My Fellowship turned my life around – it was my stepping stone to a successful career in autism research.

2017 was a very successful year for one former Daphne Jackson Fellow, Dr Morag Maskey. Morag was honoured with the ‘Ones to watch’ award in the 2017 Timewise Power Part Time Awards, an annual scheme set up to recognise the UK’s top 50 people who work in senior roles, all on less than five days per week.

Returning from a five-year career break over seven years ago, Morag started work within the autism research team at Newcastle University, following the award of a Newcastle University funded Daphne Jackson Fellowship.

Morag successfully transitioned from the field of environmental science to neuroscience with her Fellowship. She now works a four-day week at Newcastle University where she leads a research stream which is investigating the use of virtual reality to help children and adults with autism to manage their anxiety. She has three children aged 12 to 15, and her youngest child is on the autism spectrum.

My desire to make a contribution to this field of research, and my commitment to improving the daily lives of children with ASD, is paramount.

The success of Morag’s work has led to a new virtual reality intervention for children with autism that is now available in the NHS, a process which Morag is managing, with the potential to help many young people with autism.

It was after the birth of her third child in 2004 when Morag decided to take a career break. Shortly thereafter her youngest son was diagnosed with autism and this led Morag to developing a personal interest in autism research.

After my third, and youngest, child was born I decided to stay at home and take a career break. Shortly after that my youngest son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Like most other parents I had heard of the condition but had only a vague idea of what it was…and in common with all parents of an autistic child I was hungry to learn more.

In 2010, Morag spotted an advert for a job as a research associate in the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University. She knew immediately that this was the job for her and as her children were now older and more independent, she leapt at applying.

Although I had a research background, albeit in a different field, I was confident that I could do the job with enthusiasm, commitment and compassion. However, I didn’t even get an interview, despite my previous sixteen years research experience. The rejection left me feeling deeply disappointed.

Undeterred Morag then contacted a lead researcher in the project she had applied to work for and asked how she could improve her chances of getting a job. He suggested to volunteer with a group of autism researchers. Morag started going into the University one day a week as a visiting researcher. After a year, Morag was more convinced than ever that this is the area of research she would like to pursue. Whilst at Newcastle University, Morag first heard about the Daphne Jackson Trust and the retraining programme offered by the Trust.

I knew I needed a comprehensive retraining programme to transition between the two research areas, and that’s what the Fellowship offered me along with the opportunity for part-time working and flexibility to continue looking after my family’s needs.

Since her Fellowship ended in 2013, Morag has worked closely with researchers at Newcastle University on a number of different autism related projects.

My Fellowship definitely led me to become an employable researcher and gave me a greater understanding of autism.

Morag was presented with the Timewise Power Part Time ‘Ones to Watch’ award in January 2017.

I was honoured to have been included in the Timewise 2017 Power Part Time List and that, by opening up about my own personal working patterns, I can help pave the way for future generations of workers who need to fit work with other major commitments in life.

  • Two-year Fellowship, from 2011 to 2013
  • Hosted by Newcastle University
  • Fully sponsored by Newcastle University
  • Supervisors: Dr Jeremy Parr and Professor Helen McConachie
  • Research area: Reducing anxiety in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) through virtual reality environments