Over the next few weeks we will be looking back on the success of the THAW project and those who gained their PhD through their excellent work on the project. 

Dr Jacob Andrews discusses his experience of the project and completing his PhD here at CATCH Sheffield:

In 2014, I was selected to be one of three new PhD students in an interdisciplinary network entitled ‘THAW’ (Technology for Health Ageing and Wellbeing). The network was designed to explore technology and mental health in older adults from a number of different angles.

My project involved exploring how machine learning might be used in digital technologies to predict the likelihood of a user developing a mental health condition. To do so, I began by using existing data to train a machine learning algorithm to predict depression based on mood reports made by older adults using digital devices. This work was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, where it available to read via Open Access (read the article here). I also explored how and why older adults might interact with technologies for the purpose of supporting mental health, and this work has also been published in an open access publication. Lastly, I interviewed healthcare staff across secondary care to look at the potential for implementing predictive technologies in care pathways. This gave me an appreciation of some of the complexity involved in implementing technology in healthcare pathways.

Working as one member of an interdisciplinary network within THAW allowed me to have frank and interesting discussions with students from other disciplines, permitting me to gain a greater understanding of different ontological positions, and helped me to appreciate how approaches taken in different disciplines can complement each other to address a wider problem. Together, we organised and conducted two very successful events at which we engaged key stakeholders in the field of older adults’ mental health (healthcare professionals, older adults, and representatives from charities and industry), to open conversations around how technology might help or hinder late life mental health. We listened to the views of representatives at these events and allowed their input to guide the research we conducted during our PhDs.

Being a member of CATCH during my PhD granted me many exciting opportunities to get involved in projects and experiences in peripheral areas of interest. This included a visit to Sheffield University’s Medical Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), where I was shown the state-of the-art machinery used to prototype new forms of medical implant. Through CATCH’s connection to ScHARR, I was able to take part in the PhD Intensive Clinical Experience, where I met with patients who had lived experience of a variety of conditions, including mental health conditions. I was also able to study modules from ScHARR’s renowned masters programmes, and thereby hone important research skills. I also took the opportunity to contribute to postgraduate life in ScHARR, by standing as departmental and faculty student representative, and by setting up a short series of peer-led seminars for postgraduate students to share skills they had gained with other students. 

Following on from my PhD, my close connections with staff members in CATCH led to my involvement in an interesting project relating to the Internet of Things, as well as involvement on a project with a local mental health charity. It also allowed me to be a key member of the TechnoTherapies Special Interest Group.

The THAW experience has provided me with a wide range of skills and experiences which will undoubtedly be of benefit in my future career. Currently I am working on a postdoc position in the Department of Sociological Studies relating to self-tracking. I am certain that moving forward my experience of interdisciplinary working as part of THAW will allow me to approach healthcare problems with a deeper understanding of the issues at hand, and a good knowledge of the different approaches that could be used to solve them.