What was the focus of your work?
My project title was ‘Communication in medical encounters about obesity’. One focus of the project was to extend my doctoral analysis. My PhD (University of Nottingham, 2009) involved the video recording and qualitative analysis of weight management consultations for obese patients in a specialist secondary care NHS clinic, and I was very keen to return to my data and deliver further outputs from it. This included conference presentations and published papers focusing on communicative tasks in the consultation, such as the delivery of diagnosis and praise for patient successes in weight loss.
After finishing my PhD in 2009 I joined the Work, Interaction and Technology (WIT) research centre at King’s College London to work on a project about optometry. WIT is a centre of excellence in the fine-grained qualitative analysis of video-based field studies of social interaction so a second aim of the project was to further develop my skills in this area. Under the guidance of my mentor Professor Christian Heath, I benefitted hugely from this chance to develop my analytic skills. I worked with data from my PhD and the optometry project to produce a series of conference presentations and papers.
A final aim was to prepare applications for further research projects. With WIT colleagues I prepared successful bids for a series of ‘Bridging the Gaps’ inter-disciplinary projects at King’s College London as well as an ESRC-funded Knowledge Exchange project, ‘The practical work of the optometrist 2’, which involved the preparation and delivery of communication skills development activities for eye-care students and practitioners.
What did the Mildred Blaxter fellowship offer you that you would not otherwise have been able to do?
The fellowship provided me with a combination of opportunities that I could not have got elsewhere: 1) the chance to return to an existing area of analytic interest; 2) the freedom to explore and pursue new areas of interest; and 3) an opportunity to focus on skills development.
What are you doing now?
I stayed at King’s College London until mid-2014, working on the ‘Practical Work of the Optometrist 2’ project and conducting some teaching. Then I moved to my current post at the University of Oxford. I am a Senior Researcher working in the Human Centred Computing Group, which conducts research on the inter-relationships between technology and social practices. I am currently working on the ‘Digital wildfire’ project, which investigates the spread of provocative content on social media. The project examines how people interact with each other on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on, with particular regard to the posting of hate speech, misinformation and inflammatory comments. It analyses the impact of this harmful content and seeks opportunities for the responsible governance of digital social spaces. Undertaking the Mildred Blaxter fellowship definitely contributed to my career pathway as it allowed me to consolidate my research interests in interaction, technology and organisation, as well as to develop key professional skills.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of applying for a Mildred Blaxter fellowship?
Go for it! Also if you can, talk to people who have undertaken a fellowship previously to find out about their experiences and get advice on the application procedure.
After the award…
I stayed at King’s College London until mid-2014, working on the ‘Practical Work of the Optometrist 2’ project and conducting some teaching. Then I moved to take up a research post at the University of Oxford. I am currently a Senior Researcher working in the Human Centred Computing theme, an interdisciplinary research group that brings together computer scientists and social scientists. Our projects explore the inter-relationships between technology and social practices, and also seek to promote the responsible development of new innovations. Working here has provided me with the opportunity to consolidate and extend my interest in interaction as well as apply myself in new areas of research. I have been involved in a number of projects during my time here. For instance, the Digital Wildfire project explored the spread of harmful content on social media and included an examination of online interactions. The UnBias project analysed the user experience of online algorithms for filtering and personalisation. My current project RoboTIPS focuses on the responsible development of social robots. In a collaboration with Bristol Robotics Lab, we are developing and trialling an innovative design feature to support safer interactions between human users and robots such as driverless cars, communication and support robots, and robot toys. I also teach courses on research methods and ethics, and have supervised a number of research students both in the Department of Computer Science and Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.
Undertaking the Mildred Blaxter fellowship definitely contributed to my career pathway as it allowed me to consolidate my research interests in interaction, technology and organisation, as well as to develop key professional skills.
You can find out more about Helena’s work on the Practical work of the optometrist 2 project here, and on the Digital wildfire project here. Publications arising from her Mildred Blaxter fellowship include:
- Webb H. (2015) ‘I’ll suggest that to your doctor’: Managing interactional restrictions to treatment provision in secondary care obesity consultations. In F. Chevalier and J. Moore (eds) Producing and Managing Restricted Activities: Avoidance and Withholding in Institutional Interaction. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
- Webb H. (2013) Naturally occurring interactions and guidance codifications in healthcare communication analysis: the case of praising obese patients. International Review of Social Research (special issue on ‘Health and communication’) 3(2): 29-50.
- Webb H., Heath C., vom Lehn D. and Gibson W. (2013) Engendering response: professional gesture and the assessment of eyesight in optometry consultations. Symbolic Interaction 36(2): 137-158.
- Webb, H., vom Lehn, D. and Heath, C. (2012) Professional gesture in optometry: a case study of video-based field studies. Proceedings of the 26th BCS Human Computer Interaction conference.