BSc Psychology 2003; MSc Econ, Social Research Methods 2005; PhD, Psychology 2010. Breast Milk Advocate. Infant Weaning Authority. Child Public Health Champion.
Amy is Professor of Child Public Health at Swansea University. Her research into breastfeeding is shaping public policy and helping mothers and babies get off to a great start.
What made you choose Swansea University for your studies?
If I’m being totally honest, it was the beach and the beautiful surroundings that first got my attention. But once on campus for an open day I realised what a friendly and welcoming environment Swansea had – from the staff in the psychology department to the general vibe around the lecture theatres and halls. It felt like somewhere you could call home – which was a good thing, as I’ve been wandering around that campus for 20 years now!
Do you remember any advice, experience or role models from your time in Swansea Uni that stay with you throughout your career?
Yes, really clearly – and too many to mention everyone here. I was lucky enough to have great role models right from the start who were not only leading in their fields, but took the time to encourage me to take that next leap from undergraduate study. I think it’s the small things that can really stay with you and make a difference - Dr Mike Gruneberg who took the time to tell me in the second year of my degree that I had a talent for writing and research which really sparked my interest in taking things further. Professor Sine McDougall who told me that academia was a vocation that would take over my life but would be so worth it. Professor Dave Benton who alternated between being constructively but bluntly critical and telling me I had a brilliant academic career ahead of me. Professor Kevin Haines who first put the thought of a PhD into my mind... I could go on.
I’m also lucky enough to still be based at the same institution as my PhD supervisors, Professor Michelle Lee and Professor Peter Raynor who continue to be great sources of support – there’s no escaping me!
"We’ve made great progress in the last 15 years, but there’s still a way to go."
Where did your interest in breastfeeding come from?
I had no real awareness that research into women’s experiences of breastfeeding even existed until I had my own baby. It was my experiences feeding him and meeting so many other women who were struggling that led me down the path of firstly wondering why something natural could be so difficult and secondly wanting to work out what we could do about it. We’ve made great progress in the last 15 years, but there’s still a way to go. I can’t see a career change happening just yet.
Tell us a little bit about your career
I was lucky enough to find my first job straight out of my undergraduate degree at Swansea University in 2003. It was working as a research assistant for a spin out company based in the old Department of Applied Social Sciences. They also funded me to do a MSc in social research methods and then encouraged me to apply for PhD funding. I’d moved on from that position but spent the next few years working in short term research and teaching posts around the university, including working for the Department of Adult Education and for the Reaching Higher Reaching Wider Summer University scheme.
On graduating with my PhD in 2010 (and having had three babies during it) I started a lectureship in Early Childhood Studies, moving onto a Senior lectureship and then into a position as a senior lecturer in Healthcare management. We then set up a MSc in Child Public Health which I now lead, having been promoted to Associate Professor in 2014 and Professor in 2018. It would have probably been quicker to tell you which departments I haven’t worked in at some point! Let’s just say I’m firmly Swansea University born and bred.
"I’m very lucky in that although we work very hard, what we do is so rewarding."
What is the most rewarding aspect of your role?
I think I’d say ‘making a difference’ to people’s lives. Whether that’s through seeing one of my MSc students graduate or get a promotion due to their studying, watching a PhD student grow, develop and finally graduate or seeing my research being used in policy or being useful for a new family. I’m very lucky in that although we work very hard, what we do is so rewarding. You can really see the difference that your effort makes.
Tell us about your biggest success so far
Oh wow, it’s hard to pinpoint something. I think everything I have done has played an important part in getting me to where I am now and helping me be in a position where I can support students and the families I work with in my research. If I had to choose one thing, it was recently being invited to attend a St David’s day celebration at 10 Downing Street, alongside one of my collaborator’s Dr Natalie Shenker, chair of the Human Milk Foundation. We met some great people (and had a good look around).
What’s next for you?
We’ve just set up a new centre that explores families experiences of feeding their baby called ‘LIFT’ – Lactation, Infant Feeding and Translation. Our aim is to do research that really matters to new parents, answering the questions they might have about feeding their babies and developing solutions that might help them. Our aim is to help every family to be able to make the feeding decisions that are right for them, feel happy and confident and get the support they deserve. We have big plans for the future so watch this space!
"...my inspiration is all the volunteers I interact with daily through my research."
Who is your inspiration?
I’m asked this question a lot. I could give you lots of answers of individuals in the public eye, especially women, who are making the world a better place. But actually, my inspiration is all the volunteers I interact with daily through my research. There is a whole network out there, an army of volunteers, who take their time to support new families day in day out often with very little higher recognition. They’re spurred on by the families whose lives they changed, and I’m spurred on by them.