Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Claire Cardinal

School of Social Sciences

Claire Cardinal joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in September 2017. Her thesis title is 'Lemur-human coexistence: the impact of human hunting on the behaviour and demography of cathemeral lemurs in south-eastern Madagascar'.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I first came to Oxford Brookes to study for a MSc in Primate Conservation. I was told about the course by a fellow zookeeper and immediately thought “I really want to do that!” I am a mature student so it was wonderful to be part of such a modern university environment. When I was an undergraduate in the 1980s we did not have computers, so research is much easier nowadays.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

I was primarily attracted to Oxford Brookes by the calibre of the Primate Conservation staff. They are all leaders in their particular fields and continue to be an inspiration to me. After completing my Masters I did not want to leave. Although I had not originally planned to do a PhD, I was keen to become involved in lemur conservation, and my project grew from discussions with my two amazing supervisors.      

What were you doing before?

I returned to education after a 25-year career in urban planning. My first step was a diploma in Animal Management at Northumberland College. My course was based at an old country estate called Kirkley Hall, which has a wonderful little zoo attached to it. I worked there as a Zoo Presenter alongside my studies. The job included giving educational talks to visitors about the animals, and that is where I first became fascinated with lemurs. I also learned about the threats that they face in the wild and was determined to do something to support their survival.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

I was delighted to be accepted as a research student, but at the beginning I felt as though I did not really belong on a PhD programme. Everybody knew so much more than I did! Working in a shared office with other researchers at various stages of their programme has been a big help in taking the step from MSc to PhD. Having the belief and support of my supervisors and other primatology staff has given me great confidence to take my research forward. I have already done a myriad of training sessions to boost my skills, and meeting fellow researchers at courses and social events helps me feel part of a wider university research community.

Tell us about your research.

I am investigating the impact of hunting by humans on the behaviour and demography of cathemeral (day and night-active) lemurs in south-eastern Madagascar. Although hunting by humans is recognised as one of the main threats to the survival of lemurs across Madagascar, the impact of hunting on their behavioural ecology and population structure is currently poorly understood.

By studying lemur hunting from the dual perspectives of lemurs and people sharing the same forest, I aim to understand the nature of lemur hunting in rural Madagascar and how lemurs respond to hunting pressures. My results will further scientific knowledge of lemurids’ capability to adapt and survive in anthropogenic habitats and enable me to develop indirect predictors of hunting pressures on lemur populations that can be used in conservation management. Madagascar is among the poorest countries in the world and rural people have a high dependence on forest resources. Understanding the importance of lemur hunting to people living close to forests is crucial for developing effective strategies to reduce hunting pressures, and is integral to my project. 

I conduct my field research at two sites in Tsitongambarika Protected Area, a humid forest in south-eastern Madagascar. My research focuses on the red-collared brown lemur Eulemur collaris and southern bamboo lemur Hapalemur meridionalis - the two lemur species most frequently targeted by human hunters in south-east Madagascar. Using these species as a model, my project objectives are to:

  • Investigate the drivers and importance of lemur hunting to people living close to tropical forests in south-eastern Madagascar; 
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  • Determine how hunting by humans affects the abundance, distribution, group size and group composition of lemurs; 
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  • Identify the behavioural responses exhibited by lemurs towards humans and explore whether lemurs adjust their behaviour in areas of high hunting pressure;
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  • Model the behavioural and/or demographic characteristics of lemurs that can be used as indirect predictors for hunting pressure;
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  • Develop evidence based strategies for lemur conservation in Tsitongambarika that meet human needs as well as addressing conservation priorities.  

Ethnoprimatology provides an integrated approach to studying the interface between non-human primates and people. I use a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods to conduct anthropological and ecological data collection and analyses. 

 So far I have spent 10 months in Tsitongambarika. It is extremely rewarding getting to know Malagasy people and discovering how they live. An added benefit is that I am learning to speak Malagasy, essential to communicate with the teams of local people that I work with and the people I meet day to day.  

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

The opportunity to become really obsessed with one project for three years. There are not many other chances in life to do that. Last year I was lucky to attend an international lemur conference in Madagascar where my supervisor introduced me to some of the world’s most eminent lemur conservationists. My research involves    fieldwork in a remote part of Madagascar, where I am privileged to get to know local people living in rural subsistence communities. I also get to watch lemurs living wild in the forest, which is truly magical.  

The biggest challenge that I face is being self-funded. I have to work part-time to support myself and seek grants for my fieldwork. Balancing these demands with my PhD work can sometimes feel overwhelming. Fortunately I have a great job as a shelver in Headington Campus Library. It is very therapeutic and being    familiar with all the library’s resources is a bonus for my research. My colleagues think that going to live in a tent in Madagascar for months on end is crazy, but they are all supportive of my project. 

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

I have participated in a wide variety of training opportunities that Oxford Brookes offers, including statistics courses, skills and competency training, and HSS Faculty seminars about anthropological methods and primate conservation. Whilst I still have a lot to learn, these events are helping me develop the knowledge and practical skills that I need to do my project. They also stimulate me with ways to be more proactive about raising my professional profile and promoting my research.  

What are your future plans?

I am aiming to complete my thesis in summer 2021. It is difficult to think of life after the PhD, but I would like to continue working for lemur conservation in Madagascar, initially to help implement recommendations arising from my research. The lemur species that I study are under huge pressure from human activities in the forest. At the same time, people living in the nearby communities traditionally depend on the forest for many of the resources they need. Where I do my field research, there is so much work needed to protect lemurs’ and people’s needs, and I would like to be part of that.

Photo of Claire Cardinal

Kat Scott

School of Social Sciences

Kat Scott is from Bristol and joined Oxford Brookes University in January 2017. Her thesis title is ‘Orangutans in the New Frontier: Strategies for Survival in Altered Landscapes’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I did my MSc in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University so I already knew the faculty and staff quite well. I was offered the chance to conduct research at a field site in Indonesia, so returning to Oxford Brookes University for my PhD seemed like a natural fit. My first impressions were that everyone was very welcoming and incredibly supportive. The facilities available to students have improved immensely since I undertook my Master’s degree, so I am excited to have returned to the new site at Headington.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

Having previously studied at Oxford Brookes, I felt that the Department of Social Sciences was the best place to return for my PhD. The staff are all leaders in their research fields, and although I have worked in my field for a long time, I knew that I could learn from them and increase my skillset. I needed a    team that understood the location and situation I was heading into, spoke the language, understood the culture and religion, and could provide long-distance support for me in the field; Oxford Brookes University could provide all of this. I also love the community-feeling of the primate group and the networking opportunities with the MSc course alumni. I am grateful for the support I have received from the University despite being thousands of miles away in the middle of the rainforest!

What were you doing before?

Before starting this PhD, I managed a long-term orangutan research site in Indonesia. This involved managing staff, students and volunteers, organising data collection and general camp running. I learned so much from that role and was given many different opportunities such as presenting at an international conference and appearing in a National Geographic program about orangutans. I was given the chance to learn more about data collection in the field and more about the logistics and responsibility of running a remote field site. I developed as a person, scientist and mentor.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

I instantly felt at home when I started my PhD and the new facilities at Headington are fantastic. We now have a great postgraduate library, bigger and better study areas, and the ability to acquire licence software and download remotely. The postgraduate team are supportive and helpful, and it has been easy to contact different departments and staff for assistance.

Tell us about your research

Previous research has highlighted that orangutans are able to exist within mixed agroforest landscapes; however, the extent to which this affects their health remains largely unknown, as is the number of orangutans that reside within these landscapes. Given the current situation however, it appears that orangutans are struggling to survive long-term in these disturbed areas. In 2012, research led by Prof Serge Wich advised that where forest is converted to plantation, over time over 95% of the original orangutan population is lost.            

Exactly how great apes alter their behaviour in reaction to altered landscapes and their inherent risks remains uncertain but is of paramount importance for the long-term survival of animals whose ranges comprise of such habitats. Therefore, it is necessary to investigate whether and how the survival prospects of orangutans could be improved in these areas. This interdisciplinary study seeks to quantify this decrease by looking at disturbance (an oil palm concession) and the western Bornean orangutan sub-species

This project has been designed in conjunction with International Animal Rescue (herein known as YIARI) in West Kalimantan in Indonesia. YIARI has been working in the PT Kayung Agro Lestari oil palm plantation for several years and have been taking data on the orangutans that live in two forested areas in this plantation. It is rare that access is given to work in such a controversial landscape; however YIARI have been given permission for research to be undertaken in this concession.            

This research is important as very little is known about orangutan movements within oil palm; we know they exist but we do not know the extent of their behavioural plasticity in these areas. We need to examine if conflict exists in this plantation and explore mitigation strategies if necessary. Most importantly from this research, we need to understand how orangutans utilise this habitat and the implications for their continued survival if access to this area were to change.            

Research Objectives

Objective 1: Determine space-use patterns of orangutans in oil palm to examine movement and habitat utilisation.

Objective 2: Examine orangutan behaviour regarding activity budget and dietary composition in relation to food availability.

Objective 3: Quantify how important continued access to this oil palm concession is for this orangutan population using data regarding crop-foraging, dietary composition and oil palm shoot loss.

Objective 4:  Assess whether there are any orangutan-human interactions within this plantation and assist with options for conflict mitigation.

Anticipated Results

It is expected that this project will be one of the first of its kind to shed light on orangutan behaviour in a monoculture. It will provide information on activity budget, nutrition and movements. Currently we do not know how much of the plantation orangutan utilise, or indeed whether they potentially live in the plantation. At this time, the anticipated results are that orangutans move within the plantation but we do not know the extent. Therefore, this project will fill in the gaps in our knowledge. 

Implications of this project

First and foremost, it will be the completion of my PhD. I also hope to publish this study in a number of journals, as well as presenting my results at international meetings. In terms of orangutan conservation, the implications of this project will be important and far reaching. The training we will continue to offer staff within the plantation, with regards to a no-kill policy, corridor-creation and conducting research, will be invaluable if we are to empower local people to look after their wildlife. I will be evoking with the plantation owners on best practice guidelines for use in their plantation, which can then be rolled out to their other sites, as well as the potential to work with other companies. From a research perspective, this project will shed light on an aspect of orangutan life that has rarely been studied on a long-term basis. We will be able to begin to answer questions as to the scale of which orangutans rely on this landscape, how important connectivity is and how they are modifying their behaviour to cope with this change in environment. If orangutans are not coping in this environment, we can begin the work into mitigation strategies - looking into policies in order to protect these apes. 

