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Pamela Sitko is originally from Canada and joined Oxford Brookes in 2012. Her thesis title is 'Urban Disaster Resilience: Learning from the 2011 Bangkok Flood'.
My first experience with Oxford Brookes was as a student while completing a Master’s degree in Development and Emergency Practice, which enjoys a very high reputation in the humanitarian aid and development community.
I am a humanitarian aid worker and decided to study for a PhD at Oxford Brookes because of its reputation for focusing on both theory and practice along with the research support it offers. My supervisors are thought leaders – Professor David Sanderson, on urban disasters and Professor Georgia Butina-Watson on urban planning and design. I was inspired when Georgia said it was important to her to see more women studying at higher levels and taking on leadership roles.
Before I came to Oxford Brookes I was deploying to disasters in Asia and the Pacific with a charity organisation. I was also working with the United Nations and other aid agencies to train governments and communities in disaster preparedness and response in countries such as Afghanistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Kenya.
The research environment is excellent. A range of tools, training and software programmes are offered to students from the start. The library and its staff are a great source of knowledge on where to find things and how to approach technical aspects of the work. My office colleagues have become my good friends and are a great source of support and encouragement.
With rural assumptions underpinning humanitarian aid, urbanisation has been called the ‘game-changer’ for international relief and development work. My research is focused on looking for new ways to protect rapidly growing low-income neighbourhoods from exposure to disaster risk. Using the 2011 Thailand floods as a case study, my research investigates the operational reality of resilience in the Bang Bua Canal in Bangkok. Over 100 people were interviewed from three low-income neighbourhoods and a further 40 key informants from the government, aid agencies and the private sector. The aim of my research is to learn from the 2011 Bangkok flood in order to develop a framework for urban disaster resilience that will help humanitarians to better assist the urban poor to prepare for and respond to disasters.
I enjoy the freedom to manage my own schedule. It is a privilege to spend so much time reading and thinking about how to make a real difference in the world. However because the work is mainly independent I miss working in a team environment on a daily basis, which is why friendship with office colleagues has been such an important source of support throughout my PhD.
I feel the training has helped me to develop new specialist skills in critical thinking, software applications, such as Nvivo, and in developing a robust argument. The training has also enhanced my life skills, such as communicating clearly, presenting confidently to specialist and non-specialist audiences, staying motivated and being self-driven.
I plan to return to humanitarian aid work. I have a much better grasp of the role theory can play in building a practical approach to disaster resilience for low-income neighbourhoods, and I hope I can put that to good use.