Examples of successful Studentship applications


Professor Chris Carman

Politics and International Relations

University of Glasgow

The Role of the News Media in Perpetuating Electoral Fraud Myths in the UK and US

This project seeks to examine the British and American news media’s role in perpetuating myths about voter and electoral fraud in UK and US elections. The central research questions include whether news coverage is based more on fact or elite rhetoric, the role of tabloids and the partisan press in the UK relative to the US, what policies are linked to fraud (e.g., immigration), and the particular frames used by the media. The project will involve extensive data collection of coverage of recent UK elections, the 2020 US presidential election, and the 2021 Scottish Parliament election. The analysis will be carried out mainly using Quantitative Text Analysis, in particular unsupervised topic modelling and structured topic modelling. The analysis will also involve advanced count data regression modelling to assess variations in news attention to fraud. The project will be linked to a large-scale, multi-strand research project involving information environments in the UK and US surrounding voter and electoral fraud. The outputs will contribute to the planned knowledge exchange, impact, and dissemination programmes involving government officials, journalists, policy stakeholders, and public interest pieces.

Dr Zachary Greene

Politics and International Relations

University of Strathclyde

Intra-Party Division and Multi-level Politics

Devolved powers for multiple levels of government cause tensions between groups with similar ideologies, but competing regional or national identities. Distinct regional priorities likely encourage disagreements between members of local and national party representatives, particularly in the face of strong independence movements. Independence referendums in Catalonia, Scotland or Quebec highlight how regional movements hold substantial consequences for politics at both regional and national levels. Despite the importance of devolved powers and the ways parties facilitate the growth of new issues and positions, scholars have yet to thoroughly explore the relationship between regional and national preferences within the same organizations. Do debates within regional parties mirror national debates? How do regional issues emerge? Do internal party rules and institutions resolve or exacerbate tensions between regional and national goals?

Working with the Party Congress Research Group, this project will answer these questions with novel data from regional party conferences in Canada, Germany, Scotland and Spain to evaluate internal divisions and their consequences for regional competition. Party conferences offer distinct insight into internal debates as conferences often select leaders and vote for motions eventually included in election programmes. The content of these debates, therefore, offers rich information on regional divisions, which until recently was difficult to rigorously examine cross-nationally due to the resource and time constraints associated with content analysis. To analyse the large amount of textual data from these meetings, the student will train in advanced tools recently introduced to political research for computer assisted content analysis using machine learning. These tools will enable the researcher to study internal party dynamics such as changes in internal preferences, emphasis on independence or other issues, and even internal factional groups. The results from such a study offer compelling answers to questions on how distinct regional issues and preferences influence policy development in representative democracies.

Professor Hill Kulu


University of St Andrews

Residential Context and Childbearing: Application of a Spatial Multilevel Multiprocess Hazard Model to Study Contextual Determinants of Fertility

Fertility levels are below replacement level in most industrialised countries and have further declined in recent years. However, they vary significantly within countries by residential context. Fertility is high in rural areas and small towns and low in large cities. The reasons for spatial variation in fertility remain unclear. Some studies argue that fertility levels vary between places because different people live in different settlements. Others emphasise the importance of factors related to immediate living environment. The role of selective migrations has also been discussed.

This PhD project will investigate childbearing patterns by residential context in Britain, a country with a significant spatial fertility variation. The objectives are: First, to determine the extent to which spatial variation in childbearing patterns is attributed to compositional characteristics and selective migrations, and what role contextual factors play. Second, to investigate how contextual factors influence individuals’ childbearing behaviour. Third, to develop a spatial multilevel multiprocess hazard model to properly measure the effect of living environment on individuals’ childbearing behaviour. An understanding of how residential context influences fertility is essential to improve our understanding of the causes of low fertility in industrialised countries.

The project will develop and apply a spatial multilevel multiprocess hazard model to data from the ONS Longitudinal Study, the Scottish Longitudinal Study and the British Household Panel Survey to determine how contextual factors shape individuals’ childbearing behaviour. The performance of the proposed approach will be compared to that of conventional methods using maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods. The project will provide rich and reliable information on spatial fertility variation in Britain and will improve our understanding of the causes of high fertility in some areas and low fertility in others. The developed method could be applied to study contextual determinants of other domains of individuals’ behaviour (e.g. health, employment, residential relocations).