How has the Santander scholarship helped your research project and progression of your research degree programme?

Given the sensitive nature of my project, I really struggled to get funding to study in an oil palm plantation. As I am a self-funded student, I got to a point in the field where I would be unable to pay my second-year fees. Receiving this scholarship was amazing and took a huge weight off my shoulders. It allowed me to reallocate my own money in the field so that I could purchase more equipment such as a new GPS, compasses and watches for the staff. Without this scholarship, I don’t think I would have been able to continue my field work or pay my programme fees.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I love being a research student. I relish a challenge, and nothing is harder than creating a project and self-funding it. I enjoy the social aspects of being a student; meeting like-minded people with great experiences that they can share and advice they can impart.            

As you can imagine, working in the field comes with a plethora of issues. However, because I had already worked in a similar area of Indonesia for several years and had such a strong team at Oxford Brookes University, I never felt like any of these issues couldn’t be resolved quickly. There are always delays with the permits you need to conduct research, the weather is always problematic, and working in a foreign country produces problems of its own. With help from Oxford Brookes University and my previous work, my project evolved to meet these challenges and present solutions that kept all stakeholders happy.              

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes University?

The research training has been nothing short of fantastic. The inductions really set me up for what to expect from Oxford Brookes University and what they expected from me. Now I am back from the field, I can undertake training in software that is relevant for the analysis of my data. There is also the possibility of 1-to-1 sessions with different advisors which I think will be hugely beneficial for me.

What are your future plans?

At the moment, I am focusing on analysing my data and writing my thesis. I will also be presenting my work at an international conference soon and I am hoping to present at more over the next year. On completion of my PhD, I hope to publish my work and pursue a career in the environmental sector. Working with an oil palm company has really opened my eyes to the role that businesses play in conservation and the environment, so I am considering moving into this as a potential field.

Photo of Kat Scott

Kathleen Reinhardt

School of Social Sciences

Kathleen Reinhardt is originally from the United States. She joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in February 2015 and her thesis title is ‘Ecophysiology of the Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus)’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I first learned about Oxford Brookes University from my undergraduate professors in the US. Finishing my degree in Anthropology, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the subfield of primatology with a conservation focus, and so, my professors directed me towards the Primate Conservation MSc programme. While enrolled in the MSc programme, I got to know the department and staff quite well, only further encouraging my interests in pursuing a PhD with Oxford Brookes University.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

I was attracted to Brookes by the staff and students involved with the Primate Conservation MSc, as well as the Nocturnal Primate Research Group. The researchers involved in these groups inspired me in their expertise and accomplishments, and how they regularly applied their research to conservation efforts for endangered primate species and their natural habitats.

What were you doing before?

Before coming to Oxford Brookes University, I was working as a Field Research Assistant for the Lomas Barbudal Monkey Project, recording daily social behaviours of white-faced capuchins (Cebus capucinus) in Costa Rica. From there, I hopped across the pond to undertake the MSc programme in Primate Conservation. During this time, I expressed my interests in continuing in academia, and the professors and staff encouraged and supported me in applying for a studentship to remain with the department for my PhD research.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

I found the transition into my PhD to be almost seamless. The entire staff and department were more than supportive from the beginning - I always felt comfortable asking anyone for assistance, even those not involved in my project!

Tell us about your research.

The synthetic goal of my research is to bridge the gaps in knowledge and understanding of wild animal ecophysiology using least invasive bio logging methods. This research predominantly focused on ecophysiology of a wild animal population, and how environmental changes influence their behavioural and physiological responses. While research in animal physiology has progressed over the past few decades, these have predominantly been conducted in controlled laboratory environments. While laboratory conditions allow us to control and test the physiological parameters and responses of an animal to specific variable changes, it does not    allow us to observe and measure physiological responses to the many environmental changes that may occur in the wild, at varying times and degrees.  In order to understand fully the complexity of an organism’s overall physiology, field experiments are essential to compare    previous research conducted in laboratories.   Using biologging equipment, I monitored physiological parameters of a population of Javan slow lorises (Nycticebus javanicus) in West Java, Indonesia in collaboration with the Little Fireface Project. I focused on thermal ecology, sleep-wake patterns and pollination-ecology and foraging behaviour to test theories of primate evolution and energetics.   

My doctoral research at Oxford Brookes University reflects interdisciplinary approaches, using least-invasive biologging methods in field biology, primatology, and conservation physiology.   

Specific characteristics of sleep reflect its numerous functions for the brain and overall physiology, overweighing the risks and disadvantages associated with time spent in sleep. Numerous laboratory studies suggest that sleep is homeostatically regulated. From the evolutionary ecology viewpoint, sleep evolved not only to cope with immediate intrinsic homeostatic needs, but also as a response to predictable and unpredictable environmental conditions. Therefore, it is natural to assume that the well-known phenotypic variability and flexibility in sleep patterns between and across species reflects the fact that it evolved in conjunction with species adapting to their habitat.   

My research is based on multi-day monitoring of slow lorises (Nycticebus javanicus) in their natural habitat, using biologging methodology. It has thus far provided a detailed account on sleep architecture in this species, highlighting the crucial importance of the environment in shaping of sleep in a natural setting. Slow lorises represent basal phylogeny (an early-branching clade where baseline expression of traits derived) in the Order Primates. Thus, understanding the sleep patterns of slow lorises provide a window into the evolutionary path (through phylogenetic inertia) of sleep in humans.      

Another aspect of my research focuses on the interplay between ecophysiology and feeding/foraging behaviour of non-human primates. I have been examining slow lorises as a model to understand feeding ecology in the contexts of primate origins, energetics and ethnoprimatology. This field research is conducted as part of a long-term study with the Little Fireface Project and Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) in Java, Indonesia. 

This research was the first study to measure sleep in a wild nocturnal primate, as well as the first to show daily torpor use in a wild Asian primate, the Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus). My dissertation work emphasised the importance of studying physiology in the wild, suggesting an intriguing  possibility that some of our basic notions about sleep and basic physiological responses obtained in the lab may not hold in the natural habitat where environmental conditions are not stable.   

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

Being a research student allows me to ask my own questions, and then find the answers using detailed data. To me, there is nothing more rewarding or stimulating than that. Being in an academic environment, I feel supported by like-minded peers and staff, who help me to grow and develop my skills and scientific integrity towards effective research. Whenever I feel I have hit a speed-bump or side-tangent with my work, I can always go to these people (with a diverse array of expertise!) for help or advice, to keep me focused on the big picture of my specific research.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

Since beginning my PhD, I have regularly taken advantage of the various research training sessions and workshops offered to postgraduate researchers at Oxford Brookes University. In particular, I feel I most valued the teaching courses made available to me throughout my degree. These courses have not only supported me through my research development and completion, but have prepared me for my future career options, should I pursue teaching in higher education.

What are your future plans?

I am currently finishing my thesis and will soon be defending in the coming months. After this, I aim to submit my various chapters of research for publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals while pursuing research and teaching. I hope to continue with my research in understanding the physiological of wild animals in response to changing environments, and applying my research to evidence-based conservation management and policy planning. As my PhD research took place in a human-populated agricultural landscape, it also taught me the importance of human involvement and the impact    that appreciation of nature and its wildlife can play in conservation management. Due to this, I hope to use my skills for teaching children and adults about wildlife, or possibly get involved in the outdoor industry.

Photo of Kathleen Reinhardt

Miranda Strubel

School of Social Sciences

Miranda Strubel joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in January 2015. Her thesis title is ‘Shared Landscapes: the reintroduction of red kite in the UK’.

Where are you from?

I am a British citizen, but I grew up on the East coast of Canada on Prince Edward Island. Since coming to the UK ten years ago, I have lived all over England, including Canterbury, Leeds, Cambridge and of course, Oxford.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I originally heard about Oxford Brookes when I was considering my first master’s programme. Upon finishing my honours BA in Anthropology (Mount Allison University, New Brunswick, Canada), I wanted to become a primatologist and looked into the world-renowned Primate Conservation MSc at Brookes. Taking the full spectrum of my research interests into account (e.g. human-nonhuman animal relationships; traditional ecological knowledge; wildlife conservation; environmental education; climate change), I decided to pursue a MSc in Environmental Anthropology (University of Kent), followed by a second MSc    in Biodiversity and Conservation (University of Leeds). However, I have always retained a passion for primates, and have been involved in some research in this area, so it seemed quite poetic when my doctoral studies led me here.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

I was impressed by the disciplinary coverage of my supervisory team, and the support I felt they would be able to provide throughout an interdisciplinary project. Professor Kate Hill is my Director of Studies and Professor Jeremy MacClancy is my second supervisor. I also have access to Professor Stephen Redpath as an external supervisor at the University of Aberdeen if I have any questions about raptor ecologyHaving supportive supervisors is key to doctoral success, as those relationships provide the foundation that underpins your progress. I was also a 150 Studentship recipient and was extremely grateful to be granted the financial support to continue with my academic aspirations. Without funding, I would have had to continue to put doctoral studies on hold until grant funding could be obtained.

What were you doing before?

Prior to my PhD, I was a research assistant at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, as part of a team investigating children’s perceptions of environmental change in four Cambridgeshire schools. I was also an intern at the UNEP-WCMC (United Nations Environmental Programme – World Conservation Monitoring Centre) in their Ecosystem Assessment Division (also in Cambridge).          

Before taking up my posts in Cambridge, I had been working as an educational assistant at an elementary school in Yukon, Canada, and volunteering with the charity Neotropical Primate Conservation in La Esperanza, Peru. 

