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The 2021 IoPPN Youth Awards

Dr Yasmin Ahmadzadeh

17 August 2021

The annual IoPPN Youth Awards are an opportunity for young people in our local area to have direct experience of research and daily life at university. This year, the organisers were faced with the challenge of making this work during a global pandemic. In this blog, Dr Yasmin Ahmadzadeh explains how they did this, and discusses the challenges they encountered and opportunities they discovered.

Launched in 2013, the IoPPN Youth Awards aim to encourage diverse groups of young people to remain in science and maths education and go on to study these subjects at university. Successful applicants are usually invited for 2-3 days of work experience across the IoPPN departments, where they learn about research that matches their interests, meeting staff and students in a range of career positions. Successful applicants are each awarded with a £50 book voucher and certificate of attendance. Many winners stay in touch for many years after, as they apply to university and pursue undergraduate degrees and jobs in science.


Each year we advertise the Youth Awards to young people aged 15-18 enrolled in state schools within 5 miles of the IoPPN. In 2020 we had to make the difficult but inevitable decision to cancel the awards, while we navigated the beginning of the Covid-19 global pandemic. In 2021, despite finding ourselves still working remotely, we were reluctant to cancel again.

Young people aged 15-18 have borne the brunt of two chaotic school years through the pandemic – losing out (among many things) on most opportunities for inspiring extra-curricular events and activities, during a crucial window of their increasing autonomy and preparation for leaving school. Adverse effects of this pandemic have not been felt equally, serving to widen existing inequalities in our society, including inequality in access to higher education and jobs.

With this context in mind, members from all IoPPN departments involved in the Youth Awards came together in March 2021 to consider how we might run the awards remotely, in such a way that was meaningful and accessible to young people.

By the end of April, we were advertising our newly imagined virtual awards, involving four hour-long evening workshops in June, covering topics such as demystifying academia; Q&A with academics and health professionals; learning and practising different forms of science communication; and a mini conference to share learning experiences as a group.

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It gave me an opportunity to learn about university and to gain some experience despite COVID where many opportunities were closed both this year and last. Another good thing was that I got to meet amazing and funny people through this experience– 2021 IoPPN Youth Award Participant

Sliver Linings

We received 51 applications from students at 12 schools, aged 15-18, all expressing interest in our work on:

  • Neuroimaging
  • Health and society
  • Women’s Mental Health
  • Psychiatric Genetics

With financial support from all departments and central IoPPN, we were thrilled to invite everyone who applied to take part. This wasn’t possible in previous years, when running the awards in person. Our newly found increased capacity was the first silver lining of our virtual awards strategy. One student described how she “spent two weeks smiling” after receiving her invitation letter.

Having wondered whether “another online event” was the last thing that young people wanted, and whether anyone would turn up at all, we were elated to meet the 47 students who logged on and participated in all four workshops. It sounds like a cliché – but we were truly blown away by the energy and enthusiasm that the students brought, and the extent to which just a few hours of our time could transform their understanding of what university has to offer and how it works.

YA Presentations
All the members were very kind and asked lots of questions about us which I enjoyed very much, and the presentations made me want to become a psychologist even more– 2021 IoPPN Youth Award Participant
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Adapting to a new approach

That said, we did have to learn and think on our feet, to adapt to working with young people online. For example:

CHALLENGE 1: Students did not want to speak out loud on the calls.

SOLUTION 1: We maximised use of the MS Teams “chat” function and other online tools such as Mentimeter, Padlet, Kudoboard and Google Classroom for collaborative and interactive group work.

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CHALLENGE 2: A small number of students were more interested in chatting about Trinidadian rapper Nicki Minaj.

SOLUTION 2: Dr Vincent Giampietro returned with a Nicki Minaj-themed session on the effects of space travel on the brain. The students were thrilled (and taught us that “barb” is the name that Nicki Minaj gives to her fans!)

CHALLENGE 3: Meeting everyone in large groups online meant that it was tricky to build personal, one-to-one rapport with individual students.

SOLUTION 3: We continuously emphasised that students could contact us directly for further advice, discussion or support with navigating university applications and career decisions. Several students have since reached out to access this support and will continue to keep in touch.

It gave me an opportunity out of my comfort zone, to speak out and share my ideas, and I'm grateful. It made me realise just how much I am interested in mental health and how people behave– 2021 IoPPN Youth Award Participant
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How to improve

In terms of advice for future improvements – some students wanted the sessions to be longer than an hour (perhaps 1.5 or 2 hours, with breaks) covering more topics relating to young people’s lifestyles and interests. They enjoyed all interactive sessions and would have liked more time for that.

Of the successful applicants, around 70% were female. We will consider ways to make the programme more accessible and attractive to young men in future years. In terms of ethnic diversity, students identified themselves as belonging to a wide range of groups, as shown in the chart below. This is important – showing that the Youth Awards are working to reach young people from communities who are currently underrepresented in academic research positions at King’s (72% of academic staff at King’s identify as ‘white’, according to HESA statistics, despite our location in one of the most multicultural areas of the country). We hope to inspire and improve access for these students to eventually join our teams as the next generation of researchers.

IoPPN Youth Awards attendees
The IoPPN Youth Awards have been providing the Faculty with an important way to connect with our local community and to provide opportunities for young people to learn more about psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience since 2013. These aims have become even more important over the past 18 months during the pandemic, as young people have experienced decreased opportunities in all sorts of ways. However, finding a way to deliver the awards was a real challenge. I am incredibly proud of the way that so many academic staff at the IoPPN stepped up to this, providing such a variety of online sessions for our youth award winners this year: the quality of what the youth award winners developed, and their positive response to the sessions, is really clear– Professor Juliet Foster, IoPPN Dean of Education

More information about the IoPPN Youth Awards can be found here.

Feedback and evaluation of the 2021 Youth Awards can be read here.

If you or your department would be keen to get involved in the IoPPN Youth Awards for the 2021/2022 academic year – please email

With thanks to the 2021 IoPPN Youth Awards Facilitators:

Psychiatric Genetics

Yasmin Ahmadzadeh, Victoria Milner, Isabella Badini, Bradley Jermy, Georgina Krebs


Vincent Giampietro

Women’s Mental Health

Katherine Saunders, Rosanna Hildersley

Health and Society

Cerisse Gunasinghe, Amy Morgan, Nathan Stanley

Science Communication and Graphic Design

Ana Marques

With additional resources, ideas, and support from

Juliet Foster, Helen Fisher, Cathy Fernandes, Claire Wilson, Lill Cleghorn, Zarsheesh Divecha

In this story

Yasmin Ahmadzadeh

Yasmin Ahmadzadeh

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Isabella Badini

Research student

Vincent Giampietro

Vincent Giampietro

Reader in Neuroscience Education

Katherine  Saunders

Katherine Saunders

Research Associate in Mental Health Policy Research Unit

Rosanna Hidersley

Rosanna Hidersley

Research Assistant

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