Dr Caroline Brown

Human Geography

Heriot Watt University

The right to play – a comparison of rural and urban outdoor play opportunities, environments and experiences

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) sets out a series of universal children’s rights, including Article 31, known as the right to play. Play is central to children’s health and development, and outdoor play in particular offers a range of benefits including enjoyment, socialisation, physical activity, learning and skills acquisition.  There are, however, growing concerns that children’s lives are becoming ever more dominated by indoor, screen-based, sedentary activities at the expense of participation in active, outdoor pursuits.  At the same time, it is not yet clear how the different types of environments available to children across the urban-rural gradient impact on outdoor play.  The project will explore and compare urban and rural children’s outdoor play participation, environments, and experience using a mixed methods approach.  This will consist of: 1) secondary analysis of existing social survey data on outdoor play and outdoor activity participation in childhood using both cross-sectional and longitudinal analytical techniques; and 2) qualitative case studies using visual methods to explore young people’s outdoor play environments and experiences in urban and rural contexts. The student will benefit from access to an interdisciplinary supervisory team with considerable experience of supervising PhD students to timely completions and of supervision and research in this subject area.  In addition, the inclusion of a nominated supervisor from the James Hutton Institute will offer the student insight into policy-focused academic research outside the university setting and direct experience of the science-policy interface, including opportunities for knowledge exchange with policymakers and practitioners working on promoting outdoor access.

Dr Mirko Moro


University of Stirling

Investigating the impact of public interventions to reduce drinking water lead contamination on infant health in Scotland

Labour and health economists appreciate that positive birth outcomes (such as higher birth weight) and infant health are strong predictors of successful academic and labour outcomes later in life. Lead is a very toxic element that can have adverse consequences on babies and children’s health, even at low concentrations. There are different sources of lead exposure. Tap water and leaded-petrol were two of the most common in the UK until mid 1990s. Lead service pipes were widely used around the world to connect homes to street water mains. Lead is dissolved from the interior of the pipe and ingested when drinking from the tap. We propose to examine how specific interventions to reduce exposure to tap water lead in Scotland influenced pregnancy outcomes (e.g., live births, birth weight, stillbirths) and infant mortality. The approach to be taken combines historical and administrative health data with modern statistical techniques. The analysis we propose will study two water treatment programmes that successfully reduced lead content in tap water in Glasgow in 1978 and 1989. The aim is to develop causal estimates of lead removal on the universe of births and infant deaths in Glasgow by employing difference-in-differences and regression discontinuity design. Babies and young children worldwide are still routinely exposed to potentially hazardous levels of lead today, from multiple sources, both in developed (see Flint, Michigan, USA) and developing countries. Being able to identify the health effects of exposure to lead is thus very important. This project can be seen as the first building block towards a broader research programme about the short- and long run impacts of lead removal in Scotland that will be expanded to include further urban areas and acquisition of other administrative datasets, such as education and crime, will be investigated further by the team.

Dr Alastair Rutherford


University of Stirling

“A Life Lived for Others”: Volunteering Participation and Transitions in Older Age

Volunteering participation is bimodal in age, peaking both in the early 20s and in the years around retirement. Increases in life expectancies, leading to an ageing population in the UK, might be expected to be associated with increasing voluntary participation in retirement. However, changing retirement ages, more flexibility in retirement, policies to encourage longer working lives, and family caring responsibilities are increasing the competing pressures on the time of potential volunteers in older age. At the same time, overall volunteering participation rates have been stable or falling despite significant policy and sector effort to encourage increased participation.

Volunteering in older age is more concentrated in social care activities and organisations (Price, 2007). Motivations for volunteering also differ by age: older volunteers are more likely to be motivated by altruistic or social motivations, and less by material or investment concerns (Fischer and Schaffer, 1993; IVR, 2007). While volunteering now plays a critical role in public service provision through a range of voluntary organisations, there are also significant benefits to older people themselves from voluntary participation. Several studies have shown that volunteering in older age is associated with reduced mortality and improved quality of life (Lum & Lightfoot, 2005; Piliavin & Siegl, 2007).