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

I have always been passionate about research and had carried out several smaller-scale degree projects by the time I arrived at Brookes. In my capacity as a research assistant, I was primarily involved in the fieldwork side of things, documenting my colleagues’ activities while developing and leading some of my own. It had been about three years since I had finished my last masters, so it took me a little while to acclimatise into a very different type of degree programme, but I was very much looking forward to devoting myself full time to a topic that encompassed so many of my research interests and carrying out long-term fieldwork.            

When doing library research, it is of great benefit to have access to the Bodleian Library, in addition to all the resources at Brookes. However, as Oxford Brookes largely comprises an undergraduate student population, it can be easy for PhD students to sometimes feel underrepresented, regarding more specific graduate training or the level to which we feel included and communicated to in terms of university services and information sharing. As many PhD students will attest, doctoral research can be a very isolating process at times and lacking a cohort in the same way other degree programmes do can contribute to that. Happily, I think these areas are receiving more attention with the recent development of the Doctoral Training Programme and the increased research training activities that are being offered and promoted through this initiative. It is a really positive step, and I am looking forward to taking full advantage of those opportunities during the rest of my time at Brookes.  

Tell us about your research.

The Red Kite Reintroduction Programme was initiated in 1989 and has since been recognized as one of the most successful conservation programmes ever carried out in Britain. However, in recent years print media stories have suggested that the bird’s popularity might be fading in certain areas. My project looks at the social aspects of the red kite reintroduction and people’s relationships with these birds. By exploring people’s perceptions of red kites in both urban and rural, high and low density red kite areas, I wanted to get a better understanding of how people feel about red kites.            

From the onset, this project has been conceived as an investigative exploration, as opposed to a hypothesis driven study. Hence my aim has been to identify the dominant themes arising from people’s narratives about red kites, as well as understand how they fit into people’s relationships with, and willingness to tolerate, wildlife in general.            

By conducting this research, I wanted to uncover the key factors shaping people’s constructions of red kites, and, in so doing, shed light on the bird’s social carrying capacity (Needham et al. 2011) – otherwise known as wildlife stakeholder acceptance capacity (Organ & Ellingwood, 2000).            

This project is the first of its kind to examine human-red kite relations in the UK and will make an intellectual contribution to ongoing discussions in human-nonhuman animal studies, animal geography, conservation biology and wildlife management. In addition, this research has practical applications for future conservation through its recommendations.

Several other reintroductions have taken place in the UK in recent times (e.g. great bustards, sea eagles, Eurasian beavers, and pine martens), and with a number of ‘rewilding’ proposals currently being set forth, namely involving the reintroduction of wolves and lynx, there is now an even greater need to understand people’s tolerance capacities towards wildlife. For reintroductions to continue successfully, the human dimensions need to be better understood. Therefore, in addition to having wider implications, the findings of this study will contribute valuable insights into local human-red kite interactions and further assist conservation activities in the UK.            

How has the Santander scholarship helped your research project and progression of your research degree programme?

The Santander Scholarship for Continuation Fees has provided me with continued financial support after my initial three-year studentship concluded at the end of January 2018. The writing-up period can be a difficult time and having less financial pressure has certainly helped.           

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

It was very important to me to have the opportunity to bring both my disciplinary backgrounds together for my PhD. Having a project that allows me to delve into so many of the topics I am interested in, while also discovering new areas for myself, is great. The burgeoning interdisciplinary field of anthrozoology is a very exciting place to be because you feel that you have the chance to really make a difference and explore complex dynamics from different angles. Of course, your PhD is really a beginning of sorts, so I am excited to see what the future may hold.            

Specialising in human-wildlife relationships and interactions, at the intersection of anthropology and conservation, and having the opportunity to make an original contribution to my field is a very fulfilling thought. From a young age, I always wanted to make some small positive difference in the world. Impact is something that is very important to me, and if my research influences how something is approached in the future, that will be the biggest reward. I want my research to contribute to knowledge, but I also want it to be applied so that both animals and people can coexist in a shared landscape that is mutually beneficial to both.          

Doing all the preliminary research as part of expanding your research design, and exposing yourself to new bodies of literature and ideas, is very exciting during the first phase of the PhD. You feel like anything is possible. The next stage, the fieldwork stage is, for me, the most enjoyable. It’s why we do what we do. The immersion process can come with challenges, but is also very rewarding, and it is exciting as you begin to see patterns emerge and start to unravel and interpret your data. The final stage of the PhD, the writing-up stage, is arguably the hardest. Even when you are passionate about a subject, after several years sometimes the motivation that is required to make sense of everything you collected during fieldwork can be difficult to muster, as it can be very overwhelming. All PhD students struggle with this. It is well documented. It is very easy to get overwhelmed with everything you have to do, and I think it helps if you can remind yourself of why you are doing it.             

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

During the first seven months of my PhD I was very much immersed in preliminary research and carrying out all the tasks I needed to do in order to begin my fieldwork in a timely manner. This period was followed by approx. a year and four months of fieldwork. I spent most of this time living ‘in the field’, away from the university, my supervisors and colleagues.            

Now that I am based in Oxford again, I can see how the Doctoral Training Programmes are being developed further and the additional opportunities opening up to research students. With workshops and seminars being offered through the Graduate College and Careers, as well as our individual faculties, I Iook forward to learning even more transferable academic skills that will serve me well in the future.            

However, with several doctoral training programmes happening in different faculties, I think it would be wonderful to see more cross-faculty communication and collaboration. I believe it would be a great asset to research students, and faculty research development as a whole, if information   about the different approaches and research tools being taught in doctoral training sessions across the university were more readily advertised to students outside each faculty. I know I have benefited from attending sessions on qualitative coding and analysis hosted through the Business School for instance, which I only found out about through some independent investigation. Colleagues have also expressed interested in attending valuable sessions hosted through our faculty (Humanities and Social Sciences) which they did not know about. With so many resources available, I feel it would be hugely beneficial to make the most of them collectively - and who knows, some very innovative projects could come out of it!            

What are your future plans?

During the first year of my undergraduate degree, I knew that I would go on to pursue a doctorate, with the goal of one day becoming a lecturer or professor. I love teaching and have been very grateful to my supervisor for giving me the opportunity to teach several lectures during the course of my PhD. Since I have always been involved in less mainstream research areas, I really enjoy having the opportunity to introduce new topics to students, and expose them to new perspectives. If one or two students come up after teaching a class and say, ‘you made me think about this in a different way’, that’s what it is all about.            

Positive change can come about by students having access to new ideas and alternative ways of thinking and relating to the world around them.

Because of this, they might think more critically about relationships and associations they took for granted. It might expand their worldview or influence their career path. As humans, it is important to have our assumptions challenged. It helps us grow.            

While I am still interested in pursuing an academic career, I am also receptive to research and teaching opportunities that lie outside of academia.

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Sophie Edwards

School of Social Sciences

Sophie Edwards is from Buckinghamshire and joined Oxford Brookes in January 2014. Her thesis title is ‘A comparison of craniomandibular ontogeny between hominoids of the Late Miocene and Early Pliocene in relation to contemporary climate change and paleoecological shifts’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

When I was conducting research for my undergraduate dissertation with the University of Leicester, Dr Simon Underdown allowed me access to the hominin fossil casts at Oxford Brookes. I was impressed by the palaeoanthropological aspects of the Social Sciences department and so I visited the postgraduate fair and consequently decided to apply for a doctoral studentship here.  

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

The laboratory and osteological collections are what attracted me to research at Oxford Brookes. Also, as a PhD student I was welcomed into the HOPE research group (Human Origins and Palaeo Environments). The potential learning benefits and opportunity to work alongside prominent researchers in the same field was a significant advantage of applying to study at Brookes.

What were you doing before?

Before I started my PhD here, I had just completed my BA (Hons) in Archaeology at the University of Leicester. I was also archiving archaeological material at a local museum in Buckinghamshire.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

Coming from undergraduate life straight into a PhD project was quite daunting but I have had wonderful support from my supervisors and the Research Degrees Team in particular, and I soon felt very comfortable researching here. However, I still get lost in the Gibbs building.

Tell us about your research.

The hominoids of the late Miocene and early Pliocene have been studied in relatively little detail in relation to the tumultuous climate change within which they inhabited. A more thorough account of how shifting paleo-environments affected the evolution of contemporary hominoids can be achieved by studying the shape    variation of the craniomandibular morphology of relevant fossil specimens. 

My interdisciplinary research examines extant hominoid morphology and how they relate to their contemporary habitats with the aim of elucidating the impact environment has on the selective pressures that shape evolutionary trajectories. Data regarding how extant clades react and adapt to varying selective pressures have been extrapolated through a geometric morphometric study of extant hominid morphological variation and ecological contexts. The aim of my research is to use this data to explore the patterning of extinct Great Ape and Hominin responses to environmental variation across difference biomes through a comparative study. Analysis and modelling should provide data to address the following questions:

- In which habitat does encephalisation seem to occur most rapidly?

- Did the Great Apes of these periods undergo similar adaptations in similar environments? 

- Why, if found in similar biomes did early Great Apes and Hominins diverge along very different evolutionary pathways?

Using a desktop 3D laser scanner, I have collected numerous 3D images of crania and mandibles belonging to 5 extant primate species. Subsequently, I uploaded, cleaned and formatted these scans in the program RStudio, which uses programming language as a way to statistically retrieve and manipulate quantified shape data from the 3D images. Landmarks were placed on biologically homologous areas of the skulls and carefully chosen algorithms were used to estimate missing landmarks on any incomplete skull specimens that exist in the sample. A General Procrustes analysis was then preformed on these landmarked specimens. This method rotates, scales and translates the landmark data in order to retrieve pure, quantified shape data. The morphological data is then compared and displayed graphically so that we can visually see the variation in skull shape, thus demonstrating a quantification of morphological evolution. 

