Teenage scientist publishes first academic paper with help from Keele researchers

A young scientist has published his first academic journal paper at the age of just 14, with the help of researchers from Keele University’s School of Medicine.

Oliver Lawton, a pupil at St Joseph’s College in Stoke-on-Trent, is the lead author of a new paper published in the BMJ Paediatrics Open journal, investigating the ways young people access information on the Covid-19 pandemic.

The paper has been published in the peer-reviewed journal following completion of a research study, designed and conducted himself with the help of researchers from Keele University’s School of Medicine and Clinical Trials Unit (CTU).

Oliver was aided in his research by Professors Lisa Dikomitis, Christian Mallen, and Joanne Protheroe from the School of Medicine, as well as Joanne Smith and Sarah Lawton from the CTU, who are all co-authors on the paper.

For this research study, referred to as “SOCIAL”, an anonymous questionnaire was sent to young people from two Staffordshire high schools, to ascertain how they access information on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Around 92% of the 408 respondents reported having daily access to the internet on a personal electronic device, with social media playing a significant role in the provision of Covid-19 information. The data showed that at least one social media medium was accessed by 68% of pupils, but only 6.2% of pupils reported receiving any information from their teachers.

The authors say that the study demonstrates a gap in the provision of information on Covid-19 for young people, particularly on regulations and keeping safe, global updates, and what personal impact pupils can expect in terms of their education. It is hoped that the results from this study could be used to guide information campaigns by the Department of Education, the NHS, and the media.

Oliver, who led the study, said: “It was an interesting piece of research and a great opportunity for me to obtain research skills and learn about the conduct of research. I am very grateful for the support I received from Keele University and I am excited to do more in my future.”

Melissa Roberts, Headteacher at Oliver’s school, St Joseph’s College, said: “The whole of the St Joseph's College community is immensely proud of Oliver. To design and deliver a project which is then recognised at this level is incredible. Oliver is a terrific student and has clearly shown determination, commitment and insight, just as he does at school. We are delighted for him.”

Co-author Professor Christian Mallen, Head of the School of Medicine at Keele University added: "Rapidly designing and delivering research in response to a worldwide public health crisis is challenging for even experienced researchers. For a high-quality and hugely relevant study to be led by a high-school student is a phenomenal achievement. Oliver’s approach to this work has been inspirational and I wish him every success for his future career – which I hope involves studying medicine at Keele!"