Sarah Matthews

Sarah Matthews is Senior Data Manager at the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC).

Based at the University of Bristol, ALSPAC, also known as ‘Children of the 90s’, is a world-leading birth cohort study. It provides the international research community with a rich resource for the study of the environmental and genetic factors affecting a person’s health and development.

The study has followed 14,000 mothers and their children (and now their grandchildren) since the early 1990s.

Sarah isn’t an academic and originally came from a business background, but she now uses her computing and managerial skills to help manage the vast amount of research data that the study collects and processes from participants.

Sarah says:

Taking data from its raw format to a clean, well-labelled and documented one is a complex process and takes a well-trained team to make it happen. We collect all sorts of data from questionnaires, brain scans, biological samples, speech samples and recordings.

ALSPAC is a 30-year-old longitudinal research project that has followed up three generations of the same families, so the data we have collected is vast and I have a responsibility to make sure it is cleaned, curated and stored safely.

Researchers move around as their careers develop and grants come and go. But Sarah believes that what keeps studies like ALSPAC running so successfully are the professional services staff who work behind the scenes to keep the wheels in motion.

They are essential to produce and maintain the high-quality research data which is used and reused by researchers worldwide.

We have committed and engaged study participants who have been part of this research from the start and look on the study with great pride and respect. This is mainly due to the hard work of the very dedicated staff that work here, ranging from research secretaries, participation officers, lab technicians, fieldworkers, IT support workers and more.

Some have been working for the study for over 20 years, despite the uncertainty when grants end and are renewed!

Sarah says that the role of the professional services staff in ALSPAC is to help make research happen rather than ‘do’ research. That includes engaging study participants to be part of it by sitting on advisory panels and having the opportunity to give their ideas and feedback.

Our study participants need to be included in the story too. They are why we are here and without their data we have no study, we have no research.

Last updated: 27 August 2021

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