The advantage of using extant species in this study is their known habitats. We can use this environmental data coupled with geometric morphometric analyses of skull morphology in living primates and compare this knowledge to extinct hominins living in similar biomes. Ultimately, this research will provide a better foundation for understanding the evolution of the hominid skull. Understanding the extent to which variation in cranial morphology occurs between species is a vital component for understanding how environmental factors contributed to manipulating our evolutionary pathways. The visual aesthetics of the data is a huge advantage of this study as the complex statistical information can easily be disseminated to a wider general audience.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

When I first started my PhD, public speaking was such a frightening thought to me. Now that I am in my final year, I can tentatively say that I have overcome this and all it took was lots of practice. I really enjoy preparing posters and giving presentations at conferences now, as this is what really gave me the arena to practice public speaking and engagement. Also, researching at Oxford Brookes afforded me the opportunity to become an Associate Lecturer and teach the undergraduate module, Deep History. If presenting an hour long lecture on a stage in front of 100+ undergraduates doesn’t cure your performance anxiety, I don’t know what will.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

There are always workshops and training days going on at Brookes that are specifically aimed at postgraduates; from time management and viva preparation to writing an academic CV and nailing a job interview. Attending these events is always encouraging and reassures you that you are on the right track with your studies and that you will continue to do so in a positive manner.

What are your future plans?

I hope to be awarded my PhD in 2018 and then possibly become a Postdoctoral Fellow continuing to research in the field of Palaeoanthopology.

Photo of Sophie Edwards

Anne Youngson

School of English and Modern Languages

Anne Youngson is from Burford in Oxfordshire. She joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in January 2015 and her thesis title is ‘Once Upon a Time: A study into how stories begin’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I had worked with the Oxford Brookes Business School and was impressed by the flexible and creative approach of the University.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

I had completed an MA at Oxford Brookes and knew the staff in the faculty, particularly those associated with my particular subject (Creative Writing). This was the most important factor in deciding to undertake my PhD at Brookes.

What were you doing before?

Before commencing my PhD studies, I was working as a consultant in the field of business and skills development.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

I have found the support and resources excellent, and any problems in settling in were taken care of promptly. I have particularly valued the many opportunities to meet with other students from my own and other disciplines, and to hear about the inspiring work being done. There is a very inclusive and welcoming atmosphere, in the faculty, but also in the University as a whole.

Tell us about your research.

My research project is designed to explore how stories start, through both theory and practice. The first few lines or paragraphs of a story define the relationship between the reader, the writer and the story being told; they provide clues to the world the reader will find herself inhabiting; they condition the reader to expect a certain type of story, or to expect that certain aspects of that story will be important, and the writer can choose whether to fulfil or play with those expectations. From a writer’s point of view, the way the story unfolds can be a significant factor in how it develops, where it goes to in its trajectory. There has been relatively little written on this topic, from the point of view of the writer.  Approaches to the critical reading of literature can be applied to the first lines and sentences, and it is part of my study to review how this has been done, and how relevant to the work of a writer this criticism can be in helping to shape the beginning.  However, since Aristotle advised in favour of starting ‘in media res’, that is, in the middle of things, there has been little attention paid to advice to the writer, unless it is in Creative Writing Handbooks which tend to concentrate on the simplest of aims: catching the reader’s attention, overcoming the hurdles of putting pen to paper.            

In my study, I am concentrating on short stories, both because the beginning has more resonance than for a longer piece of work, for the reader, and because it is more important for the writer, who has to convey the content and themes of the story in a much shorter space and therefore has to make every part of the narrative work.  As well as analysing critical writing on the subject, I am studying the work of selected 20th and 21st century short story writers, writing in English. From these two strands I am devising a model of the types of opening in short stories, and the ways in which these can be deployed. As a major part of the final submission, I will have a collection of short stories I have written, inspired by and developing the different forms of opening. Some of these will be experimental, or written in particular genres.

This approach, of applying the theories I am developing to a creative body of work, has the potential to be both useful in demonstrating the range of options open to a writer in beginning a narrative, but also in enhancing my own creative practice.            

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I enjoy the flexibility of being a research student, having the time and space to follow up on ideas that might not, initially, seem to be relevant but which can turn out to be fruitful lines of inquiry. The challenge, as a part-time student, is to make sure the time for study is fitted in with other activities. The faculty staff, and the training department, encourage regular interaction, and I have found that taking advantage of the opportunities for discussion on the University campus are helpful in keeping a focus on the work in hand.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

The training I have undertaken has been extremely interesting and very professionally delivered. These sessions are also inspiring because they encourage interaction with other students.

What are your future plans?

One of the short stories I set out to write for the project developed into a novel-length piece, which has now been accepted for publication by a major UK publisher, and will be coming out in 2018. I am therefore planning to develop both the short story collection and other ideas for longer fiction for submission to publishers.

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Rachel Egloff

School of English and Modern Languages

Rachel Egloff was born in the UK and grew up in Switzerland. She joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in 2015 and her thesis title is ‘A Study of the Life and Works of Baroness Blaze de Bury: A Counter-narrative of Women’s Involvement in Nineteenth Century European International Politics’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

When I moved to Oxford a few years ago I was looking for somewhere to complete my Bachelor’s Degree in English and Psychology. Both departments on the Oxford Brookes website looked very welcoming and after talking to the heads of each, I was convinced that Brookes was the right place for me. My first    impressions of Oxford Brookes, online, on the phone, and then in person, were of a straightforward, warm, and welcoming atmosphere.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

It was the excellent and inspiring academic staff at Brookes that encouraged me to further pursue research. Once, I had decided to apply for a PhD in English, naturally, I wanted to stay at Brookes because of the excellent research environment, brilliant supervisors, and because of the unique access to resources both at the Brookes library as well as the Bodleian.

What were you doing before?

Before I came to Oxford Brookes I was studying English Linguistics and Literature (with minors Psychology and Management & Economics) at the University of Zurich, and was also working in human resources for an international airline and a cyber security company. Also, I tutored English as a foreign language to Swiss students.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

The academic and administrative teams at Oxford Brookes made it very easy to settle into the research environment. Departmental seminars provided a great insight into staff and student’s current research. Faculty and Graduate College training days covered relevant topics and widened my understanding of research    going on at the University as a whole. Furthermore, the Graduate College organises social events for research students, so that you get to know other PhD students beyond your own department. Also, the library support team, and other support structures, both academic and administrative made the transition from a taught course to a research degree easy. Not least, the research students’ social society, of which I am now a committee member, encouraged me to get to know other PhD students across all faculties and disciplines and offered the opportunity to exchange ideas, talk about shared PhD student worries, and simply have fun with intelligent and interesting people.

Tell us about your research.

My thesis presents evidence of female participation in the nineteenth-century discourses on (trans)national identity in the context of European international politics using the case study of the under-researched writer Baroness Marie Pauline Rose Blaze de Bury  (1813-1894). The aim is to provide a counter-narrative of women’s political engagement in the nineteenth century based on a female recuperative analysis of both Blaze de Bury’s life and works. Her negotiations with the dominant hegemonic gender ideology of the time are examined through both textual and exploratory archival approaches. Blaze de Bury wrote about European politics in a variety of genres. However, the line between her fiction (novels and short stories) and non-fiction (travel writing, memoirs, and newspapers and journal articles) is sometimes blurred. Therefore, the dissemination of her political agenda in these sometimes hybrid literary genres is inspected. These fiction and non-fiction texts are framed by historical literary and non-literary contexts that describe the European political atmosphere. Her textual negotiations with the gender ideology of the time are examined comparatively with that of other political, predominantly women writers. The Victorian era was a time of distinct gender spheres as well as a Europe-wide continuous rise in ideologies of nationalism. For these reasons, particular focus lies on evaluating perceived sex and nationality of authorship based on pseudonymous publication and its potential for transgender and transnational alteration. This political agency as a writer is then linked to her first-hand political agency through archival work. Blaze is an important figure to study, not only as a writer written out of the canon but also as a female writer of ‘unfeminine’ international politics.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

The best thing about being a research student is having the freedom to pursue my interests. I cannot imagine anything better than spending my time reading and writing about something I am passionate about. Besides my own research, I greatly enjoy the exchange with my supervisors and fellow PhD students. It is amazing to feel part of a vibrant research community within and across the faculty.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

Research training, whether offered by the department, the library staff, the faculty, careers team, or the Graduate College is very useful. The variety of seminars, workshops, and training days on offer is fantastic. Not only do they provide invaluable information but also enable one to think beyond one’s own current research. They offer a nice space in which to meet and exchange with other researchers at the University.

What are your future plans?

To be honest, I am enjoying this PhD so much right now that all I want to do in the future is to continue researching. I would love to stay at university in a researcher’s and/or lecturer’s capacity. There is so much more to learn, research, and disseminate.

Photo of Rachel Egloff

Sue Ash

School of English and Modern Languages

Sue Ash, who is based in Oxford, began her research degree with Oxford Brookes in 2008. Her thesis title is 'Dancin’ Modernism: Moving Bodies Performing Identity and British Cultures of Modernism (1909-1939)'.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I live in Oxford, so I was aware of the university due to my location.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

I had recently undertaken a BA and MA in Modern History at Oxford Brookes and I wanted to stay with the University in order to conduct my research. Although my area of interest was not typical of research undertaken at Brookes, I had heard of a lecturer in the Department of English and Modern Language whose research interests included ‘the moving body’.

What were you doing before?

I don't have a traditional profile for a research student.  I left school without any A levels to begin a career as a professional ballet dancer. Later, having brought up a family and worked in a number of jobs that didn't require qualifications, I came to academic study as an Undergraduate - I had not written an essay for over thirty years! Having gained my BA at Oxford Brookes I took up the position of Administrator for the MA Arts students within the University. I am now enjoying the opportunity of bringing the highlights of my career profile together in my inter-disciplinary thesis, which is a historical enquiry into dance and movement in early twentieth-century Britain; an important area of cultural modernism.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

The research environment is definitely more ‘grown up’ than taught study, so it helps to be personally motivated. The postgraduate staff within my Faculty engage with the students’ research interests and have a very positive and motivating approach.

Tell us about your research project.

My interdisciplinary PhD aims to re-frame the way dance is written about in modernist studies. My focus is on the formal production of the Ballets Russes within a British context and the utopian natural dance of Britain in the early twentieth century, not framed through other related disciplines but specifically through the somatic expression and affect of the moving body. This focus aims to show how the moving dancer’s body is a fundamental but often overlooked expression of modernism.

