A key part of MQ’s mission is to cultivate a research community dedicated to tackling the big challenges in mental health. One way we do that is through our Fellows Awards, funding talented scientists to become the next generation of research leaders.
There's still time to apply for the 2020 MQ Fellows Awards. For this blog, we interviewed three previous MQ Fellows to find out why they applied, what their experience was like, and what advice they have for potential MQ Fellows of the future.
We spoke to:
- Dr Helen Fisher from King’s College London, whose MQ Fellows Award enabled her to focus on identifying children at risk of psychosis, to enable early intervention to prevent it from developing;
- Dr Jean‑Baptiste Pingault from University College London, who studied during his MQ Fellows Award factors which could help identify young people at risk of bullying, and the consequences of bullying on their mental health; and
- Professor Martijn van den Heuvel from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands, who aimed during his Fellows Award to speed up diagnosis and treatment for severe mental illnesses by analysing neuroimaging data.
Thanks for talking to us! Can we start with a brief history of your career up until your MQ Fellows Award?
Helen – I completed my PhD in Psychological Medicine in 2009 and subsequently held two postdoctoral fellowships before securing a lecturer post at King’s College London. I applied for the MQ Fellows award in 2014.
Jean-Baptiste – After completing my PhD in 2009, I pursued my research at the University of Montreal before coming to London. In 2015, I was appointed as a lecturer at University College London, then applied for an MQ Fellows Award in 2017.
Martijn – I did a Masters in artificial intelligence, with a focus on cognitive psychology – a mixture of computers and cognition. During my PhD, I used neuroimaging to try to understand how the brain works and what is happening in the brains of people with mental illness. Around four years after completing my PhD, I applied to MQ for the Fellows Award to continue this work.
What was it about MQ that attracted you to apply for a Fellows Award?
Helen – The Fellows Award was an opportunity for me to take an interdisciplinary approach to my research, and improve our understanding of mental health problems in young people. As for MQ, I was impressed by both their incredible passion for mental health research and how accessible they were. With a lot of funders, you never have any interaction with them during your award, which seems rather impersonal. The MQ team were completely the opposite – approachable and supportive every step of the way!
Jean-Baptiste – Given their focus on mental health, MQ’s position in the funding landscape was unique – and much needed. Having conducted research in the field of mental health in children and adolescents for a while, the opportunity to apply to MQ for their prestigious Fellows Award was perfect fit at the time. I was also at the stage when I wanted to start my own research group and MQ helped me to do just that.
Martijn – What really attracted me to MQ is their unique approach. Firstly, they focus on the full spectrum of mental illness, not just a small number of conditions. Secondly, the work they support is not just focussing on neurobiology, but also on social, education, and political issues around mental health. And as an organisation, MQ is really bringing mental health, and the lack of research spending on mental illness, to the public debate – it’s such an important thing.
What has being an MQ Fellow meant for you?
Helen – Being an MQ Fellow has given me the confidence, solid data, and international profile to launch my independent research career. The Award helped me to grow my team and secure additional funding to broaden my research. And as a result, I’ve increased my academic publication outputs, secured two promotions, improved my public engagement skills, and enhanced my international visibility.
Jean-Baptiste – The fellowship allowed me to focus on collecting data and hire my first post-doctoral researcher, which was my first step towards establishing my independent research group. It has also brought a lot of attention from the research community to my work. And MQ has been a pleasure to work with, being very flexible and very supportive of my career, and offering career development opportunities such as invited talks.
Martijn – I think it’s been an amazing honour, and I hope to continue being an ambassador for MQ for a long time. In fact, it’s credit to MQ that researchers like us still want to be involved with the organisation many years after. The funding which enabled our work was massively appreciated of course, but working with MQ is about so much more than the grant money – it feels like being part of a movement.
What was the highlight during your Fellows Award?
Helen – A key highlight for me of being an MQ fellow has been the multiple opportunities to share my research with a wide range of audiences. This has included policymakers, business leaders, clinicians, carers, people affected by mental health issues, and the wider public.
Jean-Baptiste – For me, the science first comes to mind: receiving an MQ fellowship has allowed me to focus on my research without being distracted by grant applications for some time. As a consequence, I have been able to deliver on the research objectives, publish high impact papers that I am proud of, and engage in public dissemination of findings. Mentoring bright young scientists has also been a highlight of my time as an MQ fellow.
Martijn – I remember about two years ago meeting some MQ donors, and having a fantastic discussion about mental health. Having these discussions with patients and their families really affected me. It really motivated me to move forward into translating the super-technical mathematical stuff I do for the benefit of patients, and try make a difference to people’s lives.
How has the Fellows Award impacted your career since?
Helen – After the MQ award, I secured a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship to further expand my work on childhood psychotic symptoms, and undertake a series of public engagement activities to increase public understanding of psychosis and other mental health issues. I am also delighted to continue working with MQ as part of the IDEA international consortium that they are funding through their Brighter Futures programme.
Jean-Baptiste – The MQ fellowship really was an amazing stepping-stone in my career progression, starting with my promotion to associate professor. The recognition and the body of work that I have published for the project was also instrumental in getting further funding.
Martijn – The MQ award has been a major support for me to start a unique research group using computational neuroscience to study mental health. My colleagues and I are continuing with our work, moving our fundamental research into application. We learnt a lot about the range of psychiatric disorders – making this transition, from looking at just one disorder to the whole spectrum, was a core part of my MQ project.
For someone who is thinking about applying for an MQ Fellows Award, what advice would you give them?
Helen – Go for it! My advice is that it’s really crucial to be able to explain very clearly and in an accessible way what you’re going to do and how it is likely to impact people’s mental health. As a charity, MQ use the research they fund to encourage the public to donate money to support more mental health research in the future.
Jean-Baptiste – Craft the best scientific project you can and explain how it can contribute to mental health research. And do not forget to share your vision for your research field as well as your own career progression. The MQ fellows I know of have become established scientists in the field of mental health research.
Martijn – Focus yourself on a topic that really matters. It really helps if you think about the long-run of the project – how can this eventually be transformed into helping patients and families. The people at MQ are very highly motivated, and if you have the energy and the motivation to match, you’ll love it!
Think you could be one of MQ’s next research fellows? Right now, we’re welcoming applications for our 2020 Fellows Awards. We’re looking to support researchers developing and/or testing preventative or therapeutic interventions for children and young people.
The deadline for expressions of interest applications is Friday 3rd April. You can find out more about applying here: https://www.mqmentalhealth.org/articles/apply-fellows
Last updated: 2 April 2020