study programme/job currently, what would you like to be doing?
I honestly enjoy all of the things that I do, I have a busy life and that helps to create a balance as no single thing can take over. I would like another day in the week however, to give me a bit more time to swim, and do yoga, and think about my PhD, and do fun things with my daughter, and take on more projects!