The ’15 minutes with…’ blog series aims to provide a glimpse into the career paths and personal lives of the researchers and employees at NDPH and showcase the wide range of roles and science conducted. In this blog series, we ask researchers, non-research staff and students, nominated by the students themselves, to reflect on their career to date – their proudest accomplishments and their lowest points – and how they came to be where they are today.

We will publish on a regular basis in the coming months – we hope you will enjoy. Today, we continue this series with an interview with Sophia Wilkinson, Communications and Public Engagement Officer.

Could you describe your current role in one sentence?

Varied and eclectic…to encourage, facilitate and support NDPH’s researchers to involve and engage the public in their work so the fruits of their labour go far further!

 What is your favourite thing about it?  

Working with a really wide variety of people to come up with creative ideas.

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… And what is your least favourite thing about it?

Having to convince colleagues that engaging and involving the public in their work really will bring personal and societal benefits.

Moving on to the science, could you tell us talk about what science you’re most excited about or interested in your own work?

As my role is support all NDPH’s scientists to engage and involve the public in their work, I probably shouldn’t reveal my bias! However, I’m most excited about work that is upcoming that relates to the cholesterol-lowering drugs statins. It’s going to involve using a range of engagement and communication “tools”, such as film and podcasts, which I always enjoy making.

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And what about the science that you’re most interested in beyond your own work?

I’ve always had a thing for diseases that have a social and psychological element to them. For instance, I’ve always found HIV fascinating from a prevention perspective. It was (and is, though perhaps to a lesser extent now that there is good treatment available) such a cruel, stigmatised disease that affected the already vulnerable and marginalised most.  Although I don’t currently work on HIV-related issues, I have spent a good part of my career working in HIV prevention through the use of behaviour change communication.  

What’s the thing that you are most proud of in your professional life ?

I’m actually quite proud of a few things, but one that stands out is writing and producing a website for men recently diagnosed with HIV when the internet was still in its infancy. The site featured a number of short films with men sharing their stories to support others to come to terms with their diagnosis.  It won some kind of BMA award.

And what about your biggest failure or disappointment?

Not being bold enough to raise my voice when a project to develop an HIV communication strategy for Mozambique was clearly going way off-track.  I was too scared of questioning authority. It was incredibly stressful at the time.

Could you outline your route to where you are today?

It’s been a bit of a crazy paving pathway! I started as a broadcast journalist working in Southeast Asia where I became very interested in HIV and global development issues. I moved back to London to the BBC World Service to work on news programmes but felt my calling was global development, so did a Masters. I then combined global development with media and communication in a fantastic job developing HIV behaviour change communication campaigns in Asia and Africa. After a number of years, I moved to the HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust working in media-based health promotion.

After that came three years living in India where my key professional achievement was setting up a radio call-in show to help people get advice around relationships, sex and other life issues. It was ground-breaking for the India of that time! Then, a return to London to work with the BBC’s international charity  as a health communication advisor working on hugely interesting multi-media projects addressing maternal and child health, water, hygiene and sanitation, Ebola and other diseases. A move out of London to the Oxfordshire countryside eventually brought me to NDPH.

Could you tell us one thing about you outside work?

I was so much more exciting before my children came along! I love travelling, perhaps that’s why I’ve enjoyed walking our dog so much over this past difficult year.

If you could give one piece of advice to your 18 year old self what would that be?

To seize every interesting/exciting opportunity that comes your way and not let doubts about skills or experience choke you.

Thank you so much!

You can connect with Sophia on twitter (@SLPWilkinson) and LinkedIn !


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