Meet the Expert – Dr Lauren Godier-McBard
Welcome to 'Meet the Expert', our series bringing you informative interviews with Armed Forces researchers, policy makers and service providers. Read on to learn about current work, aspirations for progress and future work, and insights into expert perspectives on key issues impacting ex-Service personnel and their families.
In this issue, we interviewed Dr Lauren Godier-McBard, Associate Professor of Women & Equalities at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge and Co-Director of the Centre for Military Women's Research (CMWR). Dr Godier-McBard is a mixed methods researcher with a background in psychiatric research and her main research interests include the needs and experiences of women during and after military service, and interpersonal/sexual violence in the military context.
1. Please tell us about your background and how you came to be involved in work relating to the Armed Forces Community?
Unlike many who work with the Armed Forces Community, I don’t have a significant connection to the military, other than two Grandfathers who served in the Second World War. I took up a role as a Research Assistant at the Veterans and Families Institute for Military Social Research (VFI) at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in 2015, having just completed a D.Phil in Psychiatry focused on a very different subject (compulsive behaviour in anorexia nervosa). Bright eyed and bushy tailed I was very much a quantitative medical sciences researcher, with a particular interest in the aetiology of mental health conditions. However, working with colleagues in the VFI, I soon came to appreciate the importance of qualitative and mixed methods research in understanding the needs and experiences of military personnel, veterans, and their families. Eight years on and I’m still with the VFI as an Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Centre for Military Women’s Research (CMWR).
2. What research projects are you currently working on and how do they fit into the bigger picture of understanding and supporting the Armed Forces Community?
I currently lead the VFI’s research focused on military-connected women (including Service personnel, veterans, and family members), and co-direct the CMWR with Professor Matt Fossey. In June 2021 we published the ‘We Also Served’ Report, which brought together everything known in the UK about the health and well-being of female veterans. This report identified numerous gaps in our understanding of women’s experiences in the UK military community and the impact of these experiences on their civilian lives. Importantly, it suggested that female veterans have unique experiences in Service, and unique care needs that are not necessarily being met by current UK veteran service provision. Subsequently, we launched the CMWR in 2022, with the core mission of informing and improving the well-being of women in the military and veteran community through collaborative research. At the core of our research is the lived experience of military women, which has historically been overlooked. We have an experts-by-experience group of women veterans, who have supported and contributed to various research projects.
The centre is currently running numerous projects, with funders including the National Institute for Military Health and Care Research (NIHR) and the Office for Veterans' Affairs (OVA). We have research streams focused on understanding female veterans’ care needs in civilian life, improving veteran support services for women, and the impact of sexual violence during Military Service. Details of our projects are available here.
We are about to launch the outputs of two significant projects focused on barriers to care for female veterans, both expected in Autumn 2023, with a combined qualitative sample of 130 women. We’ve been working to create infographics and an illustrative summary report, which I’m really excited to share! Watch this space!
3. What other research or policy areas relating to the Armed Forces Community are you especially passionate about or feel need further attention? Please expand on this and tell us about them, as much as you can.
Whilst we have managed to obtain significant funding for several projects focused on female veterans’ health and social care needs and experiences, it has been much more challenging to fund research focused on military sexual violence (one of our key research themes). In our ‘We Also Served’ report, our top priority for research with female veterans in the UK (developed within our stakeholder workshops) was to look at the impact of sexual harassment and sexual assault. This is due to emerging evidence from the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and government reports that women are particularly vulnerable to these experiences during Military Service, with a significant and enduring impact on their health and well-being. Despite an increase in research focused on female veterans since ‘We Also Served’ was published in June 2021, we have yet to see a large-scale research project focused on this issue. We have relied on small pots of funding for research, which has included a policy-based review of 'how the Service Justice System responds to sexual offences' and a pilot study of women’s experiences of reporting sexual offences against them during Service (publication in preparation). Considering these experiences have such a significant impact, it will be incredibly important to fund high-quality research in this area going forward.
4. What are your future aspirations for the impact and utilization of your work/research?
I am lucky enough to sit on the Advisory Group for the OVA’s Women Veterans Strategy, and I intend to feed in the evidence-based insights from our research to support the development of this policy. One of the key themes running throughout our research is a lack of understanding and awareness of women’s roles and experiences during Military Service, and how this impacts their health and well-being after Service. As such, I intend to utilise the findings of our work with female veterans to develop workshops and training for support professionals, to raise awareness and understanding of female veterans’ experiences and support needs.
5. What do you think are the key challenges impacting current female veterans, and how do you think research and/or policy can be best used to address them?
Whilst the impact of Military Service on physical and mental health is generally the most researched aspect of veteran life in the UK, this topic is often not on the top of the list for discussion for women in the interviews we have conducted. When leaving the military, women often report feeling they have lost a part of themselves and their identity, and they subsequently struggle to identify with either female civilians or the veteran community (often due to the predominance of male veterans). This lack of identification and focus on being a veteran, results in women underutilising veteran support services when they are in need, and many see veteran support services as ‘not for them’. Additionally, because women most commonly leave Service due to pregnancy or for family reasons, many have significant caregiving responsibilities, pushing their own needs further down the list. To address this, veteran services should take note of the emerging UK evidence that women do not feel these services recognise and meet their needs. They should work with women to ensure that the support they provide is adequately targeted and tailored to female veterans’ unique care needs.
6. What do you think will be the leading challenges for the next generation of female veterans and how do you think research and/or policy can be best used to address them?
The next generation of female veterans will face many of the same challenges facing society in general. The soaring cost of living and difficulty accessing health and social care services will likely have a significant impact on those leaving Service. Furthermore, now all military roles are open to women, including those associated with Ground Close Combat, it will be key for research and policy to reflect the impact of this on women’s physical and mental health.
7. Can you tell us about the methods you tend to use in your research, and why you gravitate towards these kinds of approaches?
As I mentioned in my first answer, I arrived in the field very much as a quantitative researcher, having been trained in medical sciences research. However, these days I tend to gravitate towards qualitative and mixed methods. Exploratory qualitative research is beneficial in subject areas in which there has been little prior research, as it enables in-depth exploration of the key issues in areas that have yet to be explored, avoiding the assumptions and hypotheses of researchers that would be required for designing quantitative projects. This lends itself well to research on female veterans, which until recently has been almost non-existent in the UK. I don’t think anyone who worked with me back when I joined the VFI in 2015, would have expected me to call myself a qualitative researcher!
8. Given unlimited funding and time, what would be your dream piece of research to undertake involving the Armed Forces community?
I would conduct a prospective longitudinal project following individuals before and during Military Service, through transition, and into the civilian world. This type of project would allow us to look at how experiences and factors before, during, and after Military Service impact individuals’ health and well-being. It would be able to answer so many questions!
Many thanks to Dr Lauren Godier-McBard for sharing her insights.
Catch us next month for another interesting and informative interview with an expert from the Armed Forces research community.
 Godier-McBard, L. R., Gillin, N., & Fossey, M. (2021). We Also Served: The Health and Well-being of Female Veterans in the UK. https://aru.figshare.com/articles/report/We_Also_Served_The_Health_and_Well-being_of_Female_Veterans_in_the_UK/23783757
 Herriott, C., Wood, A. D., Gillin, N., Fossey, M. J., & Godier-McBard, L. R. (2023). Sexual offences committed by members of the armed forces: Is the service justice system fit for purpose? Criminology & Criminal Justice, 174889582311533. https://doi.org/10.1177/17488958231153353