By its very nature dance is ephemeral; it goes into a space and leaves but a trace once the movement has been performed.  However the effect of dance and movement is felt; it is embodied by those who see it and those who experience it. Dance has the ability to connect with current discourses or ‘conversations’ and to then ‘voice’ these conversations corporeally (through the body). As far as I am aware, there is almost no-one writing about the early British pioneers of utopian ‘natural’ dance as a way to read British cultural modernism.   

My project will bring new knowledge to bear on our understandings of cultural modernism, underscored by my unique life experience as a dancer.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I enjoy the challenge of research in an area that I am passionate about.  It can be an isolating experience, so my strategy is to keep in touch with my supervisory team, attend as many training opportunities as I can and keep in touch with fellow research students whose mutual support is invaluable. It was also difficult when I had to take a little over two years off as suspended study due to illness.  However, it only took a little while to settle back in and now I am enjoying the research again, along with the opportunity to link up with the research and dance community in the University of Oxford. 

I am also enjoying the challenge of taking part in various conferences. I have just given a paper on ‘dance and modernism’ at an international conference on modernist studies in London; I was one of a panel of three. It was a slightly scary experience but also exciting, and our panel was very well received.   

What do you think of the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

Faculty Conferences and Training Days occur regularly and are usually well attended. My supervisory team are also supportive and encouraging. Training offered by the Graduate College is comprehensive and the Summer School particularly offers an excellent opportunity to benefit from a training package that would normally be very costly for students. If a student makes the most of the research training on offer, they should be very well set up to complete their PhD as well as their plans for a future career.

What are your future plans?

I would consider any opportunities that come my way, but I may have a book in me! I have learned so much more while researching my subject area than can possibly be written up in my thesis.

Photo of Sue Ash

Jane Freebody

School of History, Philosophy and Culture

Jane Freebody began her research degree with the School of History, Philosophy and Culture at Oxford Brookes in September 2015. Her thesis title is '"What did they do all day?" Patient work, psychiatry and society in England, 1900-1940.'

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes?

I was already a student at Oxford Brookes, having completed my Undergraduate degree (in History and French Studies) and my Masters (in the History of Medicine) here.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

Whilst studying for my Masters, I became very interested in the history of psychiatry and mental illness. I wanted to continue working with my MA supervisor, Professor Waltraud Ernst who is a specialist in the history of psychiatry, at PhD level.  I was very fortunate to receive a studentship from the Wellcome Trust to conduct my PhD research.

What were you doing before?

Prior to joining Brookes as an Undergraduate I was working in Event Management, Marketing and Fundraising.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

I was still in “study mode” when I began my PhD, having only had one week between submitting my MA dissertation and enrolling for the PhD, so I found  it quite natural to carry on with my studies. That said, I found it very different becoming a PhD student – it all feels much more serious and you are treated differently somehow. It came as a pleasant surprise that there was so much support for research students in terms of regular supervision meetings and offers of activities such as teaching, training and conferences to be involved in.

Tell us about your research project.

Although belief in the therapeutic properties of work and pastimes for mentally ill people has a long history - Galen proclaimed as early as c. ACE170 that work was “nature’s physician” - patient work is rarely the subject of systematic historical analysis. This can largely be accounted for by the enduring emphasis in the history of psychiatry on medical ideas and treatments, rather than interventions that do not appear to require medical expertise. Research that focuses on patients’ activities is limited to the work of Jennifer Laws (2011) and Vicky Long (2006) and a recently published edited volume by Waltraud Ernst (2016). However, there remains a dearth of material on patient work in France and Britain during the early twentieth century.                          

My research project contests the view that the early twentieth century was a "dead period" in the history of psychiatry. The turbulence of the period – World War I followed by economic depression and political instability - contributed to a dynamic environment in which attitudes towards work, non-work and care of the mentally ill were fundamentally challenged. Aude Fauvel (2013) highlights the advent of shock treatments, rest cures and psychoanalysis, as well as the establishment of outpatient clinics, as evidence of therapeutic innovation. However, patient work and related activities also formed a crucial aspect of this therapeutic mix, though this has yet to receive the attention it deserves. This project will rectify this significant historiographical omission.

The project is relevant to contemporary debates regarding employment and mental health, notably those concerning the number of workdays lost due to mental ill-health (11.3m in England in 2013, according to the UK Labour Force Survey). In England, in particular, reductions in disability allowances are forcing the mentally ill to be financially independent, despite unemployment standing at nearly 6% (Guardian, 18/2/2015). Equipping those suffering from mental ill-health with workplace skills remains just as pressing today as in the 1920s and 1930s.

My thesis will address how attitudinal changes (which were far-reaching during the early twentieth century) were incorporated into asylum practice, thus highlighting the way in which society and psychiatry are intrinsically linked and how work and activity in mental institutions have evolved over time in response to wider social, institutional and medical contexts. Crucially, the comparative approach will offer a valuable means of identifying different trajectories of development, as well as alerting the historian to the potential uniqueness or commonality of events. France and England have been chosen because of their shared history in regard to "moral therapy" and their long-standing exchange of ideas on medical theory and practice. The project investigates the continuities and ruptures that characterised the situation a century after the heyday of moral therapy, examining the impact of different social and political circumstances, legal frameworks and new theories about labour efficiency on the configuration of patient work and leisure activities as part of, or apart from, medical regimes.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I really enjoy being a “detective” and I like tracking down articles, books that are out of print and obscure archive material!  If something is difficult to get hold of that makes me want to locate it even more! And then I find it very satisfying to piece together the pieces of the jigsaw to try and make an argument that hangs together.  I suppose you could say that I enjoy the craftsmanship involved in research and writing.  I like feeling part of the academic community of Brookes and I am looking forward to doing some teaching.

What do you think of the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

There are a lot of excellent training opportunities at Brookes – from Time Management (very helpful for me!) to computer skills, as well as sessions specifically geared to navigating one’s way through the various milestones associated with a PhD, such as Registration, Transfer and the Viva. These are really useful and make those particular hurdles less daunting.  I am taking a lunchtime French course at the moment to help me maintain my French language skills, which will be vital when I go to Paris to conduct some of my research.

What are your future plans?

It’s difficult to think beyond the next milestone, as there is always so much to do, but I would very much like to remain in academia in some form or another – it really depends what opportunities there are when the time comes.

Photo of Jane Freebody

Jose Luis Guerrero Quinones

School of History, Philosophy and Culture

Jose Luis Guerrero Quiñones is originally from Spain. He joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in September 2017 and his thesis title is ‘Euthanasia and the duty to die: a moral advocacy of the responsibility to end life at the right time’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

The first time I heard about Oxford Brookes was while searching online fora suitable research group or Director of Studies for the PhD project that I had inmind.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

It was finding out about my Director of Studies, Dr Stephen Boulter, and, in particular, his encouraging attitude and interest towards my ideas, which encouraged me to apply to study for my PhD at Oxford Brookes. Dr Boulter’s thorough consideration and appreciation of my ideas was decisive, particularly since there were no funds or other scholarships available, and I had to self-fund my project.

What were you doing before?

I had my first contact with Dr Boulter while living in Slovenia where I was doing European Voluntary Service at a charity for LGBTQIA+ people. My project addressed the main medical issues affecting the gay community in the capital, Ljubljana; mainly the impact of HIV and AIDS. Our goal was to prevent bad information and prejudices from spreading, as well as to improve the general knowledge about the virus and its resulting disease.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

While living abroad, I realised that my vocation was to research in Philosophy and, more specifically, in bioethics and the role that death has within it. Consequently, I found it relatively easy to adapt to an environment that was not completely new for me. Besides that, there are consolidated and perfectly functioning groups within the University to help research students cope with all the demands of their new path, as well as providing future career advice.

Tell us about your research.

The aim of my research project is to investigate thoroughly the moral issues relating to death and dying in medical contexts, focusing on those cases where patients seek help to die on their own terms. The focus of the debate in society at large tends to focus on the question of whether it is morally permissible for a patient to ask for help to die, and whether it is morally permissible for a doctor to provide that aid. The primary aim of my project, however, is to approach this debate from a different and hitherto neglected angle. If there is, as has been suggested by Hardwig (1997), a moral duty to die in certain circumstances, then the traditional debate needs to be recast. Put another way, if there is a moral duty to die in certain circumstances, then there is a related right to aid to carry out this duty if this aid is required: a right which confers a moral obligation on those who can provide that help. This casts the familiar debate in an entirely different light. The primary aim of the project, then, is to establish that there is indeed a moral duty to die in certain circumstances, and to work out and analyse the ramifications of this claim.

The euthanasia debate is far from concluded and there are now new demands that have given rise to even more controversial issues relating to how we end our lives and the means available to do so. Death is something that we will all face at some point and the way we confront this experience, as well as the way to end it, is of decisive importance. Public opinion around end-of-life choices and physician-assisted-death has wavered from total prohibition to moral acceptance and legalisation in some countries. When referring to physician-assisted-death, the term includes both euthanasia and physician-assisted-suicide, the sole difference being who is the active agent in the act of ending a life: doctors in the case of euthanasia and the patient herself in those cases of physician-assisted suicide.

More recently, and notably from the 1980s and 1990s, there is now a new topic relating to death within medical and familial contexts that requires attention: the duty to die. This can be understood as the responsibility to die at the right time in a world where resources are scarce in contemporary health care systems; and where the risks of becoming a burden to our loved ones due to a terminal illness are increasingly high. Thus, a whole review of doctors’ duties in helping patients die will be needed, as well as to what extent these duties must be performed.

The originality of my project lies in developing and analysing the ethical notion of a duty to die. In particular, I will argue that this approach can help to reappraise the controversial issue of physician assisted-dying from a new perspective and allow established ideas of patient autonomy to be challenged by a new bioethical conception of justice and individual obligation. Ultimately, this will offer more profound understanding of death in medical contexts and the ethics underlying those debates.

