Karen Gray

Student, Dr Karen Gray, juggled her PhD research into dementia alongside a busy home and work life

Karen Gray

Karen looked at how the arts can help people living with dementia over four and a half years of study and is celebrating her achievements at graduation.      

“It is great to be graduating at last,” said Karen. “I don’t mind admitting that there were times when I felt it might never happen!”

Karen, who has a PhD in Literature from Queens’ College, Cambridge, decided to return to education after becoming interested in how to get good evidence for the wellbeing effects of being involved in the arts, through her job at an arts and health consultancy in Bristol.

“I was particularly interested in how to do this when working with people living with dementia as I have close family experience of the condition,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking of doing a PhD, but then saw the opportunity of a three-year funded studentship that was exploring exactly this topic. It felt too good not to apply.”

This was one of a number of studentships offered as part of the TAnDem (The Arts and Dementia) Doctoral Training Centre at the University of Worcester. The Centre was funded by the Alzheimer’s Society.

Karen added: “There is growing understanding of how important it is for people with dementia to continue to take part in arts and cultural activities that they enjoy as well as being offered the opportunity to take up new activities. This might include things like making or listening to music, singing, visual arts, poetry or dance. My research explored the difficulties involved in evaluating these kinds of activities to create the kinds of useful evidence that will mean organisations are commissioned to do the work.”

As part of her studies, Karen worked in various posts at three different universities and travelled to Japan to speak at a conference in Tokyo in 2018. Since completing her PhD, Karen has taken Postdoctoral Research Associate contracts at the Universities of Leeds and Bristol. She is also working freelance as an evaluator of arts for health and wellbeing projects.

“The University of Worcester, and – in particular – the Association for Dementia Studies team have made the PhD experience a very well-supported and positive one,” she said.