Louca-Mai Brady is an independent research consultant and trainer and is currently undertaking a PhD at the University of the West of England on ‘embedding the participation of children and young people in health and social care services’.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
A librarian (because I loved books) or a rescuer of badly-treated animals (my grandparents lived in Spain and coming from England I was shocked by how some of the animals appeared to be treated). So I suppose my interests in research and social justice were there from early on!
When did you first turn towards a social research career?
After my first degree, in psychology and English literature my first job was as a support worker in mental health and learning disability services. The organisation I worked for had identified the changing needs of older people with learning disabilities as a key issue for service development, and asked me to undertake a small piece of qualitative research to explore the issue further. Having a chance to apply the research skills I had developed during my degree to the work I was doing in social care gave me a taste for how social research could be used as a tool for change, as well as realising that it was something I really enjoyed doing.
What was your first professional job? And first project there?
I left the social care job when I was offered a post as a researcher for an organisation called PACT Community Projects in Brighton. I was responsible for a project on education, training and employment opportunities for disabled people, working closely with researchers leading parallel projects on other ‘vulnerable’ groups. As well as the research itself the role involved organising and running training sessions, stakeholder meetings and a conference to disseminate research findings, as well as contributing to a successful European Social Fund bid for a project to implement the research recommendations. So as a first research job it was a steep learning curve on many levels – not least when, after almost a year off to travel the world, I returned to the ESF-funded post we’d created and had a chance to find out about the realities of applying research recommendations to multi-agency practice.
What has been your best professional moment?
One of the best was the conference I organised with a group of young people who were part of a public health advisory group I ran at the National Children’s Bureau. There were a few nail-biting moments in the run up, not least because I’d never organised a conference from scratch before, let alone working collaboratively! But it was fantastic seeing the delegates (a mix of researchers, practitioners and young people) really engaging with the day. And even more amazing seeing the young people I’d worked with presenting the research they’d commissioned as part of the project, running workshops and being involved in making every aspect of the conference work really well.
Leaving NCB following a restructure was definitely one of my more challenging professional moments. Going on to start a PhD, alongside work as an independent researcher and trainer, after having had twins has also definitely had its challenges! But it’s also great to have the opportunity to work flexibly and really get my teeth into a research topic I’ve been interested in for many years.
Do you have a social research hero/heroine?
Peter Beresford was among my early inspirations when I first started to become interested in participatory research. When I subsequently had the opportunity to work with him, his approachability and commitment to social justice was a real inspiration. Ruth Sinclair, although she had retired from the NCB Research Centre before I joined, has been one of my key inspirations in relation to children and young people’s participation in research.
Do you have a favourite quote?
“All learning, all reflection, all contact that helps you learn more about yourself is svadhyaya [study as a means of self-understanding]” TKV Desikachar on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. As a yoga teacher as well as someone with a longstanding interest in participatory and inclusive research, I really like this idea of learning as a process of on-going, and collaborative, critical reflection rather than attempting, in a more traditional, positivist way, to be a neutral observer.
What would you say to encourage a young person today considering a social research career?
The young people I’ve worked with during the last few years have said that being involved in the research process has given them a chance to make a difference in things that matter to them, as well as to develop useful skills and experience. So my advice to a young person considering a social research career would be to seek opportunities to get involved in research, both for these reasons and to gain an understanding of what is involved in doing social research by working alongside established adult researchers.