The ethical debate underlying the thesis will be addressed as a classic philosophical problem, where the point of departure is the pre-theoretical intuition that we could argue either to defend or deny the duty to die. The first step in this process will be the clarification of the grounds of duties in general and the putative duty to die in particular. Once this ‘metaethical’ groundwork has been laid, the project will then evaluate the main arguments for and against the alleged duty to die. As the project will be advocating for the responsibility to die at the right time, it will concentrate primarily on disarming the arguments used to deny the existence of this duty. Finally, it will demonstrate the strengths of the argument defending the duty to die and its direct impact by offering a thorough reconfiguration of the main aspects of the euthanasia debate.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

The most exciting thing about being a research student is the opportunity to develop your own ideas and work on your intellectual interests in an organised and well-structured style, which helps researchers gain a detailed and all-embracing comprehension of their topics in depth.

What do you think about the research training offered at Brookes?

The variety of training programmes and courses offered at Oxford Brookes is huge, preparing research students for their future academic careers, or any other career paths they decide to follow.

What are your future plans?

In the future, I aim to pursue an academic career of which this research forms the essential first step, not only in terms of obtaining a PhD but also in terms of establishing networks of fellow researchers.

Ross Brooks

School of History, Philosophy and Culture

Ross Brooks joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in September 2017 and his thesis title is ‘Evolution’s Closet: The New Biology and Homosexuality in Britain, 1885-1967’.

Tell us about your research.

My project has deep roots here at Oxford Brookes. I first pursued an interest in the history of modern sexology as an undergraduate research project whilst studying for my BA here between 2006 and 2010 (two years part-time, two years full-time). My dissertation, on the medical and scientific sources of the pioneering gay rights activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895), was published in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences in 2012. It made the case that modern medico-scientific appraisals of sex differences and sexuality steadily emerged from enlightenment natural philosophy and medicine and did not materialise quite so abruptly in the later decades of the nineteenth century as historians (following Michel Foucault) had previously maintained. The premise has been influential and continues to reshape the field.

I always wanted to continue studying but was not able to work it out financially so spent four years working at Sainsbury’s (in the Westgate Centre). I carried on researching my subject, pretty much as a hobby but with further publication successes.

 

In 2016, I was delighted to return to Brookes with the help of a scholarship from the University to study the MA in History, following the History of Medicine pathway. This has been a life-changing experience and I remain extremely grateful to the University’s donors for making such a scheme possible. Quite apart from my course, returning to Brookes has opened up a world of opportunities. For example, in September 2017 it was a great pleasure to share a platform with the Chancellor of Oxford Brookes, Dame Katherine Grainger, talking to the University’s Honorary Graduates about the scholarship scheme.  

With the help of historians within the Centre for Medical Humanities, I successfully secured funding from the Wellcome Trust to continue studying at Brookes at doctoral level. I am now pursuing this supported by a team of world-class historians of science and medicine within the Centre whose work sets a high bar for me to reach.   

My research project explores approaches to homosexuality, with some reference to non-heteronormative bodies and sexualities more generally, which were developed within the biological sciences in Britain in the wake of Charles Darwin’s momentous The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) through to the so-called ‘sexual revolution’ of the 1960s and 70s. This timeframe covers the period when ‘any act of gross indecency’ between males was illegal in Britain, outlawed by the infamous Labouchère Amendment to the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 which remained in force until the Sexual Offences Act 1967.   

Whilst socio-political, legal, and medical aspects of criminalisation, and the protracted process of decriminalisation, have previously been explored by historians, the diverse ways in which biologists and biology shaped attitudes towards the law and the wider cultural milieu relating to homosexuality in Britain through the period has received barely any attention. My thesis will rectify this. It will demonstrate that leading British biologists, and various essentialist models of sexuality, were integral to situating homosexuality as an important subject of intellectual and popular discourse in Britain through the decades following Descent and progressively so through the twentieth century. Whilst the major sexologists such as Havelock Ellis, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, and Magnus Hirschfeld had only marginal impact on elite and    popular attitudes towards variations of sex development and sexuality in Britain, British scientists from a variety of biological sciences concerned themselves with developing new knowledge about sex variations and succeeded in impacting on prevailing attitudes through academic and popular publications, including Britain’s newspapers. Approaches were diverse and often contradictory and were invariably infused with fashionable eugenic ideologies and agendas. New discoveries in genetics and endocrinology generated some profoundly homophobic medico-scientific responses - including calls for negative eugenic programmes, hormone treatments, suggestions of prenatal interventions - which pathologised homosexuality, but such responses were largely marginal, undeveloped, and short-lived in Britain. For much of the twentieth century, biology was viewed by certain scientists and physicians from diverse backgrounds as potentially liberating, an alternative to homophobic psychiatric theories of sexuality and a gateway to assimilating same-sex relationships within metanarratives of evolution and nature and thereby justifying legalisation of homosexual acts. Delineating the various threads within this complex matrix of discourses is therefore important, not just for understanding changing concepts of homosexuality in Britain but for more fully appreciating the dynamics of socio-political and legal changes associated with the ‘sexual    revolution.’  

2021 will mark the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s Descent. The occasion presents an opportune moment for historians to reassess the ways in which modern understandings of sex differences and sexuality have both shaped, and been shaped by, evolutionary biology and allied sciences. My project will therefore make a timely contribution to diverse historiographical fields, such as the history of science and medicine, sexuality, gender history, and modern cultural history, and help to provide greater historical context for today’s socio-political debates pertaining to designer babies, sexed brains, ‘gay genes,’ marriage equality, and same-sex parenting.     

As part of my project, I will be flying to Houston, Texas to consult an archive at Rice University. This is an amazing opportunity but will involve a period of very intensive archival research. I am currently ‘in training’ by spending my days in the Bodleian Library, working hard to take my research skills up a level – a real workout for the mind!  

Nothing quite prepares you for the experience of being a research student. I particularly enjoy being part of a thriving research community, learning from the historians and other research students within the School of History, Philosophy and Culture not just about their respective projects but about their experiences of learning, teaching, and academia more generally.  

The training programme is both fun and challenging. I recently started teaching training and had my first experience of convening a class. This was nerve-wracking, but it went well and the students I taught were so enthusiastic and really engaged with the material.     

The main challenge I find myself facing on a day-to-day basis is fitting everything in. Opportunities - training courses, conferences, workshops, networking events - crop up all the time and I hate missing anything. Still, my project requires a great deal of archival research which is time consuming and I must prioritise   that above everything else.  

Looking forward, I intend to become a fully-fledged academic historian. My project provides me with a broad base of subjects that I will be able to continue researching and which students increasingly want to learn about. Hopefully, I will be able to do this at Brookes, but even if this does not happen it is my intention to maintain a close association with the University which has become such an integral part of my life.

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Sarah Slator

School of History, Philosophy and Culture

Sarah Slator joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in September 2015. The title of her thesis is ‘Politics in the Court Room: International Diplomacy, the Global Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Rivonia Trial, South Africa, 1963-64’.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

I have worked at Oxford Brookes for a number of years as a professional services member of staff.  I joined the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in 2013 and became familiar with the research undertaken by academic staff in the School of History, Philosophy and Culture. Inspired by the work done in the School, I worked for a time to create a research proposal which was accepted by the department and I enrolled as a part-time research student in September 2015. Since beginning my studies at Oxford Brookes, I have been impressed with the support that is available to ensure that students get the most out of their studies. My supervisory team have been incredibly supportive and the training and events organised by the faculty and by the University have been very useful as I settled into my studies.

Tell us about your research.

Between October 1963 and July 1964, ten defendants were tried under the General Laws Amendment (Sabotage) Act and the Suppression of Communism Act.  Amongst the ten, there were several prominent campaigners against the apartheid regime, including Nelson Mandela. This trial was widely observed, and condemned, across the world and was the subject of UN Security Council Resolution 190, demanding the release of all persons convicted or being tried for opposition to apartheid.        

My work examines both the international diplomacy and international campaign movements that surrounded the Rivonia trial in South Africa by completing detailed archival research of government bodies and various campaign organisations. I will utilise these records in a way informed by recent developments in the field of transnational history.  I have chosen to examine the diplomacy of the US and the UK with South Africa, as these counties traditionally had a close relationship, sharing histories that are linked through colonialism and trade. I have visited various archives in both countries to view primary sources.        

The campaign movements for racial equality that connected South Africa to the US and the UK are significant.  Many of the leading activists fighting the apartheid regime at this time were internationally known figures and were inspired by, or had links with, political leaders and activists in other countries, including both the US and the UK. Nelson Mandela, defendant number one in the Rivonia trial, did not visit the United States until after his release in 1990, but in his autobiography, he states that he was inspired in his youth by Americans such as W.E.B Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King Jr. He did, however, visit the UK in 1962 and met with leaders of the Labour and Liberal Parties, as well as others involved in the anti-apartheid movement. Many anti-apartheid activists fled to the UK and carried on with their work in the Anti-Apartheid Movement, while activists in the US frequently viewed their civil rights struggle as part of a wider movement for racial justice.          

I am keen to explore to what extent the Rivonia trial acted as a rallying point for campaigning groups to focus on, as well as an event that officials in the Governments of the US and the UK had to respond to, and I hope to find examples of where these two worlds collided. To do this I will be looking for connections between the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and the British Government on this issue, and lobbying by campaign groups: for example, the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured Peoples, the American Committee on Africa and International Defence and Aid Fund, among others.        

How has the Santander scholarship helped your research project and progression of your research degree programme?

Being awarded a Santander scholarship has been greatly beneficial for my studies. I have been fortunate enough to win funding for some of the necessary travel to archives during the course of my studies, but some of this I have had to cover out of my own resources. Being awarded this scholarship has eased the financial burden I face, leaving me free to undertake further necessary trips to gather vital information for my research project.          

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I have been studying now for three years and I have really enjoyed my time working on my project. I have nearly completed the information gathering phase of my research and I am shortly to begin my writing up. I am looking forward to this stage as it will bring together all of the work that I have completed in my last few years of study.        

The greatest challenge I have faced as a part-time student is managing my time effectively around working in a full-time job. It is sometimes difficult to sit down and study after a busy day in the office, but I manage this by setting myself small, frequent deadlines so that I have targets to work towards. This, as well as still maintaining a keen interest in my topic, has kept me motivated. Meeting a deadline also means that I can treat myself to time away from my studies, allowing me to do something else and then come back to it after a week or two, feeling refreshed and ready to begin again.        

What are your future plans?