The most useful data for understanding patterns of volunteering is longitudinal because participation is a dynamic process: individuals transition into and out of volunteering; employment; and caring responsibilities. While volunteering participation at the population level is relatively steady, analysis of longitudinal data from the British Household Panel Study (BHPS) shows that there is significant turnover. Nearly 85% of adults volunteered at least once in a ten year period, with most starting and stopping at different points in their lives (Kamerade, 2014). Indeed, transitions in volunteering are particularly likely in older ages. For instance, retirement and other employment and family transitions associated with ageing might encourage new volunteering activities, but older age is also a time when participation might cease, particularly due to deteriorating health or challenges with mobility.

This PhD project will use longitudinal data drawn from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing to explore the life events which predict changes in volunteering participation in older age. In particular, the interaction of retirement decisions and participation decisions will be explored, comparing how variations are related to different social circumstances such as occupations.  The longitudinal data will allow us to examine whether falling voluntary participation is explained by changes in overall participation levels, or by displacement of volunteering participation to later life due to changes in patterns of retirement and caring.

Zoe Russell



Influenced by scholars who have demonstrated the mystifications and discursive strategies used to hide many of the realities of socio-natural relations under capitalism, I will investigate the social construction of heritage and nature-society relationships in Wester Ross in the Scottish Highlands.

The research will analyse dominant discourses and practices surrounding nature and landscapes and the role of place as a source of culture and identity (Escobar, 2008). Wester Ross provides the focus for a situated-historical study of heritage, culture, nature and conservation as the region is currently understudied, despite fruitful opportunities for research. Wester Ross was awarded UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status in 2016, a conservation accolade promoting sustainable human environment relationships. Furthermore, the region has been consistently identified by national actors since post-war years for statutory conservation designations, deemed the last great wilderness of Scotland. This project analyses socio-natural relations within this context and in relation to land reform policy and the cultural politics of Gaelic language revival.

The research questions are:

  • How do dominant discourses constitute ‘common-sense’ understandings of Highland landscapes as ‘natural’ and ‘wild’?
  • In what ways do these discourses inform associated policies and practices surrounding land use, resources and socio-natural relationships?
  • How are these negotiated and contested?
  • What are the implications for policy and practice in natural heritage conservation and socio-natural processes in this context and beyond?
  • Can alternative understandings, sensitive to socio-natures, resource-based rights and justice issues on a global scale inform future approaches?

Mary Allison



Despite the established physical and mental health benefits of physical activity (PA), the prevalence of physical inactivity has been described as ‘pandemic’. In 2014, the Scottish Government launched a National Walking Strategy that identified increased walking as a key mechanism through which the population’s PA levels can improve.  Paths for All are a key partner in delivering the walking strategy, and their annual 8-week Walk at Work Step Count Challenge (SCC) is a flagship activity.  Building on previous collaborative work, the overall aim of this PhD is to work with Paths for All to undertake a realist evaluation of the SCC in order to understand for whom, under what conditions and how the programme is effective in changing PA behaviour.

In line with realist evaluation, the proposed project will address 3 objectives.  Firstly, in order to develop a programme theory (Context-Mechanisms-Outcome) of how the SCC may lead to increased PA, the student will undertake a realist systematic review of existing literature on work-based interventions similar to SCC, and interview key stakeholders.  Secondly, in order to test the programme theory the student will undertake a longitudinal qualitative study with SCC participants to gain a nuanced understanding of their experience.  Thirdly, the programme theory will be revised based on the findings of the longitudinal study and stakeholder input.

The supervisors have a strong mix of experience and skills relevant to the project.  The student will join thriving research centres focused on PA and public health research (PAHRC and SCPHRP) and benefit from the world-class training and infrastructure facilities at the University of Edinburgh. The project team will work with Paths for All to produce useful outputs that can inform practice, support funding applications, and influence policy. It is anticipated that the project will result in at least 3 high quality academic outputs.

Dr Jonathan Delafield-Butt

School of Education

University of Stirling

Children move with their own agency to create experiences they enjoy and learn. Self-generated movement is a hallmark of ‘sensorimotor intelligence’, enabling learning the consequences of one’s actions. It forms a bedrock of experience that expands in social collaboration to make sense of the world. We create stories in movement in what educational psychologist Jerome Bruner named ‘narrative cognition’. However, evidence demonstrates children with autism spectrum disorder exhibit a subtle, but significant disruption to self-generated movement, thwarting its success, creating distress and isolation, and consequent social and emotional autistic symptomology. This project will advance novel technology to assess this disruption, and provide a possible new tool for the early detection of autism. This ESRC Interdisciplinary PhD will advance the state-of-the-art in child development and autism (Delafield-Butt) with precise human movement analysis (Rowe) to develop and deploy bespoke, lightweight wearable sensors

