Jacqueline Allan’s PhD research looks at psychological risk and protective factors in variations of blood sugar in those with type 1 diabetes. She explains: ‘Anxiety, stress and hormones can all affect blood sugar levels in people with type 1 diabetes. If blood sugar levels are not controlled by daily insulin injections then the body begins to destroy its own tissues and organs. There are people with type 1 diabetes – often, but not always, young women – who will deliberately omit to take their insulin in order to achieve rapid weight loss. This is incredibly dangerous and can lead to serious health complications and death. It is an eating disorder in its own right with a very different etiology and prognosis from anorexia and bulimia, but it remains largely unrecognised.’
Jacqueline is a recipient of a Birkbeck Anniversary Scholarship, one of 20 scholarships that were offered this year to mark the 190 year anniversary of the College. The Anniversary Scholarships offer full tuition fees and a stipend of £13,726 per year.
Jacqueline also received a scholarship for her undergraduate psychology degree at Birkbeck – for which she was awarded first class honours – and says that she is extremely grateful to the College. Having suffered from diabulimia – the eating disorder which she now investigates, Jacqueline says: ‘I feel extremely blessed to have found myself here and I’m incredibly grateful to Birkbeck. It’s given me a life that I never thought possible. Birkbeck has turned my life around.’
Jacqueline started a charity six years ago to offer support to people suffering with diabulimia. She says: ‘People with diabulimia were often not recognised as having an eating disorder and were classed as being non-compliant with their treatment regime. They would be offered advice on insulin management but there was no psychological support.’
‘I wanted to be in the best position possible to help the people that turned to the charity, and I knew that to do that I needed to study psychology. I looked at the research reputation of Birkbeck, which was very impressive – it’s one of the top five places in the UK for psychological research. Although I did receive offers from other universities, I felt at home at Birkbeck. All of the tutors have been amazing, and when you look at the students in the class so many of them already have practical experience in the area that they are studying. It makes the conversations that you have in class really meaningful.’
Although classes were stimulating and enjoyable, Jacqueline admits that at times it was hard work. She says: ‘I worked really hard, but you definitely get out of it what you put into it. And although it took a lot of time, it didn’t feel like work because it was so enjoyable. I knew that getting the degree would be the best way to make a difference through my charity work and that was a driving force for me.’
Jacqueline delayed starting her undergraduate degree for a year so that she could make sure she was healthy enough to be successful. She credits her achievements at Birkbeck with playing an important part in her recovery, saying: ‘It’s been totally transformative, and I feel completely different about myself. I am able to get my value from my academic progress. That’s what’s really kept me going – knowing that I’m improving all the time, and that what I do now is so much more important that what I look like. That knowledge protects me from the thoughts and problems that I have suffered with. I can’t really put it into words how grateful I am to Birkbeck.’
‘Diabetics with Eating Disorders has organised support groups for ten years, but to have the academic side as well as the subjective side is really exciting. My professional goals and my personal goals are one and the same thing now and when I actually stop and think about that it’s mind-blowing. My work is my PhD but my PhD is done solely on behalf of people who have supported me and who I support.’