After completion of my PhD, I am aiming for a career in academia. I am working to ensure that I take every opportunity, within the University as well as externally, to support this aim over the course of my studies.

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Shamsa Khan

School of History, Philosophy and Culture

Shamsa Khan is from Hertfordshire. She joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in 2016 and the title of her thesis is ‘Can Personal Identity be defined by emotional continuity?’

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I heard about Oxford Brookes through school. I was impressed by the amount of resources available to students, including the extensive philosophy section in the library and study areas.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

I studied for my BA in Philosophy at Brookes and I loved the department. In particular, the lecturers are very approachable and incredibly supportive, making philosophy fun and accessible and there a number of great philosophy conferences and talks in Oxford. I went to UCL for my MA in Philosophy; I knew I really wanted to come back, additionally, a particular supervisor was an expert in my field of research and I was looking forward to working in such an environment.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

There are fantastic resources available at Brookes, not only are there 3 campuses, all with substantial, discipline specific libraries, but as a research student, we are able to use the Bodleian Library. The research degrees department can be contacted through email; also you can go to the office which is easily accessible. The lecturers are always available and happy to help with any questions or concerns.

Tell us about your research.

What constitutes my personal identity? There are two opposing theoretical approaches which attempt to answer this question; the physical and psychological criterion. The first view likens a person’s identity to that of an object, because for a person to be the same at point A and point B, they must be materially similar. The form and body is the key to identity. The latter view takes the body out of the equation, if a person were to switch bodies but still had the same mental capacities, i.e. thoughts, memories then they would be the same person before the switch. The key to identity lies within the psychological capacities of an individual, this suggests that if the body were to be taken out of the equation then the person can still be the same because their mental capacities remain intact and continuous with the person that existed before the body was taken away. 

The Lockean memory criterion suggests that we are a trajectory of memories. An individual is the same at point A and point B if at point B one is conscious of/ remembers the thoughts and emotions of the person at point A. [Locke J 1689] David Hume takes a ‘sceptical’ stance to personal identity and states that there is no individual entity that we can call the self when we look inside ourselves. We exist as a bundle of impressions and ideas; the first comes through our senses, emotions and other mental capacities. The latter are thoughts, beliefs and memories which are connected to our impressions. [Hume D 2007] Derek Parfit further subdivides the psychological criterion and presents two distinct ways of understanding it. First psychological connectedness is the holding of direct psychological connections and psychological continuity is the holding of overlapping chains of strong connectedness [Parfit.D 1984 P.206] He believes that what matters in survival is psychological continuity and not identity. 

In my approach, I will acknowledge that psychological and mental capacities of an individual can extend far beyond memory alone. Leading to the statement that there is a lack of focus on the emotions, therefore I will narrow my focus to them. The foundation of my proposal mirrors the Humean approach because I also do not think that the we can have an entity which is called the ‘self’ rather it is a bundle of emotions that are continuously moving as we move through our experiences. Additionally, exploring Parfit’s sub-divisions of the psychological approach, I will suggest that personal identity just is emotional continuity, we are an overlapping chain of connecting emotions which shape our perception of the self. I will reference theories of emotion to clarify the way in which I will define it. In particular, the relationship between the physical and psychological criterion evident in William James’ view. He states that one’s bodily expression precedes the emotion. 

Additionally, the intertwining of philosophy and psychology is important for my project. This is because I aim to question the methodology commonly used when discussing personal identity; this being thought experiments. These are defined as imaginary cases which often place a theory in an experimental scenario. These sometimes involve bizarre science fiction situations. John Locke asks the reader to suppose that two beings swapped souls causing a switch of physical and psychological characteristics. Furthermore, in Bernard Williams’ paper The Self and the Future, he encourages the reader to imagine a scenario whereby brain and body switching would be possible through a special machine [Williams. B, 1970] and Derek Parfit describes people splitting like an amoeba. The presentation of such cases begs the question: How can we possibly gain a deeper understanding of reality through unrealistic thoughts? In her book, Real People: Personal Identity without thought experiments, Kathleen Wilkes has a sceptical stance toward thought experiments because they violate the laws of nature and are consequently misleading and do not add to our knowledge on the subject area. Like Kathleen, I also find issue with thought experiments because I think a made-up scenario does not help us to gain a better understanding of a theory. Moreover, it isolates philosophy as purely theoretical and incapable of being practised in logical terms, thus we lose the connection between philosophy and reality. To present my idea that personal identity just is emotional continuity, I will need to gain a deeper understanding of the psychological mechanisms underlying the stability of that individual. For example, a person may commit an immoral act which they may later describe as something completely out of character or they lost control. I would state that this is an example of disrupt in emotional continuity and the individual in that instance is not necessarily the same person as they were before, their sense of personal identity has broken down and become disconnected. 

An influential work in the field of philosophy of psychology is Jonathan Glover’s book Alien Landscapes, he questions whether an individual’s mental illness can be separated from their identity. Glover also states that awareness of one’s own agency is vital to having a sense of self. [Glover. J,2014.]  In my thesis, I would use real-life examples to explain the breakdown of personal identity and psychology plays a key role in this explanation. Glover presents numerous case studies and interview scripts of patients in Broadmoor hospital and I will be using these (alongside others) to analyse the prisoner/ patient responses and determine which key points seem to mould their personal identity. For example, to what extent do childhood experiences shape the individual, what repressed trauma finds itself motivating them and what character traits define that being. The question of what makes an individual the same person at point A and point B is one of the key questions when discussing personal identity, so it is necessary that I discuss instances of a breakdown in this timeline. 

In conclusion, I will argue that personal identity is shaped by psychological continuity; a series of overlapping chains of connections. I will use real- life cases (I will not be collecting primary data, I will use existing cases) not thought experiments to explore the breakdown of self.  My novel contribution lies in the idea that the term ‘psychological continuity’ may be too vague and we should narrow the focus to the emotions. I will postulate that our emotional responses to experiences shape our sense of self, so personal identity just is emotional continuity, an overlapping chain of connecting emotions.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I enjoy the fact that I can do my own research in a discipline that I am passionate about in an educationally stimulating environment. A challenge would perhaps be issues with finding certain papers but this was easily overcome when the library staff showed me how to access journal articles online through Brookes. Students are able to access a wide range of papers which is very useful.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

The research training days are a great opportunity to see what other research is being carried out in the department. Additionally when presenting, it is so nice to hear opinions about my research and any recommended changes. Also there are numerous sessions available about writing techniques, which have prepared me for the write up section of my research degree because I struggle to write academically.

What are your future plans?

I would love to stay in Academia, particularly in higher education as a lecturer or a researcher.

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Thomas Dobson

School of History, Philosophy and Culture

Thomas Dobson joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in September 2019 and his thesis title is 'Transition and Transformation: Westminster College’s relocation to Oxford'.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

Having completed my BA in History at the University of Wales Trinity St. David (Lampeter), I applied for a role within the Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History, which is a research centre within the School of History, Philosophy and Culture at Oxford Brookes. During the course of my research there, it became apparent that no-one had ever used the Westminster College archives to fully study the reasons behind the relocation of Westminster College from its original site in the heart of London to Harcourt Hill. I decided to be that person!

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

Settling into the research environment at Oxford Brookes was very easy indeed – everyone was very helpful, friendly, and informative.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

Being a research student at Oxford Brookes provides me with the opportunity and direction to make use of the fantastic resources held in the Westminster College archives, as well as in other local repositories, the National Archives, and Brookes Library.

Adam Tate

School of Education

Adam Tate joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in October 2018. His thesis title is 'Becoming a full-time undergraduate university student: the impact of affective influences on student behaviours in the current Higher Education context'.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I first heard about Oxford Brookes in 2014 after moving to Oxford to study for a Masters. The University kept popping up whilst I was working and studying elsewhere.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

I knew that I loved Oxford and wanted to move back. Upon reaching out to the University about my idea for a research project, I had an extremely supportive and positive reception by my then proposed supervisor (this was particularly pleasing having studied the works of the proposed supervisor on an earlier course). With this collaboration, I gained a sense of being cared about and empowered rather than being a mere cog in the workings of a large institution.

I was particularly reassured by having an open and honest conversation during the interview. The interviewer was transparent from all angles and realistic about studying at Oxford Brookes University; this was very refreshing!

What were you doing before?

Immediately prior to commencing my PhD I was geography teacher in inner-city London, a challenging environment perfect for honing time management. I have also worked in construction for a safeguarding organisation within local government and remain a director of a performing arts organisation and an awarding body. 

When I have time, I like to volunteer with the world’s largest youth movement, which has led me to represent their interests in the European Parliament. I have created training modules, led regional growth, and made lots of friends. I have also had the privilege to volunteer in the Cabinet Office via the Queen’s Young Leaders Programme run by the Royal Commonwealth Society and University of Cambridge. This involved finding inspirational volunteers and mentoring people around the world in leadership, non-formal education, and youth empowerment.             

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

As the only new student to be reading for a PhD in Education, it at first seemed a little lonely due to a lack of companionship. Nonetheless, my supervisory team have been fantastic, and while both supervisors have significant roles within the University, they always find time for me. Indeed, the staff and other research students at the University have always been friendly and willing to offer their help, be it administrative or academic.

It has been a nice experience settling into being a research student. I would advise other students to make sure that there are interactions with other research students and to make the effort to find a routine that works.

Tell us about your research.

I am researching the extent to which universities’ interactions with their students reflect or embody the ‘soft power’ of the state as distinct from their own wholly autonomous actions as education providers. To that end, my research explores how student behaviours and practices are influenced by universities.