(Andonovic) for the ecological characterization of the autism motor signature in very young children and infants. The project will explore, develop and deploy a new, ecological serious game paradigm employing bespoke feather-weight wearables suitable for very young children. Data will be collected from children at-risk for autism, and typically developing, as well as through a whole-population birth cohort study in Madeira, with whom the project team is collaborating. We will produce new technological innovation to address gaps in theory in the aetiology of autism, and satisfy practical need in early years education and care to identify children with autism spectrum disorder before current methods allow. These data will inform our scientific and professional understanding of the role of the motor disruption in autism, and provide a possible new target for treatment.

Professor Emily Cross

School of Psychology

University of Glasgow

The overarching aim of this PhD project is to develop a library of naturalistic emotional movements generated by expert dancers, and then implement and test the communicative value of these movements in artificial agents in naturalistic social settings. This studentship is richly interdisciplinary in nature, drawing from the social sciences, performing arts and engineering to tackle a major challenge that falls under the remit of the RCUK Digital Economy theme: namely, to improve artificial agents’ social acceptance and usability by providing them with emotionally expressive behaviours that are instantly readable by human interaction partners. This project comprises three main studies, with the first two primarily involving social sciences research (with performing arts elements as well), and the third study combining knowledge generated from the social sciences and performing arts with computing science. For the first third of the project, the student will work closely with the Scottish National Ballet and motion tracking technology to create and validate a rich library of emotions expressed via bodily movement. Next, the student will develop expertise with quantitative and qualitative behavioural methods (including eye tracking, self-report measures of affective valence), as well as working with different participant samples (expert and naïve dancers) to further identify how emotion is expressed via bodily movements, and which elements of a body in motion convey the most meaningful information about a mover’s emotion. The final third of the project applies insights gained from the first two parts to the computing science and robotics world, by implementing insights gained into the movements and behaviour of physically present robots and virtual representations of avatars. Together, the project provides an ideal and exciting opportunity to train a PhD student who is equipped with the theoretical and technical skills to work between the social sciences, arts, and technology.

Professor Ade Kearns

Social Work and Social Policy

University of Glasgow

Developing a Behavioural and Experiential Understanding of Fuel Poverty: Improving the Effectiveness of Policy and Practice for Home-Warmth and Energy-Efficiency Interventions

Fuel poverty persists, despite fifteen years of policy attempts to eradicate it.  A new Scottish Government fuel poverty strategy proposes a revised fuel poverty definition that uses the concept of health vulnerability and a post-housing costs measure of incomes to better target affected households.  Alongside income, fuel prices and energy performance, occupant behaviour has been recognised as a fourth driver of fuel poverty yet few solutions have been identified to address this other than the provision of advice to occupants after warmth and energy interventions carried out within the home. Meanwhile, energy efficiency interventions can be ineffective in reducing fuel payment difficulties.

This research attempts to develop the behaviourist perspective on fuel poverty and to extend the notion of vulnerability beyond health risks from cold homes to include social, financial and psychological vulnerability.  A partnership between the University of Glasgow and the Energy Agency, a charity that works with Scottish Government and local authorities to provide advice and warmth and energy installations to householders, will enable a mixed-methods pre- and post-intervention study of recipients.  In-depth interviews with occupants will be combined with environmental monitoring and diary keeping to investigate how people understand and value warmth and energy use, what other factors affect their use of heating and energy consumption, how their reality of heating regimes and fuel costs compare to official norms, and what differences interventions make to their fuel poverty experience and to their health.

The research is intended to provide a broader interpretation of fuel poverty beyond simple financial and energy efficiency metrics, to assess some of the key criteria within the official definition of fuel poverty vulnerability, to inform better targeting of vulnerable households, and to make existing interventions more effective as well as suggesting additional ways to assist people and reduce their risk of fuel poverty.

Dr Josephine Ross


University of Dundee

What happens when we make art together? The impact of engaging with the arts on infant’s well-being, development and attachment relationships.

