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Beyond the bench: A conversation with William Mandy


William Mandy

Senior Lecturer, University College London

Whether they mean to or not, just about everyone these days is taking William Mandy’s advice for a successful academic career: Find time to work from home. Mandy, a clinical psychologist and professor of clinical psychology at University College London, works in the United Kingdom’s most populous city but endures a train-bike-walk commute each day so that he can live in a quieter place — or at least he did pre-pandemic.

Now Mandy splits his time between teaching math and history to his 6- and 9-year-old children and managing his research team remotely, meaning life is both simpler and more complicated than before. When a problem gets particularly thorny, he says, one strategy remains nearly foolproof: a walk in the woods with his dog.

Spectrum spoke with Mandy about the golden hours for writing and why — when there isn’t a pandemic — he likes attending conferences in new parts of the world.

Spectrum: What are you working on right now?

William Mandy: The main thing I and my collaborators and my group are working on is various questions focused around autism and sex and gender. We’re really interested in whether there are important differences in the experiences and characteristics of autistic girls and women compared with autistic boys and men, and thinking about how that plays out in terms of their lives, their needs and so on.

For example, that’s led us into becoming interested in the overlap between autism and anorexia nervosa. There’s growing evidence that autistic women compared with non-autistic women have an elevated risk of developing anorexia. We’re interested in why that is and hoping to use the insights we gain from that, maybe five years down the line, to start developing better services for autistic women with serious eating problems.

Another thing that came out of our interest in sex and gender differences was camouflaging — this idea that many autistic people often feel compelled to develop a whole range of strategies to mask their autism. There’s growing evidence from our group and from others that autistic people who camouflage more also tend to have higher rates of mental health difficulties, so we’re really intrigued as to whether there’s any kind of causal relationship there and whether we could use insights from camouflaging to develop interventions that allow autistic people to live happier, more satisfying lives.

William Mandy drinking tea

S: What does your day look like?

WM: I live a little bit outside of London but work in London, so my normal, pre-coronavirus day started with a train ride and me sitting there with my laptop, tapping away at the keyboard, trying to answer as many emails as possible before my train gets to Paddington Station, at which point I get on my folding bicycle and cycle across London to where I work at University College London. I work not just in autism research but also in helping to train clinical psychologists, so often my day is spent in meetings about running a course. Often my favorite bit is meeting with Ph.D. students and helping them think through what they’re going to do next or problem-solve around what they’re doing. And then it’s back on the folding bike, back across London, back to Paddington and back on the train, and then that very nice feeling of stepping off the train into a nice, pleasant village and leaving the hustle and bustle of London behind.

Now, during the pandemic, there’s normally a negotiation that goes on with my wife in the morning about who’s going to do what elements of schooling. She’s definitely become the head teacher and I seem to be the maths teacher. It’s about kind of balancing a whole load of meetings on Microsoft Teams and Zoom with trying to keep one’s research going, but also looking after and educating the kids. I’ve really quite enjoyed the experience of taking more of a role in my children’s education. I’ve certainly learned quite a lot about the Vikings in the past couple of weeks that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

S: When and where are you most productive?

WM: The one tip I give to anyone looking to do an academic career is you must work from home on a regular basis, and that’s where I do all of my writing and thinking. I’m generally at my best first thing in the morning. I normally have three or four good hours where I can really focus and produce things. When I work at home, I try to structure it so I don’t waste those good hours on emails or things like that. I use them for writing, whether it’s papers or grant applications or whatever, and then once the light has faded slightly on my concentration after lunch, I try to stack in a bunch of tasks that are easier to be pulled along by. So at home in my little office before lunch is when I’m most productive.

S: What’s your favorite conference to attend?

WM: In June 2019, I went to Singapore to the Asia Pacific Autism Conference, which I hadn’t been to before. That was great, partly because it’s just so exciting being in Southeast Asia, and partly just because there was a whole different take on the autism world than I was used to. It felt like a very practically focused conference. It was very respectful to autistic people. For example, at the closing ceremony, there was an absolutely awesome band of all autistic people, and there were lots of roles within the conference for autistic people. It didn’t feel just tokenistic.

S: What are you reading right now?

WM: One of the nice things about the lockdown is I am doing a bit more reading than I used to. I’m reading the Hilary Mantel series, with “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies.” I’m just about to start the third one, about Thomas Cromwell in Henry VIII’s court. I’m rather enjoying the escapism of such a well-crafted historical novel.

