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Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

Professor Emily Simonoff

Emily Simonoff

Job title

Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Head of Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Academic Lead for the Child Mental Disorders Clinical Academic Group in King’s Health Partners

Department/Division

Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Date started at King’s

1998


Challenges and achievements

When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?

I was always interested in child development and my first degree was in psychology at Harvard. But I only became interested in medicine when I worked in a research laboratory, as an undergraduate and received fantastic encouragement and mentoring. To combine medicine and developmental psychology by training in child and adolescent psychiatry, I came to the Maudsley and was supervised by Professor Sir Michael Rutter, who honed by research and critical skills. I had the good fortune to have two senior professors, at the top of their game, to encourage and challenge me.

What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?

My research interests focus on neurodevelopmental disorders, especially autism, ADHD and intellectual disability. Put together, these are common disorders, affecting 5-10% of people, starting early in childhood, persisting into adult life and causing significant impairment in personal relations, social and work opportunities and quality of life.  I was drawn to this area because making a difference to the course of the disorder in childhood can have long-term implications, with knock-on positive effects in adolescence and adult life

Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding?

My research was the first to identify that children with autism also met the formal diagnostic criteria for may other mental disorders, including anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and ADHD. While we don’t fully understand what this means, it nevertheless gives us a strategy for improving outcomes for children with autism, by treating these other mental disorders. This research is used by NICE in making recommendations about how children with autism should be evaluated and treated.

The RCT I undertook evaluating treatment for ADHD in children with intellectual disability showed that using medication is both safe and effective. It has changed routine practice in the UK, with more practitioners prepared to use medication in these children.

Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?

I’ve had many different role models for different aspects of my career. I was lucky enough to have two scientific mentors who both encouraged and challenged me in my thinking about research. But I’ve also had other aspects of my role as head of department of chair of major committees. I’ve been able to observe different leadership styles and to consider which ones are most likely to be effective for me. I’ve realized that there isn’t a single style of leadership but rather that it’s important to find the one that will work best for you.

What if any support has most benefited you in your career?

I was awarded a Wellcome research fellowship when I competed my clinical training in psychiatry. This provided three years in which I was able to undertake research with few clinical distractions, including one year in a research group in the US. For clinical academics, it’s very important to have a period of full-time research study and it’s really helpful to be able to work closely with several different groups during the formative years. My time in the US led to participation in an important, large study that launched my career.

What do you feel is the most enjoyable / rewarding aspect of your job at King's?

I think there are two aspects. The first is the excitement of the research collaborations. I really enjoy working with other scientists – sharing ideas and developing better research studies because of our different expertise and orientation. The Institute of Psychiatry is a fantastic place because of the breadth of knowledge and expertise, and also because scientists are passionate about their research.

I also really enjoy some aspects of being Head of Department. The best element of the role is supporting junior academic staff in their developing their research and careers more generally

How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching / learning, administration?

I think there are two aspects. The first is the excitement of the research collaborations. I really enjoy working with other scientists – sharing ideas and developing better research studies because of our different expertise and orientation. The Institute of Psychiatry is a fantastic place because of the breadth of knowledge and expertise, and also because scientists are passionate about their research.

I also really enjoy some aspects of being Head of Department. The best element of the role is supporting junior academic staff in their developing their research and careers more generally.

How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?

Not as well as I should! My children are grown up now and I wasn’t prepared to be head of department until they left home. I make sure I never work through the whole weekend and always have something I enjoy to look forward to. I have lots of hobbies and interests but most of them are ones I can take up with greater intensity when I have a bit more time. I try to make sure I get new experiences when I go on holiday

What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?

There’s no one right way of doing things but make sure that you’re enjoying yourself and your work. As a woman, it helps to be more organized and planful. Think about your leadership skills and having mentors is really helpful.

 

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