Graduate profile
Sarah Golding, PhD Health Psychology

Dr Sarah Golding

"My research identified psychological and social barriers that prevent farm vets and farmers from always prescribing and using antibiotics in the most appropriate way."

Graduation year
2020
Research project

Exploring antimicrobial stewardship in UK veterinary medicine and livestock agriculture: a mixed-method, One Health approach

Why I chose Surrey

I found my undergraduate psychology degree fascinating, and really wanted to develop a career where I could apply my psychological knowledge in a setting that didn’t involve delivering one-to-one therapy. I’ve always been interested in supporting people’s physical and mental wellbeing but was keen to work at a population level, to make a difference to people’s lives. When I came across health psychology, I realised this sub-discipline could offer me that chance.

I chose Surrey for a mix of academic and pragmatic reasons. I was very keen to study health psychology at a masters level and knew Surrey had a good reputation for British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited Stage 1 training. It also offered a PhD in Health Psychology, which would give me both an academic and a BPS Stage 2 professional practice qualification, widening my employment options once I qualified as a health psychologist.

Balancing my study choices with other life commitments was also high on my list of priorities. I was in my early 30s when I started my masters and relocation was not an option for me, so having the option to commute to campus was perfect.

My research project

My research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), examined the psychological and social influences on antibiotic prescribing in veterinary medicine, specifically in livestock. Antibiotics are vital medicines that underpin much of modern medicine, but the way that society uses antibiotics is making these medicines less effective. In both human and veterinary medicine, antibiotics are sometimes used inappropriately, driving antibiotic resistance. Bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics are much harder to treat when they cause infections.

I adopted a mixed-methods approach, conducting one-to-one interviews with farm vets and farmers to ask them about their experiences of treating livestock with antibiotics. I also led online surveys with farm vets and vet students to examine their knowledge about antibiotic resistance, and their beliefs about how antibiotics are used by different groups in society.

My research identified some of the psychological and social barriers that prevent farm vets and farmers from always prescribing and using antibiotics in the most appropriate way. The findings will hopefully inform future behaviour change interventions to improve the use of antibiotics in livestock medicine.

I was very fortunate to have two incredibly supportive supervisors. They provided me with an excellent mix of scientific, creative, and technical advice, along with the emotional support that most people need at some point in their PhD! They gave the right balance of input and advice about my research ideas, and I felt supported to drive and develop my project in a way that I believed was best. I’m also grateful that they were both able to adapt their supervision style throughout the programme; as I grew in confidence, I increasingly felt like a competent researcher, which is in no small part due to their encouragement and faith in my abilities.

Where I’d always studied part-time, being a full-time funded PhD student felt like a huge privilege – I was finally able to focus on my studies and work towards becoming a fully-fledged health psychologist. I enjoyed applying my organisational and interpersonal skills from previous employment and loved being able to interact with students, academics and my participants. I learnt a huge amount about the practical and emotional challenges of conducting research and I certainly grew and developed as both a researcher and a human being. I’m not the same person from when I started!

"I was fortunate to have two incredibly supportive supervisors. They provided me with an excellent mix of scientific, creative, technical and emotional support."

My development

Throughout my PhD, I had access to the Doctoral College. My doctorate would certainly have been a much tougher experience if I hadn’t taken advantage of their support! Through them, I attended a range of training sessions on academic topics such as writing critically, presentation skills, and the publication process, as well as personal development sessions on time management, stress and resilience. They also gave me excellent careers support advising on job applications and interviews for academic roles and helping me explore doctoral-level job opportunities outside of academia.

My supervisors regularly encouraged me to engage in opportunities to network through conferences, seminars and other events. Through these, I met other researchers working in similar areas and shared my ideas with them. I also got a lot of informal careers advice by chatting with people.

As I was funded by the ESRC, I was also able to undertake a six-month internship with the Behavioural Insights team at Public Health England. This internship provided me with valuable experience of applying and conducting health psychology research in a policy environment, which has strengthened my CV, and helped me develop skills to communicate research to people outside of academic environments.

My career

I’m currently a Research Fellow, working on three different part-time qualitative research projects:

  • Exploring the impact of the Covid-19 lockdowns on people’s relationships with nature at Surrey
  • Exploring people’s experiences of volunteering during the Covid-19 pandemic at the University of Winchester
  • Exploring men’s treatment decisions for surgery for troublesome urinary symptoms, also at the University of Winchester.

The best part of my role is the variety. Every day is different and there’s no time to be bored. I’m very fortunate to have incredibly supportive and friendly colleagues, and I also have the joy of interviewing members of the public about their experiences. I find that study participants are wonderfully generous with the insights that they share, and I always feel hugely privileged to be given such an intimate window into their lives.

I’m especially pleased that all three of these projects involve close collaboration with ‘real-world’ stakeholders in the development of the research questions and the dissemination of our findings. Across my current projects, I’m collaborating with Natural England, voluntary organisations, a county council, and clinicians in a hospital trust.

My advice

Pick a topic you’re passionate about and try to meet with potential supervisors beforehand to get a feel for the type of person they are. Doing a PhD can be a rollercoaster of experiences, and you’ll need to care about your research to keep yourself motivated when things get challenging, but it’s a hugely rewarding experience!

Try to speak to other doctoral students and graduates. It can be hard to really understand what it means to do a PhD (a feeling which probably won’t go until you are well into your PhD!) and those who’ve been through the process can give you valuable insights.

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