In terms of academic reading, once you get to a certain point in academia you read huge amounts of text, but you mostly do it in this very functional way. In my role as a journal editor or a supervisor of students, I read a lot of drafts and manuscripts, which is good because it helps me stay attuned to the all the different developments in the field or just get a sense of what people are up to.

S: Do you subscribe to any journals or magazines in print?

WM: The London Review of Books is the only one. These days, everything is electronic, so I have particular journals that I like. Obviously Autism, the journal of which I’m an editor, is my favorite journal, and I also completely enjoy the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. I always find there’s really interesting stuff in there.

S: Are you active on social media?

WM: I am. I’m on Twitter. I’m quite a cautious Twitter user. It’s been a long time since I had a Twitter beef with anybody. I’m getting more to just using it to take the temperature in a way, especially being interested in what autistic people and fellow researchers are saying and as a way to let the world know about our research and to hear what people think of it.

I think I learned early on that there’s no real discourse to be had on Twitter. It’s not a place in which people’s minds are changed and shaped by interesting ideas. It’s more a place where people just output.

S: What do you eat or drink while you’re working?

WM: It is a stereotype, but it is true that the English are obsessed with tea. I drink a lot of tea, as I’m drinking it now. In the mornings I’m fueled by coffee and then I convert to tea at about lunchtime, and that keeps me going through the day.

S: How many unread emails are in your inbox right now?

WM: Let’s have a look. Okay, this is about par: There are 89. Anything over 100 and I start to get jittery, but 89 I can just about live with.

William Mandy reading a book in his home office.

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We may share your protected health information with third party "business associates" that perform various activities (for example, billing or transcription services) for our practice. Whenever an arrangement between our practice and a business associate involves the use or disclosure of your protected health information, we will have a written contract that contains terms that will protect the privacy of your protected health information.
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(ii) Public Health: We may disclose your protected health information for public health activities and purposes to a public health authority that is permitted by law to collect or receive the information. For example, a disclosure may be made for the purpose of preventing or controlling disease, injury or disability.

(iii) Communicable Diseases: We may disclose your protected health information, if authorized by law, to a person who may have been exposed to a communicable disease or may otherwise be at risk of contracting or spreading the disease or condition.

(iv) Health Oversight: We may disclose protected health information to a health oversight agency for activities authorized by law, such as audits, investigations, and inspections. Oversight agencies seeking this information include government agencies t-rat oversee the health care system, government benefit programs, other government regulatory programs and civil rights laws.

(v) Abuse or Neglect: We may disclose your protected health information to a public health authority that is authorized by law to receive reports of child abuse or neglect. In addition, we may disclose your protected health information if we believe that you have been a victim of abuse, neglect or domestic violence to the governmental entity or agency authorized to receive such information. In this case, the disclosure will be made consistent with the requirements of applicable federal and state laws.

(vi) Legal Proceedings: We may disclose protected health information in the course of any judicial or administrative proceeding, in response to an order of a court or administrative tribunal (to the extent such disclosure is expressly authorized), or in certain conditions in response to a subpoena, discovery request or other lawful process.

(vii) Law Enforcement: We may also disclose protected health information, so long as applicable legal requirements are met, for law enforcement purposes, these law enforcement purposes include (1) legal processes and otherwise required by law, (2) limited information requests for identification and location purposes, (3) pertaining to victims of a crime, (4) suspicion that death has occurred as a result of criminal conduct, (5) in the event that a crime occurs on the premises of our practice, and (6) medical emergency (not on our premises) and it is likely that a crime has occurred.

(viii) Research: We may disclose your protected health information to researchers when their research has been approved by an institutional review board that has reviewed the research proposal and established protocols to ensure the privacy of your protected health information.

(ix) Criminal Activity: Consistent with applicable federal and state laws, we may disclose your protected health information, if we believe that the use or disclosure is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of a person or the public. We may also disclose protected health information if it is necessary for law enforcement authorities to identify or apprehend an individual.

(x) Military Activity and National Security: When the appropriate conditions apply, we may use or disclose protected health information of individuals who are Armed Forces personnel (1) for activities deemed necessary by appropriate military command authorities; (2) for the purpose of a determination by the Department of Veterans Affairs of your eligibility for benefits, or (3) to foreign military authority if you are a member of that foreign military services. We may also disclose your protected health information to authorized federal officials for conducting national security and intelligence activities, including for the provision of protective services to the President or others legally authorized.