My PhD explores how the ‘traditional’ three-year full-time undergraduate student (FTUG) experience is influenced and shaped in response to contemporary state restructuring, and the impact upon student behaviours and practices in higher education (HE) in England (Morrissey, 2013; Sanchez et al., 2015). The research will examine how HE, and the role of those working and studying within it, is changing in the light of the reorganisation of funding, fees, and student number allocations in England. It explores how this context creates a fundamental ambivalence whereby students are increasingly positioned as consumers whilst simultaneously being subject to a growing number of influences and ‘nudges’ which aim to shape and ‘script’ student behaviours

My PhD highlights how the context of ambivalence is experienced and understood by FTUG students, with additional insights drawn from other stakeholders in the HE ‘network of power’. Drawing upon qualitative data from empirical research, the project will utilise a Foucauldian post-structuralist biopolitical framework to map ‘where’ and ‘how’ interactions occur within and across the ‘networks of power’ in modern HE (Foucault, 2010).
I will offer new empirical knowledge on the reorganisation of HE at a time of state restructuring, and intensified concerns about (in)security and sustainability of the HE sector. It will also develop a theoretical understanding of how, in times of change, individuals understand their ‘role’ in HE at a moment in time; in particular, how one ‘becomes and knows what it is to be a student’.

My PhD is thus a response to calls for better understanding of what it means to ‘become’ and be a FTUG in the contemporary HE sector in England; and how students and staff roles are governed, particularly with the reorganisation of funding and fee structures (Gorman, 2012; Ball, 2013). This will provide greater awareness of the ethical implications of HE biopolitics, and uncover the ‘networks of power’ involved in the relationship between the state, universities, and students. I seek to offer an impactful contribution to the debate about the operation, reorganisation, and governance of HE amid state restructuring driven by austerity measures.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I love the stimulation and debate that can be had when critically engaging with the literature, formulating the project that I truly have ownership of. Speaking with supervisors and being guided rather than directed provides a more horizontal experience within the University, one that is exciting, stimulating, and more enriching. It has been great to meet research students and learn about their projects, and to hear just how passionate they are about it. The research student community is a friendly and welcoming one!

One particular challenge can be the lack of structure to a PhD. As there are no modules or regular lectures attached to it, there is sometimes a risk of losing motivation. To overcome this, I have engaged in a range of sessions to develop my skills, which has provided a loose structure. 

Another challenge has been readjusting to student life; the transition from teacher to student has been an interesting thing to do. Giving up a job (even a pressured one) can sometimes make you question the decision, but, for me, these things are all about good planning and staying true to the bigger picture; about the dream and desire to do my own research and contribute to the knowledge economy.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

The research training at Oxford Brookes is a good starting point for research students and certainly provides a link between Masters and the MPhil level. There are a raft of options to explore and to introduce you to methods from other disciplines, which provides a useful insight and new avenues to explore. One of the most useful things about this training is to have a space for discussion about the methods with other students.

There is also a good deal of other training to help with career development and personal development. For example, the Associate Teachers course, which helps students prepare for lecturing at the University, was a very positive experience and helped to provide me with another avenue for enrichment both social and academic.

What are your future plans?

After completion, I would like to put my new skills and knowledge to work in the world of business (in particular, taking up a more active role in the education organisations of which I am a Director). In addition, I would like to further work with the charity supporting people with a rare brain disease while also maintaining a part-time engagement in and with the University contributing to the academic community.

Polly Bell

School of Education

Polly Bell is from Cheltenham. She joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in September 2017 and her thesis title is ‘Exploring creativity in teaching and learning in innovative science and arts primary practitioners’ lessons’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I live locally and when considering further postgraduate study, someone mentioned the School of Education at Oxford Brookes University. I visited the campus and spent time looking at course options online, as well as speaking to other graduates from Oxford Brookes about their experiences.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

When discussing potential postgraduate research with others, I was told that Oxford Brookes University has a large and vibrant School of Education with a reputation for producing excellent teachers. The Harcourt Hill campus being so close to where I live was also a massive draw for me as I have three young children. When I started exploring the possibility of doing a PhD in Education at Oxford Brookes, I spotted a studentship in creativity in science education, advertised online by Professor Deb McGregor. The description sounded fascinating as an area of study and the funding meant that I was able to take a career break from teaching to do a PhD full-time in a topic that I am passionate about. My PhD links to Deb McGregor and Sarah Frodsham’s creativity project and it has been great to be involved in that.

What were you doing before?

I had returned to work part-time as a mainstream primary school teacher in Oxford, following maternity leave with my third child, when I applied for and was accepted onto the PhD. In the preceding year, I undertook a part-time postgraduate research module with the Open University to refresh my academic research skills. Prior to my primary teaching position in Oxford, I worked in an independent primary school in London and completed an MA in Education at Durham University, where I also achieved my PGCE qualification.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

I was immediately made aware of support available to me when I started at Oxford Brookes. The Upgrade service and workshops, networking events and training sessions are free to attend and made me feel part of an academic community. This in turn smoothed my transition into a research role from my previous position as a teacher. It was a big step for me to change career direction and increase to full time hours. As a result, my everyday life and routines changed dramatically which has been a huge challenge for both me and my family. Knowing there is support available is of paramount importance when life gets complicated. I would urge any new research students to attend these optional sessions because not only have these allowed me to develop relevant skills, but also to meet other PhD students with whom you can share your experiences and build friendships. It helped me to feel that I am not alone in having to juggle so many things in my life as a mature student alongside a PhD and that it is possible.  

A few other resources I would highlight are the library request system because it means if you work regularly on the Harcourt Hill Campus you can order in books for collection instead of having to travel to Headington when time is short. In addition, as an Oxford Brookes PhD student I have the privilege of being able to obtain a Bodleian library reader card which is invaluable because anything I cannot get from the Oxford Brookes library, I can usually find there.  

Tell us about your research.

I am undertaking a full-time PhD supported by the Primary Science Teaching Trust (funded by Astra Zeneca) and Oxford Brookes University, exploring creativity in teaching and learning in primary classrooms. My doctoral study focuses on exploring and exemplifying creative practices within the context of science and arts education. This involves thinking about the many and varied ways that teachers and learners express their creativity in the classroom. In addition, my project will review how teachers support the development of pupil creativity in the classroom in the subjects of science and the arts. I am drawing on a range of theoretical models related to paradigms of creativity, dialogue, features of inventiveness, curiosity and agency as well as habits of mind to make sense of my data. My working title is currently ‘Exploring creativity in teaching and learning in innovative science and arts primary practitioners’ lessons’, although inevitably this will evolve as my research progresses. I am using a mixed-method design with several means of data collection used to build up a detailed picture to help answer my research questions and look for further insights into creative teacher practices. The in-depth exploration in my research will inevitably result in a critique of policy and offer insights for creative pedagogies that could be utilised by teachers across UK classrooms (and hopefully beyond). My research findings will contribute to a research base that informs future guidance for teacher training and continuing professional development for primary (and even lower secondary) school practitioners.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

Being a research student means that I have the perfect excuse to immerse myself in a topic that really interests me. I can spend hours reading about something I am passionate about. A PhD takes you on a journey - intellectually - to places you never expected to go. You get to see things from a fresh perspective and question things you took for granted. When I first started, I asked my supervisor about the steps required to complete a PhD to allow me to map out the journey I would take over three years. I quickly realised that there is no map and often the route I plan gets blocked or diverted. It is important to plan; however, I have had to learn to be more adaptable. I am now more resilient when I encounter an unanticipated issue. I have determination to overcome these when they occur and I am continuing to work on being more open to constructive criticism and considering alternative ways of approaching theories, methods or interpretations.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

I attended lectures on research methods which were useful in increasing my awareness of the possible methods I could use in investigating my research area. These sessions allowed me to understand the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches; to allow me to determine which methods would best address my research questions. This year, I am attending a ‘writing for academic practice’ course. PhD students are free to request to attend any series of lectures in the University therefore it is worth investigating what might be useful for you, to brush up your knowledge in an area. The training I attended on NVivo and SPSS have both proven helpful in understanding how to use these packages to analyse data. In addition, I found research conferences very valuable in learning more about the research of others and meeting colleagues in the School of Education and other departments within the University.

What are your future plans?

I have just started the second year of my PhD and have yet to decide in what direction I will go after completion. Luckily, there appear to be lots of options when I do approach that end, and events such as the Life Design training sessions that Oxford Brookes runs are brilliant for focusing on what is important to me in a future.

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Sally Howard

School of Education

Sally Howard is from Derbyshire and joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in December 2015. Her thesis title is ‘A cross-phase investigation contrasting primary and science teachers’ understanding of, and pedagogic practice related to science inquiry.’

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

My daughter came to Oxford Brookes for her first degree so I was aware of it before starting my PhD.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

I had recently worked with Professor Deb McGregor on a project related to science inquiry and was keen to have her as my supervisor. Previously our paths had crossed through our mutual membership with the Association for Science Education (ASE) and I also followed her to Keele University many years ago, where I did my master’s degree about the management of effective education and learning.    

I am currently supported by a studentship that is jointly funded by both Oxford Brookes and the Primary Science Teaching Trust (PSTT) which is financed by Astra Zeneca.  

What were you doing before?

Directly prior to starting my PhD at Oxford Brookes I was a Research Associate at Kings College London working as part of the UK team on a large European funded project SAILS (http://www.sails-project.eu/).  My role included helping to prepare secondary teachers to teach science through an inquiry approach and be more confident and competent in the assessment of their students’ learning through inquiry and formative assessment pedagogies. 

As a mature student, I have had the opportunity to be part of many interesting experiences and roles including being a nurse and midwife prior to becoming a primary teacher. Interestingly these two careers overlap a lot in terms of transferable skills and knowledge, although I have not had to deliver a baby in school yet!  

Tell us about your research.

My research is stimulated by a desire to understand how science inquiry is described and practiced by teachers following the current English National Curriculum for Science. It hopes to identify pedagogical approaches used at the top end of primary (Year 6) and the start of secondary schooling (Year 7) which might identify common principles and practice that might support more effective transition from primary science education to secondary science education.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I love learning about new things, and find reading the literature, attending conferences and seminars very absorbing, sometimes too much and I forget to write anything down. I find Twitter very useful in terms of learning about useful ‘people’ to follow and resources and strategies to keep my PhD writing on track.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

I find people very friendly and supportive. Once I understand what I don’t understand I know who I can contact and receive specific direction or support. My two supervisors are always on hand to shine a light when I find myself in a dark corner.

What are your future plans?

I would love to be part of a research team and work on projects around science, education, inquiry, creativity and assessment, which involves being in the classroom and working with teachers and their pupils.

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