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Empowering young people to improve their health and wellbeing

27 July 2021
Researcher Spotlight: Dr Lauren Gardner
We spoke to Dr Lauren Gardner about her research career and exciting work on two on two large scale preventive eHealth programs.

What is your background and how did you come to join the Matilda Centre?

Dr Lauren Gardner

Dr Lauren Gardner

My background is in psychology, and more specifically sport psychology. I completed a Bachelor of Psychology and PhD down at the University of Wollongong, getting my first taste of research through my Honours project that investigated how implicit beliefs about the nature of athletic ability relate to competition anxiety in high level soccer players. I then built on this research in my PhD which explored how these beliefs, as well as key social figures, influence youth sports participants’ enjoyment, and in turn the decision to continue participating or drop out. Towards the end of my PhD, I worked on several different studies focusing on sport, physical health behaviours, and mental health among young people.

I joined the Matilda Centre team in 2018, when we were based at the University of New South Wales. I was offered a role as Research Program Officer working across two large projects aiming to develop, evaluate, and take to scale preventative eHealth programs for secondary school students. This was a really exciting opportunity as it allowed me to further explore my research interests around physical and mental health, extend this to new areas like eHealth and substance use prevention, and develop my research management skills. I was then lucky enough to be offered a Postdoctoral role on the project in 2019.

Can you tell us some more about the projects you are working on?

I am currently managing two projects, the first of which is the Health4Life initiative. This is a cluster Randomised Controlled Trial evaluating the effectiveness of the first eHealth program to target the “Big 6” lifestyle risk behaviours among adolescents, including physical inactivity, poor diet, recreational screen time, poor sleep, alcohol use, and smoking. The trial is currently underway in 71 schools and includes over 6,600 students across three Australian states.

The second project involves disseminating the effective Climate Schools substance use prevention and wellbeing programs. The online delivery of these evidence-based programs has been particularly important over the past year or so, with schools experiencing significant disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The programs have already reached over 1000 schools across Australia, and we’re working to develop a sustainable model to take these programs to scale and facilitate more efficient translation of future evidence-based programs. We’ve also been working on a major refresh of the materials and will be re-launching as OurFutures next year… so watch this space!

In your experience, what’s the most exciting part of the project/trial journey?

Within my role, I’ve been fortunate to experience the development, evaluation, and dissemination phases of the project journey, which all have exciting moments.

Highlights would be hearing the positive feedback from students and teachers who participated in the trials and really enjoyed using the resources we developed, and then of course seeing the improvements in the physical and mental health of young people.

It’s also really exciting to see these evidence-based programs out there and being used in the real world, as we know that typically it can take many years before research turns into practice, which often leads to schools implementing programs that have not been evaluated or don’t have evidence of effectiveness.

It's really exciting to see these evidence-based programs out there and being used in the real world.
Dr Lauren Gardner

What do you like most about working at the Matilda Centre?

The Matilda Centre really is a unique and special place. I feel very lucky to be part of such a supportive team who work together to build each other up and achieve our collective goal of improving the health and wellbeing of young people. It’s always so fascinating listening to the many different perspectives and exciting ideas that come from our passionate team. Also, we regularly have dogs come into the office – who wouldn’t love that!?

Dr Lauren Gardner

Matilda Centre Research Fellow
View academic profile

Climate Schools COVID-19 response

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As a show of support for the challenges that school staff, parents and young people are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Matilda Centre is offering schools in Australia FREE access to the Climate Schools program.
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