(xi) Workers' Compensation: We may disclose your protected health information as authorized to comply with workers' compensation laws and other similar legally established programs.
5. Other Permitted and Required Uses of Disclosures That Require Providing You the Opportunity to Agree or Object
We may use and disclose your protected health information in the following instances. You have the opportunity to agree or object to the use or disclosure of all or part of your protected health information. If you are not present or able to agree or object to the use or disclosure of the protected health information, then we may, using professional judgment, determine whether the disclosure is in your best interest.

Others Involved in Your Health Care or Payment for our Care:

Unless you object, we may disclose to a member of your family, a relative, a close friend or any other person you identify, your protected health information that directly relates to that person's involvement in your health care. If you are unable to agree or object to such a disclosure, we may disclose such information as necessary if we determine that it is in your best interest based on our professional judgment. We may use or disclose protected health information to notify or assist in notifying a family member, personal representative or any other person that is responsible for your care of your location, general condition or death. Finally, we may use or disclose your protected health information to an authorized public or private entity to assist in disaster relief efforts and to coordinate uses and disclosures to family or other individuals involved in your health care.
6. Uses and Disclosures of Protected Health Information Based upon Your Written Authorization Other uses and disclosures of your protected health information will be made only with your written authorization, unless otherwise permitted or required by law as described below. You may revoke this authorization in writing at any time. If you revoke your authorization, we will no longer use or disclose your protected health information for the reasons covered by your written authorization. Please understand that we are unable to take back any disclosures already made with your authorization.
Following is a statement of your rights with respect to your protected health information and a brief description of how you may exercise these rights
1. You have the right to inspect and copy your protected health information
This means you may inspect and obtain a copy of protected health information about you for so long as we maintain the protected health information. You may obtain your medical record that contains medical and billing records and any other records that we use for making decisions about you. As permitted by federal or state law, we may charge you a reasonable copy fee for a copy of your records.
2. You have the right to request a restriction of your protected health information
This means you may ask us not to use or disclose any part of your protected health information for the purposes of treatment, payment or health care operations. You may also request that any part of your protected health information not be disclosed to family members or friends who may be involved in your care or for notification purposes as described in this Notice of Privacy Practices. Your request must state the specific restriction requested and to whom you want the restriction to apply.

We are not required to agree to a restriction that you may request. If we agree to the requested restriction, we may not use or disclose your protected health information in violation of that restriction unless it is needed to provide emergency treatment. With this in mind, please discuss any restriction you wish to request with your health provider.

You may request a restriction by making your request in writing to our Privacy Officer. In your request, you must tell us (1) what information you want to limit; (2) whether you want to limit our use, disclosure, or both; and (3) to whom you want the limits to apply, for example, disclosures to your spouse.
3. You have the right to request to receive confidential communications from us by alternative means or at an alternative location
We will accommodate reasonable requests. We may also condition this accommodation by asking you for information as to how payment will be handled or specification of an alternative address or other method of contact. We will not request an explanation from you as to the basis for the request. Please make this request in writing to our Privacy Officer.
4. Your may have right to amend your protected health information
This means you may request an amendment of protected health information about you in a designated record set for so long as we maintain this information. In certain cases, we may deny your request for an amendment. If we deny your request for amendment, you have the right to file a statement of disagreement with us and we may prepare a rebuttal to your statement and will provide you with a copy of any such rebuttal. Please contact our Privacy Officer if you have questions about amending your medical record.
5. You have the right to receive an accounting of certain disclosures we have made, if any, of your protected health information This right applies to disclosures for purposes other than treatment, payment or health care operations as described in this Notice of Privacy Practices. It excludes disclosures we may have made to you if you authorized us to make the disclosure, to family members or friends involved in your care, or for notification purposes, for national security or intelligence, to law enforcement (as provided in the privacy rule) or correctional facilities, as part of a limited data set disclosure. The right to receive this information is subject to certain exceptions, restrictions and limitations.
6. You have the right to obtain a paper copy of this notice from us
upon request, even if you have agreed to accept this notice electronically.
You may complain to us or to the Secretary of Health and Human Services if you believe your privacy rights have been violated by us. You may file a complaint with us by notifying our Privacy Officer of your complaint. We will not retaliate against you for filing a complaint

You may contact our Privacy Officer at (704) 824-7800 for further information about the complaint process.

This notice was published and becomes effective on August l, 2011.