In profile: Aglaia Freccero, President’s PhD Scholar

As part of our in profile series, we spoke to Aglaia Freccero, President’s PhD Scholar in the Division of Psychiatry. She tells us more about what inspired her to pursue a PhD in the Division and what the President’s PhD scholarship has meant to her.

Introduce yourself – who are you and what do you do?

I am Aglaia, a first-year PhD student in the Division of Psychiatry. My project aims to investigate the potential of delivering AI-informed digital behavioural interventions to support adolescents’ mental health in schools, and I am being supervised by Prof Dasha Nicholls. This project integrates clinical, social and data science, and I believe it is an excellent example of the college’s cross-faculty efforts to create interdisciplinary research with the potential to impact practice and policy.

Tell us about your career so far – when did you join the college, and where were you working/studying before this?

I moved from Italy in 2017 for my BSc in Biomedical Sciences at UCL. It was a tough transition, and my mental health started to decline. I had to interrupt my studies, but with the appropriate support, I eventually graduated. My mental health struggles fuelled my interest in neuroscience and psychiatry, so I came to Imperial in 2021 to study for the MSc in Translational Neuroscience to start my career in the field. I then pursued a Master in Public Health to explore mental health research at a population level.

Can you explain a bit more about your research interests and what initially sparked your interest in your current field?

My personal experience has driven my interest in mental health research. My vision is to advocate for better mental health for all through scientific discovery and collective action. My research interests span the academic and policy environment and are well-linked with my public engagement efforts. I mainly focus on children’s and young people’s mental health, including students’ mental health, which I have explored both at a clinical and population level. I am very drawn to innovation and new technologies as tools to improve mental health, which I will investigate during my PhD.

What’s your favourite part about working in the Department?

I really enjoyed carrying out my MSc project in the Department, which led me to the decision to stay for a PhD. I think the Department is a stimulating and welcoming environment, and there is always loads going on! I was lucky to build solid relationships, which played a big role in my decision to apply for an Imperial scholarship.

You’re a President’s PhD scholar – what has this scholarship meant to you?

My academic journey has been a bit “bumpy”, and I have struggled with imposter syndrome. So, getting this scholarship came as a surprise, but I am pleased the college valued the potential of my work and my contribution to the life of the college. I am very grateful for the opportunity to support my career and personal development at Imperial and as part of a network of outstanding scholars from various backgrounds. I am very excited to embark on my PhD journey!

When you are not working, what are your main passions and hobbies?

Outside of my academic work, my mental health activism keeps me very busy, and it is very empowering. I am the Mental Health Officer at the Student Union, where I co-lead the implementation of the institutional mental health strategy and advisor for various charities, including Mind and Student Minds. Not only do I keep my brain active…, but my body as well! After work, you will likely find me at the gym lifting weights, and I am currently training for the London Landmarks Half Marathon. I also read and write poetry.

What book would you recommend everyone read and why?

One of my favourite books is “An Unquiet Mind”, a memoir by Kay Redfield Jamison, clinical psychologist and researcher. The book features her experience with bipolar disorder and its influence on her personal as well as professional life. It highlights some of the challenges of being a researcher with lived experience of mental illness, and it is good food for thought regarding the importance of lived experience to inform impactful mental health research.