A career in psychology

Posted on: 3 August 2020 by Dr Vicky Fallon in August 2020 posts

Dr Vicky Fallon
Dr Vicky Fallon.

Vicky is a lecturer in Health Psychology and tells us about her career journey with the Institute, from PhD student to her current role.

"I came to the University of Liverpool in 2012 as a PhD student and Research Methods Demonstrator. I completed my PhD in 2016 and secured a permanent contract as a University Teacher before being promoted to Lecturer in 2017.

Since my undergraduate degree, I have had a long-standing interest in maternal and infant health. I completed my PhD under the supervision of Dr Jo Harrold, who has expertise in infant appetite and feeding behaviour. Our interests blended nicely, and my thesis examined the impact of maternal anxiety on infant feeding, from pregnancy to parenthood, using mixed methodologies. I submitted my thesis by publication and in 2017, I was awarded a doctoral prize for my work from the Society for Reproductive and Infant Psychology.

As part of my doctoral work, I developed and validated a psychometric tool to measure postpartum anxiety, the Postpartum Specific Anxiety Scale (PSAS). This has led to a particular focus on issues surrounding measurement and screening of perinatal mental health. The exponential growth in usage of the scale has led to the development of an international working group, of which I am Chief Investigator. The English-language PSAS is currently being used throughout the UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Rwanda, and the USA.

Translation of the PSAS has taken place in China, France, Italy, Spain and The Netherlands. Further translations are currently ongoing in another ten countries across the globe. I currently lead a team who are developing both research and clinical short-forms of the measure in the UK.

My research into early life nutrition has also developed well. I'm particularly interested in the emotional and practical experiences affecting infant feeding behaviour, including guilt, shame and anxiety. I'm currently supervising a PhD student who is developing this body of work further.

Another of my key interests is around infant feeding policy and how this influences health professional communication and interactions with mothers. My infant feeding work has featured in various media outlets including the BBC, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Feed UK and Mumsnet. I'm also currently collaborating with Mumsnet and researchers at Swansea University to explore how mothers use emotive language around infant feeding on their forums.

I am civically engaged with Liverpool City Council, Liverpool Maternity Voices and Person Shaped Support, influencing local policy around perinatal mental health and infant feeding in the perinatal period. As part of this work, I chair a Perinatal Wellbeing and Infant Feeding Collaborative research group. The group brings together academics, local council, NHS services and experts with shared interests, to drive forward perinatal research ideas and funding applications.

I work closely with NHS partners, including Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust, where we are currently involved in an evaluation of their infant feeding services, and Alder Hey Children's NHS Foundation Trust, where we are implementing a social prescribing intervention for infants with gastric difficulties to reduce hospital admissions.

I believe that a high quality learning experience can only be achieved through research-connected teaching. I was heavily involved in the redesign of the Psychology curriculum in 2018/19, leading Year One of the programme through the curriculum review. Notably, I have co-developed, and act as an Assessment Coordinator, on the the Year Two Lifespan, Health, and Wellbeing module. I have also developed and coordinated a qualitative research methods curriculum, in Years One and Two of the undergraduate programme.

More recently, I have designed and coordinated a new Year Three Health Psychology module. My teaching role has afforded me the opportunity to supervise students across undergraduate, masters, and clinical and non-clinical doctoral programmes to conduct perinatal research across a range of my interests.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a rapid shift in my teaching and research delivery. Navigating online teaching mid-module, with little prior warning (and three kids!) has been challenging, yet rewarding. Many of my studies are currently on hold and my efforts have turned to understanding the impact of COVID-19 on pregnancy and motherhood. I lead a large UK mixed-methods study entitled Pregnancy and Motherhood During COVID-19 (The PRAM Study), which aims to examine the psychosocial experiences of motherhood during the pandemic.

I am also working on the qualitative arm of an ESRC UKRI-funded project in collaboration with the University of Sheffield and Ulster University. Finally, I am a co-applicant on another nationwide study investigating the coping, resilience and growth in new mothers during COVID-19, which has been submitted to the ESRC UKRI COVID-19 research fund."

Find out more about Vicky's work by visiting her staff profile and following her on Twitter.

Keywords: psychology, career.