Lesson learnt: Never doubt yourself or your work

MSc Health Psychology graduate, Sonia Khanom, recently took home first prize in a competition looking for the best dissertation within the Division of Psychology and Mental Health. Sonia received funding to go and present her dissertation, “The views and experiences of people with lived experience of depression talking about lifestyle change with healthcare professionals: A qualitative investigation”, to a national conference of her choice. Here she discusses why she chose to study the course in the first place and the impact that winning the competition has had on her studies…

Why Health Psychology?

I have never had a clear plan of what I would like to do as a career. I have always had the mindset of ‘going with the flow’, take each opportunity as it comes, and not plan too far in advance. This is because I believe that you never really know what you’ll enjoy doing, or what you’re good at, until you actually do it. The only thing I knew I had an interest in was human health and well-being, and that I wanted to keep on developing the skills and knowledge I had gained from undergraduate psychology. For this reason, I applied for the MSc Health Psychology course at the University of Manchester.

I chose this University because I knew that the Division of Psychology and Mental Health offered high quality teaching suited to my learning style. It’s also worth mentioning that I had fallen in love with the City of Manchester and didn’t want to leave!

An image of Sonia Khanom graduating from Msc Health Psychology at the University of Manchester


PGT Conference Fund Award 

Towards the end of my MSc, I received an email stating that the division was awarding up to £1000 to fund an MSc student to present their dissertation work at a national conference. Admittedly, I initially disregarded the email as I knew the standard of entries would be incredibly high and I felt a little out of my depth. It was only when my supervisor, Dr Sarah Peters, suggested that I should apply that I felt more motivated to submit an entry.

The abstract I submitted was on my dissertation research, titled “The views and experiences of people with lived experience of depression talking about lifestyle change with healthcare professionals: A qualitative investigation”. The study was based on evidence that individuals with depression are significantly more likely to engage in unhealthy lifestyle behaviours such as smoking, binge drinking and physical inactivity, and therefore face higher morbidity and mortality rates than the general population. Although these behaviours can be modified, healthcare professionals often prioritise patient’s mental health during consultations at the expense of supporting positive lifestyle changes. Therefore, I set out to explore what people with depression currently receive, expect or would appreciate in terms of lifestyle modification support from health professionals.

Weeks after submitting my entry, I was genuinely really surprised to learn that I had won first place and that I would be able present a poster at a national conference of my choice. I chose to present at the UK Society for Behavioural Medicine conference in Liverpool, as it was concerned with ‘the development and integration of environmental, behavioural and biomedical knowledge relevant to health and disease, and the application of this knowledge to prevention, treatment and rehabilitation’. I thought it was very fitting with the work I had produced for my MSc and was excited to share my findings and network with other early career researchers and leaders in the field.

Attending my first conference

My experience of the conference was very positive. I received encouraging comments on my poster, and between the symposiums, posters, and short abstract presentations, I learnt a variety of approaches towards researching health and illness and applying behavioural medicine. This spouted some ideas for developing a potential behaviour change training intervention aimed at integrating lifestyle discussions in the care and management of depression.

An image of Sonia Khanom with her poster detailing the abstract for her dissertation.

Future plans

Two weeks after submitting my MSc dissertation, I began a PhD looking at the frequency, impact and predictors of fluctuating pain in adolescents with inflammatory and non-inflammatory musculoskeletal disorders. I feel very lucky to be offered this PhD and to secure funding from Arthritis Research UK so soon after completing my MSc.

Overall, the biggest lesson I will take away from winning the PGT conference award is to not underestimate myself. I almost didn’t enter the competition due to self-doubt and thinking my work wasn’t good enough. But I have now learnt that the worst thing that I could have done would have been not submitting. This has given me great confidence for my PhD and for my future in research!


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