An interview with Dr Katherine Young

Dr Katherine S. Young is an NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre Lecturer based in the Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London. Her background is in neuroscience, experimental and clinical psychology, and her current work focuses on depression (particularly symptoms of ‘anhedonia’) in adolescents. 

Please can you give us an overview of your roles?

My NIHR Maudsley BRC lecturer role combines both teaching and research activities. I teach research methods on an MSc course on Developmental Psychology and Psychopathology, and my research examines the development and treatment of anxiety and depression in young people. On a daily basis, this involves supervising and advising a team of student researchers, collaborating with colleagues, conducting data analyses, and writing and revising research papers. At other times, I’m also writing grant applications to fund and support research activities in my group, reviewing papers, giving talks and attending conferences – it really is a very varied role!

Can you give a brief overview of your career? What are you most proud of?

I started off studying Psychology and Physiology in my undergraduate degree, then took some time out of studying to work for a charity for children and young people with special needs, followed by a research assistant position. I then went on to do my PhD in the neuroscience of postnatal depression, looking to understand how infant communicative cues (facial expressions and vocalisations) might be processed differently in the brain in the context of depression. After completing my PhD, I moved to the US, where I spent 5 years living in California, working as a postdoc in a clinical psychology lab, where my research took a more treatment-focused approach, examining how psychological treatments affect brain functioning, and what core neurobiological processes might be affected by experiences of anxiety and depression.

I’ve been in my current role at King’s for three years, where I have been building my own research lab focusing on interdisciplinary mental health research, looking at depression and anxiety in adolescents and young people. I would say I’m quite proud of the interdisciplinary focus of the work we do. I’ve been fortunate in my career to work with some incredible neuroscientists, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and cognitive scientists. The work in my group aims to bring separate strands of work from different fields together in ways that we hope will help to deepen our understanding of the types of processes that lead to, and maintain, emotional problems in young people.

How did you get interested in research?

I think I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with understanding how things work (in another life, I’d probably have been very happy as an engineer!) As an undergraduate, neuroscience really captured my attention – the idea that the brain holds the answers to how humans work was fascinating to me. Both my time working for the youth charity, and as a research assistant, brought more of a clinical focus to my interests. Using scientific research to better understand the emotional challenges and problems we face, and to apply that knowledge to make a difference to people’s lives, is still an idea that really excites me.

What are your favourite parts of your role as an NIHR Maudsley BRC Lecturer?

The BRC brings together an incredibly dynamic set of individuals all tackling challenging clinical problems from a range of diverse perspectives. The chance to work alongside others with similar passions, to learn from their experiences and to understand different perspectives on the same problems is really a wonderful opportunity. 

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your work and life? Are there any COVID-19 specific projects have you worked on?

Like many of us, COVID has totally changed my work and life. Early on in the pandemic, I was fortunate to work with a team of excellent collaborators to launch a longitudinal study of mental health during the pandemic (RAMP study). We have been monitoring mental health in a large cohort of dedicated participants ever since and have built a large dataset with lots of interesting findings, and still we have much more to learn! I’m sure like many others, switching research focus in this way was very captivating initially and involved lots of long days and late nights. As the pandemic continued, finding a work/life balance under the new constraints of lockdown life certainly became more of a challenge.

In January 2021, I was fortunate to receive an MQ Mental Health research Fellows award to fund further work on the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health, focusing on symptoms of anxiety and depression.

What are you working on at the moment?

We are at an exciting and extremely busy point in our research team, with findings emerging from our Covid-19 related work and two studies just getting started; one involves visiting preschool-aged children with TSC who we saw throughout their infant years (EDiTS study), and another is a new longitudinal study of infants with epilepsy (BEE study), both aiming to identify early precursors of later behavioural outcomes with a focus on autism and ADHD. Our community involvement work has indicated a preference for home-based studies, so we are testing and implementing all of our measures, including infant EEG, in the family home.

What are your future plans?

Along with my team, we are working to analyse the findings from our large COVID mental health study. Our first paper which is currently a pre-print showed that different groups of individuals had differential risk to worsening mental health during the pandemic, with younger people, females, those with prior mental health diagnoses, unemployed individuals and students at elevated risk. We are now analysing longitudinal trajectories of symptoms of depression and anxiety over the first 12 months in the pandemic, looking to thoroughly examine the long-term changes in mental health experienced by these vulnerable groups.

All about you

Favourite book / TV series / box set over the past year

I’ve enjoyed rewatching some old favourites this past year – particularly Parks and Recreation and The West Wing.

Who is your science hero?

Aaron Beck (the ‘father’ of CBT), who sadly passed away aged 100 recently, but who has had a truly transformational effect on the field.

How would you spend your perfect Saturday?

Some kind of outdoor adventure during the day (hiking, rock climbing, cycling or running), a little down time, and dinner/drinks in the evening with friends.

Best discovery of lockdown(s)

I actually don’t hate running! A Sunday morning run, followed by coffee with friends and guilt-free indulging on the sofa all afternoon is something I now look forward to!

Tags: BRC Interview Series -

By NIHR Maudsley BRC at 26 Nov 2021, 09:29 AM

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