MEET OUR PHD RESEARCHER!
PhD candidate Lauren Swan is researching physical function in community-dwelling older adults
Lauren first completed a BSc in Analytical Science in Dublin City University, followed by an MSc in Global Health in Trinity. She then commenced her PhD studies in the School of Medicine, very much forging a new path in her own family as a first-generation college student. Lauren researches older adults, who she describes as under-represented in traditional health research. Lauren’s research is funded by North Dublin Home Care and focuses on sarcopenia, a condition affecting muscle strength which has been linked to poorer health outcomes. As part of her studies, she is analysing two large international datasets and has found that the risk of sarcopenia is significantly higher in older adults who are also socioeconomically disadvantaged. Lauren is also investigating the effectiveness of an innovative home-based physical activity programme for frail older adults. She is conducting crucial fieldwork examining sarcopenia, frailty, nutritional status, and physical activity in older adults living in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas. This offers real-world insight into engaging and including underserved groups in health research, and will inform strategies to better support ageing in place. Lauren’s award-winning research (she won the President’s Award for best Ageing presentation at the 2021 Irish Gerontological Society Conference), as well as her extra-curricular activities, certainly position her as one to watch.
How do you see your research impacting health?
The overall goal of my research is to add to the evidence base for inclusive strategies which address sarcopenia, promotes quality of life, and supports ageing in place for older citizens. I envisage that my research findings will inform future studies aiming to engage and include older adult populations currently underserved in traditional health research. The delivery of a home-based physical activity programme with frail older adults will inform future healthy ageing initiatives aiming to translate proactive approaches into practice.
Tell us about the Washington Ireland Programme
I was recently selected for this programme, which aims to provide professional development for young leaders on the island of Ireland. I will spend four weeks in Washington D.C. and New York this Summer, completing an internship with a U.S. organisation, attending events with global leaders, and formulating policy papers on issues pertinent to the island of Ireland.
Did you always want to pursue career in research?
As a first-generation college student, academia was not a career path I gave much consideration to growing up. While in secondary school, I was fortunate enough to be selected for an access programme that offered after-school Science lessons in Dublin City University. I went on to complete my undergraduate degree in Science at this University, so it had a lasting effect on me. I am incredibly lucky to have an academic supervisor (Associate Professor Maria O'Sullivan) and mentor (Dr Austin Warters) who have encouraged and supported in continuing my studies. The opportunity to enrol as a PhD student was also made possible by the support and sponsorship offered by North Dublin Home Care, a non-profit organisation in Ireland.
What do you enjoy most about your studies, and do you recommend the academic life to young students?
Being passionate about your research topic is crucial to enjoying the PhD journey. Completing academic research can be a bit of a gruelling process, requiring a lot of self-directed learning and problem solving however, if you have a genuine interest in the research area it doesn't always feel like work! The rewards along the way, seeing my work published and cited, presenting at conferences, and having the opportunity to complete fieldwork, help me to stay motivated. Some of the most memorable moments of my PhD have been sharing my academic papers with family who celebrate each milestone along my journey.
When you are not working on your PhD studies, where could we find you?
I am a Global Shaper at the Dublin Hub of the World Economic Forum. The Dublin Hub is a group of young adults who commit to working on projects in the local community. As part of this work, I volunteer with Teen Turn, a non-profit organisation that aims to assist girls from underserved areas progress to third-level education. As a mentor in their Groundwork Club, I provide guidance, focused on professional development, to two girls from underrepresented backgrounds hoping to continue with further education.
Since 2019, I have coordinated the Glasnevin Alzheimer Café, which offers a safe and supportive space for people with Dementia to come together. I transitioned this service to a virtual platform throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland.
Otherwise, I like to spend time with my friends and family, specifically my niece and nephew who are the only people guaranteed not to ask about my PhD!
What are your plans for the future?
I hope to take the skills and knowledge gained throughout my PhD journey and apply it to shaping health policies in Ireland. I believe that tackling the social determinants of health is crucial to protecting and promoting health across the life course. I hope to continue advocating for person-centred community health and social care services and policies which support ageing in place.
To learn more about the Alzheimer café, visit https://www.hse.ie/eng/about/our-health-service/making-it-better/virtual-alzheimer-cafe-is-a-safe-place-to-talk.html
To learn about Teen Turn, click here