Eleanor Braithwaite (2019 Cohort)

Eleanor Braithwaite


About me: I completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology and Linguistics at the University of Oxford, where I was a member of Worcester College. Following graduation, I spent a year working first as a research assistant for Catch Up Literacy in a project funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, and then as a teaching assistant in an infant school in North Yorkshire. During this year I discovered the masters course in educational neuroscience at University College London and Birkbeck, University of London, which I subsequently completed. It was during this time that I developed a passion for developmental cognitive neuroscience and became interested in research which aims to identify early indicators of children’s later difficulties. I was fortunate to be offered a research assistant role at Birkbeck’s Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development with Prof. Emily Jones where I have worked on numerous projects including an app-based study ‘TeachBRITE’ and a global EEG project called ‘Braintools’.

My research: My PhD will focus on developing the tools and expertise necessary to carry out large-scale longitudinal projects with infants and young children from typically hard-to-reach populations. Developmental cognitive neuroscientific research currently tends to take place in Babylab settings and relies on the willingness and availability of parents and carers to travel into labs and take part in this research. This leads to specific and under-representative samples of children in most studies. The primary aim of my PhD is to increase participation of children from a wider range of backgrounds across the UK in infant and developmental research. I will leverage new advances in technology to engage families in this research. The first part will involve development of an app which parents and care workers can use with children, whilst in the second part I will use portable EEG and eye-tracking systems to gather data in children’s centres and Nurseries.

The difference my research makes: The potential impact of my research is twofold. Firstly, simply increasing the involvement of children from a wider range of backgrounds will be beneficial in both a practical and theoretical sense. That is, engaging parents and families who were not otherwise involved with research may facilitate a two-way sharing of information and knowledge. This could lead to research which is more valued by parents and may enable researchers to influence parents’ understanding and handling of their children’s development. Theoretically, including a more representative sample of the population in research will be important for the representation and reliability of research in this field.

The second main impact is the tools and expertise this project will establish and what they may inform us about how to help children who particularly need support. Neural functions underlie most of humans’ abilities and thus the way these develop has wide and long-lasting effects. Understanding how this development happens in young children’s brains is crucial if we are to develop ways to help children overcome difficulties they may face as a result of developmental disorders or environmental factors. Identifying neural markers early in life which indicate potential cognitive and behavioural difficulties arising later in childhood may therefore be very helpful for the identification and support of particular children. This project may reveal important indicators of difficulty in disadvantaged children, for whom this may be especially pertinent.

Supervisors: Professor Emily Jones, Professor Jacqueline Barnes

Location: Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck, University of London

Pathway: Psychology

Email: ebrait01@mail.bbk.ac.uk