Barry is research associate at the Applied Social Science Group, established within the Primary Care Unit in 2016 by Dr Robbie Duschinsky. The group researches mental health and family relationships and teaches social science research, methods and theory at the University of Cambridge.
I suppose, there are two big questions that orientate my research:
How are things going for children and families?
How can we make things better?
Naturally, these questions are too big and vague for any one research programme or researcher. But I hope that my contributions can go a small way to helping address them.
My work addresses child development, child welfare and mental health in particular, the organisation of services, assessment practices, and interventions. I consider myself a mixed-methods social scientist. I am passionate about drawing from different approaches to help me answer the questions I view as important.
Children and families
I feel like I had a happy childhood and parents who showed me a lot of warmth and affection. And I hate that it is a reality that some children will not have a happy childhood, and some families will not get the support they need. So, by contributing to and generating knowledge about services, assessments, and interventions, I hope I can help some children and families have a better life.
To spend my time trying to help some children have better childhoods – that feels like a good use of energy.
My path into research as a career
First, my family played a big part: they wanted me to do something I am passionate about. They gave me freedom and encouragement to consider different career paths and find something I love.
Then, I suppose like many researchers, I think I’m a naturally curious person and I have always loved asking questions. And, moreover, I find it fun and intellectually stimulating to think of different ways of addressing questions. I think that’s one of the factors that brought me to mixed methods research.
Research is such a collaborative effort, and I very much enjoy the camaraderie of working on interesting projects with lovely people. These conversations with colleagues are a real source of energy for me.
Additionally, I really like writing.
I like the ritual of sitting down at my desk, with a cup of coffee, and trying to organise my thoughts or observations into sentences and then into a narrative.
Finally, mentorship and teaching are key parts of a career in research. I have been very fortunate to have several brilliant mentors. I’m now at the stage where I’m helping research assistants and graduate students learn research methods and how to conduct their projects. This is a real joy for me.
Overall, I feel extremely lucky to be in academia. I really love what I do. I get to read exciting research, discuss ideas with kind and thoughtful people, write about interesting things, teach students, and hopefully make a positive difference to the lives of some children and families.
The Applied Social Science Group
I joined the Applied Social Science Group (ASSG) as a PhD student back in Oct 2017.
One of the neat things about the ASSG is that although there is a mutual zone of interest around child mental health and development, each member has their own specific interests and areas of expertise. Lianne Bakkum, for instance, is an expert on issues related to the conceptualisation of trauma in healthcare discourses. So, if I have specific questions about trauma, I can go to Lianne.
Meanwhile, suppose I have questions about some area of clinical practice. In that case, I can chat to Helen Beckwith, a clinical psychologist and expert on the clinical applications of many of the theories that orientate our research. These are just two examples, but it’s true for everyone in the group. Moreover, it’s a genuinely lovely group of people. So, I feel very fortunate and proud to be part of the ASSG.
It’s one of the greatest privileges of my life to be part of this research group. I enjoy and value working with Dr Robbie Duschinsky, and learning from him. I feel very proud to be part of the ASSG within the Primary Care Unit.
Currently, I’m working on a Wellcome funded project called Living Assessments, which explores assessment practices in health and social care for children and adolescents. I have served as interim co-PI, and hold particular leadership for the quantitative parts of the project, particularly around the analysis of administrative records, as well as several systematic reviews.
One of my core values is that I feel that research agendas should be co-developed by the people whose lives they impact. So, one real highlight has been working with experts-by-experience – in this project, that means young people and their families.
Find out more
See Dr Barry Coughlan’s academic profile
Queries: Lucy Lloyd, Communications at the Primary Care Unit
Images: Happy Children by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash; Writing by Green Chameleon on Unsplash;