Research Fellow Dr Heather May Morgan explains her work with Fitbits and Pokemon Go, and why she gets up at 4am and works on a balancing board….

Tell us about your role at the University

I am an early career researcher working within the Delivery of Care programme at our Health Services Research Unit (HSRU), which is supported by the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates and an integral part of the University’s Institute of Applied Health Sciences in the College of Life Sciences and Medicine.

I’m also a social scientist (with a multidisciplinary background spanning law, gender studies, philosophy, sociology, social research, criminology and health sciences) and I predominantly do qualitative/mixed methods health services research.

My research specialises in the use of technologies (broadly defined) for behaviour change – either by individuals or organisations – and I’m interested in the integration of technologies into societies, especially their roles in and meanings for public service delivery. I’m particularly focused right now on the proliferation of ‘digital health’ and how developments impact on the ways in which people approach or manage their health and wellbeing (using technologies) and how these might change the relationships between people and health and social care services.

At the moment, I’m exploring people’s uses of digital health self-monitoring technologies (health and wellbeing apps, wearable fitness trackers, etc.) both within and independently of health and social care services, having recently secured several small-medium individual and collaborative awards to develop my programme of research. I am a two-time Principal’s Public Engagement with Research prize-winner and ambassador/advocate of public engagement/science communication. I am very active in the area of public involvement and engagement and recently had the pleasure of leading a Pokémon Go for health event as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science. It was for work, honest!

Over the next two years, in addition to pushing forward with my own research interests to develop the emerging and creative field of digital health (while doing as much engaging with the public as possible), I will also be contributing to other interesting and diverse projects: an evaluation of ‘scaling up innovation’ in intensive care rehab; an evaluation of electronic records use in ambulances; assessing acceptability of adding  novel tech to childhood asthma care; and a systematic review of initiatives to support professionals’ ‘practical wisdom’ in contemporary healthcare.

To add to the mix, my previous work has looked at: a football-based intervention (delivered through premiership clubs) for weight loss in men; services’ support for people’s self-management of long-term health conditions; indoor air quality monitoring using ‘black box’ devices in homes during pregnancy to change smoking behaviour; financial incentives for quitting smoking in pregnancy and trying breastfeeding; and gender in police CCTV.

In addition to this diverse research portfolio, I contribute teaching to a number of postgraduate and undergraduate programmes at Aberdeen University (across disciplines/Colleges) and others in Scotland, most often with qualitative and mixed methods training. I also contribute peer reviews, supervision and assessment of PhD, MSc and BSc Med Sci research protocols, coursework, projects and theses.

How do you usually start your day?

On weekdays, my radio alarm first sounds at 4am – BBC Radio 2 (the late Sir Terry Wogan always reflected on headline University research with such great wit, wisdom and cynicism that I have been unable to stop listening to this, Britain’s most popular station, since I first heard him ridicule us – it reminds me every day that what we do is important and how we can strive to become better in making our research more relevant and accessible to the public through mainstream popular platforms) – and I doze until 5am. I then run through a ridiculous process of removing traces of yesterday’s make-up (I know) and starting today’s. Don’t even mention my hair.

I usually leave the house around 6.15am (on a pint of water, a mug of black tea and hungry) and drive to work, arriving 7-7.15am ish, just in time to secure a place in the car park closest to our offices at Foresterhill, which, rather ironically for a person who is usually counting steps with the latest smartwatch, means I can do less steps than if I had to walk from the East Car Park. I do take the stairs instead of the lift though – six flights to the 3rd floor!

When I get to my desk, I sometimes set up my makeshift ‘standing desk/balancing board’ arrangement, but other days perch on my chair, stick in my earphones (eclectic playlists, but a lot of 80s) and respond to emails for a wee while to get them up to date before making a Taylor’s Hot Lava Java ‘6 on a scale of 5’ extra strong (no milk or sugar) coffee! That takes me to 8am, when I can get started with whatever I’m working on before meetings, etc.

What brought you to the University of Aberdeen?

It all started here! I first came in 2001, when I began my Law degree aged 17 and 01 months (as a recently domiciled Scot who wanted to get out of school asap, but who didn’t want to leave home quite yet). I applied, got in, fell in love (with the University) and have never left. An eternal student... People still ask me whether I’ve stopped studying yet. I haven’t, obviously, it’s just that I am now employed to do what I love.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

Meeting and speaking with people. Most of my work involves collaboration with colleagues here and at other institutions or creative opportunities to work with people outside the University (for example with a local business on a recent Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation project to create Aberdeen’s original Pokémon Go!, aka [m]apping, and more recently on a new partnership with a London-based international firm developing digital health programmes).

A lot of my work also entails participation/observation out in communities, or interviewing people in groups or individually, so I get to meet lots of different people – professionals, members of the public, patients, and other stakeholders – and to represent their views and voices in our research findings and recommendations. Negotiating interactions and finding common languages to enable conversations with diverse members of society, learning from others’ perspectives, and including these is always exciting and meaningful for me.

I also feel like I never do a day’s work in my life – it’s such a thrill and privilege to do something you love every day. I am particularly pleased to be working within an achieving and ambitious multidisciplinary team at HSRU, where we work across disciplines and roles to assess and improve the delivery of health and social care. There is a real buzz about the Unit, which makes it a great place to work day to day, as well as seeing the impact of our research regularly being realised in policy and practice changes.

What are your work priorities at the moment?

I am working towards securing independent fellowship funding and so this is my main work priority at the moment. I am currently supervising a number of pilot postgraduate and undergraduate student projects to inform the development of applications and future directions for establishing my own programme. To support this, I am also co-convenor of one recently formed small network and member of another. These will be focusing on digital living, health and wellbeing, and society going into 2017. Both networks have been successful in securing external launch funding, which will enable new collaborations to be built over the coming months, kicking off in January.

I am also working on the projects I mentioned earlier and so the ongoing tasks for these and writing up papers, etc. will continue to be a priority.

How do you like to relax outside work?
I'm a big fan of music and like to go to see bands live – I saw Fleetwood Mac and Simply Red last year, Simply Red again last week and am going to see both Deacon Blue and the Human League next week. I really like football too, and watch a live game most weeks, which takes me all over Scotland and to many towns I’d never otherwise have visited! I also like doing DIY, driving, and drinking red wine. Not all at the same time. I like to run as well, but tend to be an all or nothing runner – it’s either 5x10kms a week or none. I’m currently in a none phase, which I should probably address. Beyond that, I like experimenting with hair colouring, painting mirror frames/upcycling ‘junk’, and watching episodes of Inspector Morse.