Bethan Burnside

"My aim is to work towards blurring the line between being a psychological researcher & being a lived experience researcher"

Bethan Burnside

Lived Experience Researcher/Neuroscientist

I could never have imagined myself where I am now in my career when I first entered the world of work eight years ago. I had a rather unusual upbringing; I wasn’t able to attend high school, so I started tutoring in English while I taught myself to pass AS/A Level exams. After a couple more years of work, I finally scraped into a BSc Psychology program – I had no real idea of what I wanted to do with it when I started, I was just excited to have the chance to study at a real-life university! My life turned upside-down when I walked into my first “brain and behaviour” lecture in my second year. I’d stumbled in late from a morning shift at my nannying job to a giant diagram of a neuron on the big projector screen and spent the rest of the class on the edge of my seat. Due to my lack of a scientific background, it seemed like science-fiction to me that cognitive phenomena could be underpinned by these breathtaking, tangible, biochemical processes. Within the span of that lesson, I’d become irreversibly hooked, and spent the next several years working towards this vague conception of becoming a “neuroscientist”.

I’m really grateful to have had some fantastic mentors on every subsequent step of my research journey.

My first professor suggested that it might be a good idea to try and find a job as a research assistant. I wasn’t really one hundred percent sure what a research assistant was or did, but I determinedly transferred my studies to London in order to gain more exposure to such opportunities. There, another professor offered me the chance to work as a research assistant for an exciting project investigating super face recognition ability. It was such an invaluable experience that developed a lot of core capacities integral to any research work, like teamwork, organisation, and time management. With experience in my pocket, and a few coding courses on the side (check out Code First Girls for accessible, professional, free routes into programming!), I got into the MSc Neuroscience program at King’s College London. It was a very precious time for me; all my years of hard work was finally paying off, and I could finally start to feel a little bit proud of what I’d managed to achieve.

However, life threw a spanner in the works last year when I was unexpectedly referred to disability support services during my Master’s degree. Just before the first lockdown, an educational psychologist diagnosed me with a specific learning difficulty concerning attention and concentration. He – and several neurodiversity professionals I’ve worked with since – suggested that I might look into attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I was 25 years old! Previously, I’d navigated diagnoses of depression and anxiety, but I had to develop a different kind of framework for exploring the possibility of having had an unrecognised neurodevelopmental condition until recently, and what that might entail for my health, relationships, and identity. It also had a massive influence on my career. I did my MSc project based on neurodevelopment, and afterwards found a job as a research assistant in a neurodevelopmental genetics lab, where I’m still currently working.

This experience really opened up my eyes to the dearth of research, not only about adult women with ADHD, but by adult women with ADHD. I began to notice a huge disparity between the real, anecdotal, lived-experience knowledge of those in the ADHD community, and that translated into the academic literature.

Furthermore, across the board of mental health, there are huge gaps between the “bench” of scientific research, and the “bedside” of health care practice and policy.

Therefore, in parallel to my lab work, I also work with the team at the Centre for Global Mental Health at King’s College London, where we meld and incorporate a variety of innovative research approaches in co-designing and implementing sustainable and scalable mental health solutions in low-resource settings. I am working towards my next project, where I aim to adopt similar principles and techniques in co-creating health care interventions in partnership with adult women with ADHD.

My broader aim is to work towards blurring the line between being a psychological/neuroscientific researcher and being a lived experience researcher, and for the research community to see as much value in one as they do with the other.

Newsletter sign up

Newsletter sign up

By clicking sign up I confirm that I have read and agree with the privacy policy