Rebecca Richmond

What motivated you to come to Bristol and do this programme?

I completed my undergraduate degree in Human Sciences at the University of Oxford, where I studied biological, social and cultural aspects of human life and acquired skills in statistics, genetics and population health. After researching the various Wellcome Trust studentships being offered, I was immediately drawn to the PhD programme in Molecular, Genetic and Lifecourse Epidemiology which incorporated and integrated a number of these disciplines. The calibre of the research leaders as well as the quality and quantity of data being produced from the on-going epidemiological studies within the school further motivated my application.

What is the key research question of your PhD research project and what have you found out so far?

My PhD is entitled “The application and development of causal inference methods in birth cohorts”. This methods-based PhD explores and applies a number of approaches for drawing causal inferences from epidemiological birth cohorts. Within the projects I have undertaken during my PhD, I have attempted to establish: whether there is a causal effect of a breastfeeding promotion intervention on eating attitudes in early adolescence; the causal direction of effect in the association between childhood adiposity and physical activity levels; and the causal effect of maternal exposures in pregnancy on a number of offspring health outcomes in both the sort and long-term. In addition, I have incorporated data obtained from “omics” technologies into a causal analysis framework, focusing mainly on genetic and methylation (epigenetic) profiling. Finally, I am now attempting to “triangulate” my research findings from the different causal methods and replicate my results in different birth cohorts in order to make accurate inferences which may be relevant to population health.

Where do you think your research could lead and what are your future career plans now?

I have learnt from the time spent doing my PhD that any research project is indefinite in the sense that findings can always be elaborated, either through replication in different studies or through the extension of research aims and methods. I hope to continue my research in a post-doctoral context and am waiting to hear about the success of a grant application for a project which would lead directly on from my current work. This would involve continued and extended collaboration with other birth cohorts with the further application and development of research methods in these contexts. The next step would then be to apply for either a fellowship or lectureship. Although I am currently unsure about which research avenue I would like to pursue, I know that I am ultimately interested in translating findings to a wider audience whether this be through teaching, public engagement or policy work.

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