Department of Psychology

Research student insight

Tara Cheetham


Tara Cheetham

  • Department of Psychology
  • First supervisor: Dr Julie Turner-Cobb
  • Second supervisor: Dr Karen Rodham
  • Research title: Psychosocial factors in recovery from childhood illness: harnessing resilience in the face of adversity

Tara completed her MSc in Health Psychology with our Department of Psychology in 2011 and is now conducting her own research as part of a PhD.

She is investigating the levels of stress in young children who have suffered with long-term illnesses. This research will prove critical to health professionals working to improve the quality of life of survivors of paediatric illnesses, in terms of reducing their feelings of stress and improving their ability to cope with negative life events.

Exploring child development psychology

Tara’s interest in understanding the health and wellbeing of children was developed while she was undertaking her BSc in Psychology and Philosophy at Keele University.

In my final year I elected to study a module entitled Thinking about Knowledge and the Mind, which focused on how children’s thinking about the world develops as they age and how they think about topics at each stage of their development.

She then further explored these topics as part of her dissertation for her master’s degree, looking at children’s understanding of the link between stress and health. This led to the idea of studying a PhD investigating the relationship between stress and illness in childhood.

Conducting research with children

Like many research degrees in Psychology, Tara has had to overcome the issue of recruiting participants to form part of her study. This has been particularly difficult given the specific age range of participants required; children aged between 7-11 years.

I have advertised my study widely by using newspapers, local businesses, radio appearances and attendance at parent’s evenings to assist with this. This has helped me recruit a few participants but I definitely need a lot more. So we are now offering children who take part a £10 ‘Love 2 Shop’ voucher as a thank you!

In her current study, she requires children to visit the lab at the University to complete a few questionnaires, take part in a mildly stressful task, and be interviewed about how they felt about the task. Tara then measures their stress levels through the collection of saliva samples.

The collection of salivary cortisol as samples is an excellent way to research this topic, as cortisol is one of the key hormones involved in the stress response. In adults cortisol levels have been shown to increase in response to stressful situations but these results are inconsistent in studies which have looked at children’s responses.

Tara hopes that this study will increase our knowledge about how young children cope with stressful situations and whether stress causes an increase in children’s cortisol levels. The findings could be used to compare stress levels and coping between healthy children and children with chronic illnesses.

Further plans for research

Tara has been highly active with her research activities so far having attended a wide variety of postgraduate skills courses at the University, and presenting her work at the annual Division of Health Psychology conference in 2013.

I have two excellent supervisors in the Department of Psychology who give me a great level of help, support and encouragement for my research.

Looking ahead, Tara hopes that on completion of her PhD she can work as a post-doctoral researcher and complete the training required to become a chartered Health Psychologist.

Further information

To find out more about Tara’s research, you can contact her by email:

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