Case Study 2022: Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

Professor of Psychology, University of Cambridge

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore is a Professor of Psychology at the Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge. Here she describes her experience of engaging with CSaP Policy Fellows and how the Centre's opportunities have helped develop her own work and research.

I run a lab in the University’s Department of Psychology, and our team focuses on the development of the adolescent brain, behaviour, and mental health. I have been working in this area for almost 20 years and in one of our current projects, we are looking at the effects of social isolation on adolescent brain behaviour and mental health and loneliness. This is a study we started to plan before the pandemic, however during the COVID-19 outbreak, it became even more crucial to understand the relationships between isolation, loneliness, and mental health. I am also interested in peer relationships and a major focus of our research is on peer influence in adolescence.

Through CSaP I have had the opportunity to meet with policy makers from the UK Government’s Department for Education and our discussions have been useful for both sides: the Policy Fellows were interested in our studies around neurocognitive development and mental health in schools, and I learned how research on peer influence and peer relationships can have implications for school-based mental health programmes. We also discussed the evidence around anti-bullying interventions at schools and how student-led interventions can work better than initiatives led by teachers. Through our conversations it was great to see how our research has relevance to everyday life.

Making connections with new people from different disciplines and different sectors is always useful because as an academic, we can spend too much time working only with others from our own discipline or department. You can add value to research if you work and collaborate with people from other disciplines and sectors. This is what CSaP is all about. I have also learned to think about the way research will be received by policy makers. Is this purely academic or could this area of work produce something really tangible and translational?

What I value most about CSaP is that it has strong links with people outside of Cambridge who you can connect and collaborate with. The Centre has so many interesting contacts in the world of policy and education and facilitates those links very proactively. Meeting people from other sectors is fruitful and beneficial for your own research as it helps you to focus on the real-world implications. This is a most valuable opportunity for me.