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REF2021: Learn more about our Warwick researchers

REF is an assessment of the work of researchers from all over the UK which may have an impact on the research funding we are given. It's an important day for universities all across the UK - it is the culmination of seven years of hard work for our research and professional services staff.

Leaving the results to one side, this is an opportunity to hear first-hand from some of the Warwick researchers that dedicate their lives to changing our world for the better. Their focuses range from pre-term to old age, and all of the opportunities and challenges that we face in between.

The below entries have been edited here for brevity and word count limits - please read the full case studiesLink opens in a new window to hear more from the researcher and to learn about their work.

A portrait of Professor Quassim Cassam

Professor Quassim Cassam
Department of Philosophy

"I've always been interested in medicine, and this led me to think about the virtues of a good GP. My work has two aims: to identify the key virtues of excellent general practice and help GPs to cultivate these virtues. 

Most GPs have little or no philosophical training, and it is a major challenge to convince them that philosophy has anything to contribute to their professional toolkit. GPs face enormous challenges, and anything that helps them to improve is worth doing. 

Most GPs who have attended the training days and workshops I have organized have given positive feedback. For many, it is important to have time set aside for reflection on their professional practice. 

I approached the work with humility – I hope! I'm always hugely impressed by trainee GPs and would be delighted to have contributed to their thinking about what it is to be a good GP. The beauty of this work is that GPs and philosophers have so much to learn from each other." 

Professor Sharifah Sekalala
Warwick Law School

"While we were doing field work in Uganda for a project on slum health, we spoke to some people who were using digital health apps. We could clearly see the advantages that mobile health apps offer to their users, but it also posed some troubling questions: Where does the data go? Who has access to it? And who profits from African’s health data, particularly once it leaves Africa? It reminded me of a 2018 article in the Economist that said data was becoming more valuable than oil! Every year, health data from over 40 million Africans is harvested by digital companies based in the global north, something which has been described as ‘digital colonialism.’  

We are working on a project to map health apps in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa with app developers to trial designs under different regulatory conditions, and we will develop transnational legal guidelines for health data regulation. This work is vital in helping us to develop regulations that will protect privacy and prevent exploitation of the personal information of those living in Sub Saharan Africa. 

Our aim is to provide an analysis of the situation so we can understand how the lack of clear regulation exacerbates the problems of data migration and leads to ‘digital colonialism’."

Professor Swaran Singh
Warwick Medical School

"Mental disorders afflict the young and rob them of their most productive years. Those disorders usually emerge around the age of 18, which is also the age boundary between child and adult mental health services.  

We wanted to learn more about what happens to young people as they move from child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) to adult care. So, we worked with partners and colleagues to find a group of over 1000 young people in eight European countries. These young people had all moved from CAMHS to adult care, and we wanted to see how they experienced that transition. This was the first study of its kind in any branch of medicine anywhere in the world. 

Our work has shown that improving transitional care should be a key priority for mental health services. It has led to changes in mental health policy in the UK and across the world, with several new models of youth mental health care being created and brought into practise. And we can now say that transitional care can be improved with a relatively small investment of resources. 

Essentially, we have shown that current ways of working do not meet the needs of vulnerable young people, and I am glad to say that all over the world there are now efforts to improve mental health care and the bridge the gap for those patients."

Dr Liz Barry
Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies

"Ageing is one of few certainties in life. It is something everybody faces and people across the globe respond and deal with every day. As our population enjoys increasingly longer lives, it is crucial that we understand the personal effects of ageing on the individual and those around them.  

Our research has focused on the personal experiences of older people, and we have applied our research to practical activities that have fundamentally improved their lives and wellbeing. Our research has helped train care and medical staff responsible for caring for older people, helping them better understand the experience of ageing and provide compassionate care to them.  

We have formed ‘art interventions’ that are improving the wellbeing of those living with dementia. These new art interventions go beyond filling time – they actively engage with older people and allow them to shape their own activities. A poetry playlist for those over 60 is also in development, with the aim of reconnecting the elderly with the verses from their childhood that are often deeply rooted in the long-term memory. 

We all get old, so this matters to everyone. We also all want to live in a society that values and cares for older people and recognises the rich skills and knowledge they still have to offer. It's crucial that we try to capture and understand the experience of those who cannot always express it or are not given a platform to do so." 

Professor Kerry Kirwan

"We were looking at sustainable materials that we could use on a ‘green’ racing car (WorldF3rst). Carbon fibre had lots of potential – but only if it could be developed to overcome its poor environmental impact. We want to develop materials that are good alternatives for carbon fibre where it is used in situations where it is probably ‘over engineered’. For example, do you really need to make tennis rackets from the same material as jumbo jets? Is there a more sustainable alternative? 

Our work has found a market for different, sustainable materials in different uses, and there is a much-reduced environmental footprint attached to the recycled materials compared to the new materials. The bigger picture is that the reputation of sustainable materials has been given a boost because they were usually considered (wrongly) to be inferior. 

Instead of the carbon fibre ending up in landfill at the end of life, there is now a whole supply chain that can recover it and a marketplace that wants to use it. And the energy requirements are a lot less than just using new carbon fibre." 

Professor Dieter Wolke
Department of Psychology

"Each year, 15 million children are born prematurely worldwide. Most research has focused on how a premature birth affects an infant in the first two years of their life. However, there has been little research on the unanswered questions which most play on the minds of parents. How do children born prematurely get on at school? Will they get a job, find a partner, and enjoy friendships? Will they be mentally and physically healthy, and happy?  

In 1990, I started a long-term study into babies born prematurely and sick. The study researches all developmental factors, such as a child’s family, their parents and siblings, peer relationships and opportunities at school. Today, the study remains one of the largest preterm follow-up studies in the world. 

With help from colleagues at other institutions and in other disciplines, we have created a questionnaire that spots issues in preterm children at the age of two and explains the best care approach to take for each child. The questionnaire is available in 14 languages and is used by healthcare and education professionals around the world.  

As a result of our findings, we have developed guidelines for routine follow-up across Europe and low resource countries. Furthermore, the Department for Education requires Local Authorities to consider the age group a preterm child would fall into if born on time, when beginning school. Now, each year 6,500 parents in England and Wales request postponed school entry because of preterm birth - our research is having a real-world impact on families across the UK and Europe."

Professor Roberta Bivins
Department of History

"In this project, which we started well before Covid-19, we wanted to find out what the NHS meant to its users and its workforce. Was the NHS more than just 'free healthcare' in the hearts and minds of British people? And if it produced strong emotions, what were they, and did they matter in terms of how people acted? Did it influence what they believed about health and medicine?  

There’s a case for arguing that better understanding the history of meaning, belief and feelings surrounding the NHS is important in helping it to thrive not just a highly successful health service, but also an institution that brings together an often otherwise highly divided nation. 

We wanted to record a history of the NHS from the people who made it what it is today, and so the public not only answered our questions, but they also helped us choose the questions we asked. There was just SO much to explore! People cared so much about the NHS, and yet, many people didn't feel that their everyday experiences could possibly be 'historical'. 

It has been incredibly exciting to reflect the diversity and complexity of the people that took part in our research in some of the outcomes of our project. We produced or contributed to two BBC documentaries - ‘The NHS: A People’s History’ and ‘Our NHS: A Hidden History’, we published a ‘People’s History of the NHS’ website, and our publications are all open access and free thanks to the support of the Wellcome Trust." 

There are many more case studies to read on the REF webpages – why not take a look, and enjoy learning about some of the world class research that starts right here at Warwick.