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Samantha Flynn

Samantha Flynn, who lives in Shropshire, hopes her ground-breaking research will lead to better outcomes for many people with intellectual disabilities and cancer.

Samantha, who graduates this Friday, explains what inspired her studies. “I’ve always been interested in work that supports people with intellectual disabilities and autism, and became interested in psychosocial oncology after applying for a different PhD at the University of Chester.

“While I didn’t follow that particular subject, learning about it did help me decide to undertake a PhD researching my own subject – the psychosocial needs of adults with intellectual disabilities who have cancer, as well as the experiences and training needs of healthcare staff who were supporting this population.

“I realised from my previous interview at the University of Chester that studying in the historic city would be a great experience and that the School of Psychology would be a good place to be.”

To examine her subject in depth, Samantha structured her thesis into four separate areas of study.

She said: “The first was a systematic review of cancer experiences in people with intellectual disabilities. Then I conducted a thematic analysis informed by grounded theory of the experiences of adults with cancer and intellectual disabilities before doing a survey of oncology nurses’ perceptions of caring for people with intellectual disabilities and cancer.

“Using the findings from the previous three studies, I then developed and feasibility-tested a brief online video-based intervention to improve oncology professionals’ confidence in communicating with people with cancer and intellectual disabilities.”

Samantha began her PhD as a full-time student, but switched to part-time after a year as recruitment for the second, qualitative, study was slower than she expected. Four years later she moved away from Chester to be closer to family. “I was able to work from my home office and attend monthly supervision sessions,” she explained.

Distance learning was just one of the challenges she overcame while studying for her PhD.

She said: “For a while, I struggled with my mental health. Fortunately, I received appropriate support from my local services and my family and friends, some of whom were also studying for a PhD in the School of Psychology.

“I was embarrassed to admit that I was having mental health problems, and hid from it for too long. But I got the right support early on and once I was back on track, the areas I had previously felt were unmanageable became much less stressful.”

While completing her PhD, Samantha got a job as a Research Assistant at a Russell Group university.

“I am now a member of the team whose work I have been reading since my undergraduate degree. I started as a Research Assistant across a couple of very interesting projects and since completing my PhD, I’ve been promoted to Research Fellow. 

“I hope to be able to continue working in my current role, applying for research grants and publishing the research I’m currently involved in – research that focusses on the health and wellbeing of people with intellectual disabilities and their families.

“And I hope to be able to secure research funding to answer the burning questions that came from studying for my thesis at the University of Chester.”

Professor of Behavioural Medicine, Nick Hulbert-Williams, who is also a Coaching Psychologist and Co-Director at the University’s Centre for Contextual Behavioural Science, says that understanding how cancer affects people with intellectual disabilities is vitally important.

He added: “Given the increasing prevalence of cancer in this difficult to reach population, I anticipate that Samantha’s PhD research will have a good deal of impact on both the research community and applied practice in the coming years.”

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