Talk and Play Pool

I joined YPAG in year 11, so last year of secondary school. I joined because my sister had been in one of the older cohorts. When they did a new recruitment round, I found out about it from her and applied. For the recruiting process, I had to answer some sort of ethical question, we had to outline how we would approach that. And they also made clear at that stage of the application that they would welcome different demographics. They try to make it as diverse as possible. They have these reimbursements,and the point of those is to make sure that the YPAG is not exclusive. Like, some people need to be working, and making money. And therefore if the YPAG wasn’t reimbursed, they wouldn’t be able to take time out of their job. When we had in-person meetings, they would fund bus tickets or whatever as well.

It’s been really beneficial. I had not been involved in anything similar before. So all of the research practices were new to me. Primarily, what I got out of it was the experience. I don’t think I’ve come across any other organisation that can give you so many good things to put in your personal statement and CV and stuff like that. It’s a real variety of different projects. I’ve recorded a podcast with them. And I did a blog on the methodology of the YPAG, in getting young people’s involvement. In our online meetings we’ve usually had one or two people leading the discussion, who are the researchers handling the projects, or a senior YPAG person. And I’ve done that myself a few times, even though I’m technically from the newest cohort. Basically, it just means you kind of guide the conversation, just to help facilitate. 

So lots of things that I can put on my personal statement, generous reimbursement, a chance to meet new people. I mean, the meeting new people, it’s kind of been curtailed by the pandemic. But yeah, that’s still quite a few benefits that I’ve gotten. Primarily just something to put on my CV, but also in terms of skills, like qualitative analysis versus quantitative, different methods of data entry.

I think the thing I most enjoy is probably discussing stuff with other people in meetings. Because it’s useful to like, you know, get everyone’s points of view on things. See things in different lights. I’ve not actually had much experience in person, because it went online shortly after I joined, but I like it anyway online, it’s not all been negative. Though there are some negatives. Before the pandemic, the meetings were in one of the Oxford colleges, which is obviously quite cool. So you got to have a day out in Oxford, with all the architecture and that. We’d be sat around in a meeting room with a senior YPAG member or one of the researchers, discussing things together. And then the really cool thing was the social side of it. When we had breaks, we would go down into a separate room that had a pool table, and snacks. We’d just hang out and talk to each other, play pool and whatever. I’d probably know some people better by now, if we’d been doing it in person.

So yeah, there has been some social detriment to doing it online. And then there’s also accessibility. I don’t actually know of any specific cases, but there’s always the risk with online that some people won’t have the tech to do it. Plus, it’s easier to have a conversation in person, because online, you know, it’s kind of hard to gauge the vibe of the conversation. And it just doesn’t flow as well, I think.

But then at the same time, there are loads of pros to doing things online. So for example, on one project, we had people from around the world joining. There were people in America, one person in Barbados, and, you know, obviously they wouldn’t have flown to the UK for a two-hour meeting. So that’s a geographical positive to doing it online.

Then there’s flexibility. In person, obviously, I have to take into account my transport time. Whereas here, I can just like, you know, turn on my computer. That’s the contrast.

That project I was talking about, with people from the US and Barbados, that was interesting. During the first lockdown, researchers realised that, you know, it might be difficult for young people with regards to their mental health. So there was an effort to train young people to support each other.And then this project we worked on was kind of an experiment as to how effective that was. And also, specifically, how effective being trained to support your peers was in bolstering your own mental health. This is where the Americans came into it, because there was this charity based in the US, and we talked to them about what we wanted the training to involve. And we could veto stuff. For example, at one point I said the questions they wanted to ask were a bit too severe. So we kind of dug down into it a bit. Then the US charity, they provided the training. Our group from the YPAG and these other organizations, we’d ask the group questions before and after the training to kind of gauge the effects of being trained on their own mental health.

I think young people from the YPAG age group are around 14 to 20. We’re probably among the most affected by the pandemic. It’s difficult for young people, because they’re not actually at risk, really, from the virus. And they still have to have their freedoms curtailed, which obviously, is the right thing to do. So for me, being in year 11, that’s meant to be like the best summer that you have, your post-GCSE summer. And it just completely didn’t happen. I had to cancel a holiday with my friends. I mean, we had calls, but it’s not quite the same. Also, you know, something else you might do in that summer is get a job. We’re dying to finally get some money. I mean, I wouldn’t say it was all bad, because obviously, we did get a whole load of extra time off school. But also, we didn’t actually get the exam experience, which is a good experience to have, and a lot of us got our grades messed up.

So, yeah, our age group has been quite badly hit. But within the category of young people, we’ve not been the worst affected. The people that went to uni have had it worse than us. I’m looking forward to uni and just really hoping that I can do it exactly how you’re supposed to, without isolation. I’m going to do law, I’ll be applying to Oxbridge. But young people as a whole, I don’t see any real way we can be compensated for losing social time. I guess we just have to live, and move forward.

YPAG lived up to expectations, definitely. I kind of had broad, broad ideas of what it might be like, but yeah, I couldn’t really have asked for much more. You know, I got given a whole load of projects to work on, heaps of things to put on my personal statement. I mean, the only thing that could have been better, really, would be doing it in person, and obviously that has nothing to do with the organisation.

If it’s possible with my workload at uni, then I’d like to continue. Even when I don’t need stuff for my personal statement anymore, I’d like to carry on because I’ve gotten into it. I think the skills are good. And there’s no reason to pigeonhole myself, with just my degree subject. Okay, I probably will have to take a break when It’s time to revise, but as long as I can really, I see myself continuing. It’s a good thing.