Three minutes with Ruth Hunter

A prestigious research fellowship is opening doors for Ruth Hunter of Queen's University, Belfast.


Tell us about your fellowship.

I was awarded a prestigious National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Career Development Fellowship which I started in January 2015. This three-year fellowship will involve investigating the impact of social networks in changing people’s physical activity behaviour, which has significant implications for public health.
We choose our friends, neighbours, and colleagues, and we inherit our relatives. Each person we are connected to also does the same, so we assemble ourselves into social networks. Evidence demonstrates that our ‘embeddedness’ in these social networks affects our health. This fellowship provides a timely investigation into the effectiveness of social network interventions and will seek to answer a number of methodological and implementation challenges. 

What will this entail?

This fellowship aims to undertake the development work and pilot testing necessary to design and evaluate novel social network enabled interventions. I’ll be reviewing previous research, analysing social networks for workplace physical activity, simulating network parameters to design an optimal intervention and pilot testing the intervention. I will visit Harvard, the universities of Southern California and Cambridge.

How will you disseminate the findings?

Through users and academics. Study ezines (electronic newsletters) will be distributed to participants and stakeholders updating them on the study’s progress, and presented at relevant community and voluntary forums.
Results will also be presented to local policymakers via the Northern Ireland knowledge exchange seminar series to highlight the potential of social network enabled interventions for health behaviour change. Academic outputs include international and national conference presentations, high impact peer-reviewed publications, seminars on social network enabled intervention at national and international universities.

What do you do on an average day?

No two days are the same which is great. A typical day might involve attending research meetings, analysing data, writing papers, supervising undergraduate of PhD student research projects, writing funding applications, giving presentations and teaching.

Should physios be more engaged in public health?

Certainly. I think physiotherapists have a huge role to play in public health, particularly in physical activity promotion.  The CSP has been at the forefront of advocating the significant impact that physiotherapists can play in public health.
Indeed, physiotherapists are already actively engaged in improving public health through early intervention; primary and secondary prevention; the treatment and rehabilitation of chronic and long term conditions; keeping people fit to work; and promoting the benefits of regular physical activity for health and wellbeing. And physiotherapists will have an increasingly important role to play as the responsibility for public health moves to local authorities.

You’ll be travelling a lot. Who will you be visiting and why? 

I will be spending time at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where I will work with Professor Tom Valente who is an global expert in social network science.
I will also spend time with Professor Lisa Berkman, a social epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard University and with Dr James Woodcock at the Centre for Diet and Activity Research, University of Cambridge.  Spending time in these universities will enable me to learn core skills in social network analysis and agent-based modelling, as well as build important collaborations for future research.

Should other CSP members follow your lead?

I think anyone interested in becoming an independent researcher should apply for a fellowship. They provide protected time to undertake research, learn new skills, build collaborations and spend time with international experts from prestigious universities.
More information
Find applications here for the next round of  NIHR fellowships open in October. 

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