Dr Laura Forrest, University of the West of Scotland
RSE Personal Research Fellowship awardee

Dr Laura Forrest. Photograph: Ian Georgeson Photography
Dr Laura Forrest. Photograph: Ian Georgeson Photography

Menstrual cycle-related symptoms can be disruptive and disadvantage young people if they start to miss school or refrain from social interactions or physical activity and sports. 

Dr Laura Forrest, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at the University of the West of Scotland, explains that much of the negative consequences experienced by young people are exacerbated by a lack of knowledge, preparation, and poor practices surrounding menstruation. Dr Forrest stresses that teaching professionals are fundamental in providing effective menstrual education and fostering environments for young people to learn, share experiences, nurture health and wellbeing, and encourage physical activity. However, in Scotland, and other areas of the UK, they need more support to do so.

Awarded an RSE Personal Research Fellowship to further her project, The menstrual health education in schools’ study: developing a school-based menstrual health education programme, Dr Forrest set out to:

  • Explore barriers and enablers that impact the delivery of menstrual health education in the UK
  • Develop, deliver, and assess the perceived effectiveness of a menstrual health education intervention in schools

During her award, Dr Forrest and her team conducted focus groups and interviews with 22 teachers across Scotland to glean information on four themes: 

  • The ‘right’ people
  • The ‘right’ time
  • The ‘right’ approach
  • The ‘right’ support for pupils and teachers

The team then co-designed education resources for teachers to deliver menstrual cycle lessons. Five schools and more than 500 pupils received the education. Pre- and post-assessments of menstrual knowledge were conducted, along with interviews and focus groups with pupils and teachers to explore their experiences. 

A woman wearing glasses and smiling at the camera

Our research directly impacts the lives of young people by addressing the significant gaps in menstrual health education. By identifying barriers and facilitators to delivering this education in schools and by developing adequate resources, we empower teachers to better support students’ menstrual health education needs.

Our resources reduce menstrual stigma and taboo and empower young people to self-manage menstrual-related symptoms while also providing the knowledge to advocate for themselves and others if support is required (medical or otherwise). In turn, it will improve engagement and productivity in school, social activities, physical activity, exercise, and sports.”

Dr Laura Forrest

During the Personal Research Fellowship, the collaborative research group created an open-access website showcasing its menstrual health education resources. Since completing the Fellowship, the group has extended its work with funding from Swansea University to produce videos that offer further support and creative approaches to menstrual education.

Speaking about her award, Dr Forrest commented,

As a part-time academic, time is very limited. The RSE Personal Research Fellowship has afforded me the time needed to focus on my research and to expand my network of professionals working in the field to maximise the impact of our findings. 

Having the luxury of focusing entirely on research has been personally fulfilling, knowing that it has facilitated the development of innovative approaches to menstrual education that might not have been possible without the funding provided by the RSE. 

Professionally, the work has increased the evidence base, enabling me to apply for larger funding grants. This research also contributed to my being recognised by the University of the West of Scotland with a Public Engagement with Research Award.”

In the future, Dr Forrest and her team aim to further disseminate their research findings and educational resources to broader audiences and embed them within educational curricula. 

Additionally, the team is extending the work to focus on adolescent period pain. Addressing the problem that the prevalence of painful periods in adolescents can be as high as 97%, the group aim to understand period pain experiences, their impact, and the barriers and enablers to period pain management/treatment within and outside of school. To do this, they plan to conduct interventions to help manage period pain. 

An element of Dr Forrest’s research focuses on menstrual health in a sporting context, examining the effectiveness of menstrual health education in this domain. She would love to see menstrual health education included in coach education pathways, and ultimately, her goal is to contribute to lasting improvements in menstrual health literacy globally. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON RSE PERSONAL RESEARCH FELLOWSHIPS:

Focus on a research project for up to 12 months, funding covers a temporary replacement to enable the awardee to take research leave.