Our work at DPUK is all about collaboration and using our platforms to quicken the translation of dementia research into treatments. Supporting that work is a team of talented, dedicated researchers, and we sat down to speak to Pippa Watson about her work as a Research Assistant.
- How did you first become interest in dementia interest?
I started getting into dementia research during my undergraduate degree in Psychology at UCL. The lectures I had about dementia and aging research were the ones I found most interesting. During my Masters in Psychological Research at the University of Oxford I was doing work similar to what I’m doing now, looking at the role of cognitive reserve and lifestyle factors and how this affected recovery after a stroke. Now I’m looking at the same factors, but in dementia.
- What does your work as a Research Assistant at DPUK involve?
Most of my time is spent looking at different cohorts and trying to catagorise variables from these datasets to our ontology, which makes it easier for other researchers to understand what data is available. This can be challenging as some variables can be quite ambiguous. It’s difficult to catagorise variables into groups based especially when looking at sociodemographic aspects, as things sometimes don’t necessarily fall into one category. Plus, when trying to find out information about cohorts, there’s a lot of discrepancy in the level of detail provided in the documentation of cohorts, so a lot of my work involves standardising those variables.
- What’s next for your academic career?
I’ll be starting my DPhil in October, staying with DPUK in the Psychiatry Department at the University of Oxford, and generously funded by a departmental and Clarendon Fund scholarship. My project will be looking at ‘super-agers’, individuals that basically age really well and show cognitive performance comparable to those decades younger. I’ll be systematically looking at the lifestyles of super-agers to see if there are any lifestyle factors that may be responsible for their healthy cognitive abilities (no dementia), and if I find anything, I’ll look at the implications this has for the study of preventing dementia. This is interesting as super agers are a group that haven’t really been researched too much – people tend to focus more on normal and impaired ageing.
To identify the super-agers, I’m going to look through the datasets from cohorts that DPUK has access to where the participants are older and finding the top performers on variables of cognition. I specifically want to look at birth cohorts, where there’s really rich information about lifestyle changes over time.
- Why does dementia research matter to you?
It’s an interesting and important area of research. Dementia is the single leading cause of death in the UK, which is one of those facts that people don’t necessarily realise, or understand how widespread dementia is in terms of mortality. It’s something that made me realise how important this sort of work is. Everyone has some type of personal experience with dementia in one way or another.
- What’s the most surprising thing you’ve found since starting to work with DPUK?
How quickly I settled in when I started – it only took a couple of weeks for me to become fully settled. I’m really glad to be staying with the DPUK team, as it’s a lovely, friendly, and supportive research and work environment. Everyone is really kind, and there’s always someone to help when you have questions.