On 5 July 2023, MQ Mental Health Research is hosting our first ever Research Appreciation Day. To us, research is everything. It is the reason we as at MQ Mental Health Research exist and our reason to strive for a brighter and mentally healthier future for us all. Your support makes that possible.
To celebrate Research Appreciation Day, here are 8 surprising things you might not yet know about research.
1) Researchers are Not All Men in White Coats
For a long while women weren’t encouraged to enter research as a career. More can be done and women still face a great many challenges in the field, and yet women are making huge headways in research.
In fact, women have been making amazing breakthroughs for years. Just three examples include the Oxford Astrazenica vaccine for Covid-19 being invented by Sarah Gilbert and her team of women, treatment for depression and HIV in hard-to-reach regions of Africa being developed by Ethel Nakimuli-Mpungu, one of MQ’s very first Fellows, and new treatment for healthcare workers with PTSD being developed by Dr Jennifer Wild.
MQ Science Council member, Dr Hilary Blumberg says lack of representation of women in STEM needs to be addressed by supporting women and other groups underrepresented in STEM at every stage of their career.
“I was fortunate. When I started to do research at 16 years old, I volunteered in a research lab and I had mentorship. It’s really important for potential mentors out there to support youths at the earliest stages, provide them with opportunities to enter the pipeline, and then support them throughout their careers.”
Even so, it’s important to note that women as well as racially marginalised groups, researchers with disabilities, researchers from low-income or middle-income countries (LMICs), and members of the trans community are currently under-represented across research funding. More can and needs to be done to ensure equality of opportunity for all.
2) Research Needs Critique
When it comes to research, no one is beyond critique. In fact, to be reliable and credible, research papers need to be challenged. And yet, like so much in life, critique can be biased.
Research papers need to be challenged. Critically analysing research papers is an important skill used in the field of research. Evaluation is usually done by scientific experts in the field and it ensures that only research of high quality is funded and published. This ensures the science is valid, the methods used are appropriate, the findings are important and original. This in turn means that the findings are more likely to have far-reaching impact.
While credibility is useful to note, validity and reliability of the data matters just as much. Let’s clarify what we mean by those terms. Validity of research means the research is measuring what it intends to measure and is accurate. Reliability means the research is consistent and the results can be replicated by other researchers.
Sometimes even research of very high quality that is very well critiqued, does not lead to changes in policy and practice. To make the change it has the potential to, research needs further funding and engagement from those who sit behind industries, businesses and policy makers. Having said that though, some research can simply improve our understanding of certain conditions on a basic level and that’s all it needs to do.
Critique of research is complicated, that’s for sure! Still, it is important because it ensures best practice. And just like so much in life, critique of research can be biased.
Since MQ understands the importance and complications of critique in research, we are certified as following the AMRC principles of peer review. This is a mark of confidence that money invested in us goes to research of the highest standard. It also means the research we support has the best chance of making a positive impact.
Researchers regularly examine their own and other’s research to build on other people’s work, develop the progression of our knowledge and critically analyse the findings of research papers. Research can build on other research. Research keeps evolving.
3) Research Goes Beyond Science
Research is the pursuit of knowledge. The best way to learn is to learn from each other by working together. This then fast-tracks real world impact.
Research transcends scientific boundaries and is best done collaboratively. Different scientific fields can contribute to mental health research and anyone with lived experience can also be involved in studies (see points 4 and 5 below).
Knowledge is the meeting point for all research disciplines and the more we break boundaries between disciplines the more we can learn from each other therefore the more likely we are to create new knowledge and fast-track real world impact.
Research needs networks to work. In fact, MQ constantly looks for ways to engage a wide range of people from all parts of the mental health ecosystem. That means we aim to include people with lived experience, funders, charities, healthcare providers and, of course, researchers from a variety of backgrounds.
Researchers are keen to work with people who do not work in science, but in other fields to help collect new data for future research. Directed at scientists and researchers, the transdisciplinary grants from MQ Mental Health Research and Wellcome Trust help to support research outside of psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience.
The grant aims to help apply new ideas from alternative fields to mental health science. This could well be the arts, economics, humanities, engineering or any other discipline. If you have an ambitious concept that could make a different to mental health science but no background in mental health science, this could be for you.
4) Research is Nothing Without the Public
Research particularly into mental health can’t exist without input from those who aren’t researchers. People with lived experience of mental health conditions and those who’ve cared for them are vital in the process. It’s the ‘nothing about me without me’ approach that defines ‘coproduction’ which you can read more about in this article.
When it comes to mental health research in particular, it is vital to involve patients and the public. For the fullest potential for impact, research much incorporate expertise and experience of those who have lived with mental illness. This is called Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE). PPIE has seen development in recent years. A report and statement on PPIE last year showed how research charities, like MQ, involve the voices of those with lived experience.
Including the voices of people with lived experience of mental illness in research about mental illness helps to set research priorities as well as making the research itself more impactful.
5) Researchers Need Your Help
Researchers cannot conduct research without participants in their studies. That is why MQ holds our Participate scheme. With constantly updated call outs for studies, often involving simple online surveys which can be rewarded with gift vouchers, Participate platform helps connect you with studies looking for participants which will help shape the future of research. Take a look at the current list of studies looking for participants right now.
6) Data Needs Diversity
Researchers are actively looking for people to participate in research who are diverse in their experience.
A report in 2021 called Fit for purpose? Addressing inequities in mental health research exacerbated by Covid-19 found that mental health research can do more to tackle deeply entrenched inequalities in the causes of poor mental health. This is only possible if research is needs open to new ways of working, different types of evidence, and a more diverse range of people become participants in studies both as researchers and as participants to become involved in research.
As one of MQ’s Ambassadors says Gemma Styles, says:
“Everyone is very different; we are all individual people but there are also vast inequalities. It took me until my 30s to be diagnosed with ADHD because the criteria we have focuses on young boys generally. The further away you get from being a white man the less the data that we have serves you.”
7) Research Is Always Ongoing
No matter how far we go in research, there is always a new horizon ready to be explored. Most research papers state outright further research needs to be done to answer questions raised by the findings in that particular research paper. This at first might seem frustrating – how can we ever rest if conclusions lead only to more questions? But it also is a process at the heart of not only research but progress and humanity in general. Ultimately, this endless and limitless potential makes research exciting and very much worthy of appreciation.
8) Research Is Underfunded
Research is vital and yet it is massively underfunded. When it comes to mental health, many people can tell personal stories about their real experiences. Theories can be derived from those important stories. But until research results in data that has been collected, questioned, and examined, conclusions cannot be drawn.
Without the process to come to conclusions, new prevention measures cannot be identified, diagnostic criteria cannot be improved or implemented, treatment cannot develop and refine, government policies cannot be lobbied, informed or called for. This is why MQ exists and why we need your support.
Without research, it’s just guesswork.