This project will embed a Psychology PhD student within the Dundee Contemporary Arts centre in order to study the impact that the art participation has upon the social well-being of young children and how shared art experiences may help to build strong attachment relationships. This will be looked at from two perspectives; studying the impact upon families with children who attend participatory arts activities as part of the DCA activity programme, and measuring the efficacy of a specific arts psychotherapy intervention which targets families with young children where the attachment relationships are considered vulnerable. The project aims to look for details of the behavioural changes following these participatory and therapeutic arts experiences in order to pick apart what is happening when young children make art together with their carers.

This project builds on existing collaboration between Dr Ross and an Art Psychotherapist specialising in early-years interventions. Strong empirical evidence links the quality of parent infant attachment to a variety of mental health outcomes, in infancy and beyond. Although parent-infant art therapy has a strong theoretical basis in attachment theory, the existing evidence base for this work relies on isolated case studies. To address this research gap, we propose a relatively large controlled trial including the provision of eight parent-infant attachment groups (N = 64). Outcome measures will be derived from a tool based on close

observation of the parent-infant dyads and through standardised measurement of attachment to allow thorough statistical assessment of the extent to which art therapy is an effective early mental health intervention, for whom, and why. In consultation with the DCA, these evaluative and observation tools will also be refined to be workable within a community participatory arts setting. This will address questions of what impact the DCA’s arts programme is having and how this can be measured.

Dr Yvette Taylor


University of Strathclyde

Exploring issues of social equity and learner identities in the phenomenon of the ‘bottom reading group’.

The aim of this collaborative PhD with Renfrewshire Council is to investigate the under-researched phenomenon of the ‘bottom reading group’ in Primary education, from the perspectives of identity and social equity. It will also co-produce and explore alternative mixed-attainment methods of teaching reading, with the intention of improving experience and outcomes for disadvantaged children (see letter of support).

All children come to school with valuable but different experiences of reading. For children with less experience of shared stories at an early age, their destination may be ‘the bottom reading group’, with inexperience being mistaken for inability. Research on ‘ability groupings’ in general suggests that once in a low ‘ability’ group pupils are most likely to remain there for their entire educational life, and that this disadvantage and resulting stigma travels with them into adulthood. Children from low socio-economic and some ethnic minorities backgrounds are significantly over-represented in lower ‘ability’ sets. Theoretically, the study will draw on Bourdieusian (1984, 1990) perspectives of capitals, refracted through the lenses of transactional literary theory and socio-cultural perspectives on literacy (Albright and Luke, 2010). It will adopt a mixed-methods approach to enquiry. Quantitative attainment data will be collected and analysed, as well as qualitative data from ethnographic and participatory sources. Qualitative social network analysis will also be used to illuminate patterns of interactions and relationships in ‘ability-grouped’ and mixed-attainment reading settings (see methodology).

It is anticipated that the research output will make a valuable contribution to the current UK academic, policy and public debates around inequality in education and pupil groupings. Renfrewshire will benefit from teachers’ involvement in research and from knowledge-exchange activities such as literature seminars, practical clinics to support mixed-attainment reading pedagogies, a collaborative blog, and the production of a resource pack for mixed-attainment teaching strategies for reading. The research will help support and evaluate practical pedagogical alternatives to grouping by ‘ability’, which has potential wider inter-national relevance (see letter of support).



Human Geography, Environment and Urban Planning


University of Glasgow

Project title

Doing non-visual geographies: the guide-dog-human relationship and cross-species lifeworlds


Human-animal relations have been a notable area for geographical inquiries since Wolch and Emel’s (1995: pp.636) appeal “to bring the animals back in”. Nonetheless, a significant gap remains, namely the critical relationship between disability geographies and animal geographies, and the understudied role of the assistance or support animal. This project will critically investigate the guide-dog and its relationship to visually impaired and blind persons, and their everyday geographies. Currently in the UK two million people are experiencing sight loss and around 360,000 people are registered with their local authority as blind or partially sighted (RNIB, 2017). Moreover, 180,000 people rarely leave home alone due to depression and struggles with feelings of isolation. Currently there are 4,800 guide-dog partnerships in the UK (Guide Dogs, 2018a).

The research project will examine how this cross-species relationship is embodied and experienced in everyday lifeworlds by humans and animals. Using a non-representational approach (Andrews et al 2014) and addressing Hall and Wilton’s (2017: pp.727) call for research to “advance our understanding of the complex and emergent geographies of disability”, I will privilege the guide-dog relationship as a key example through which entwined human-animal capacities can be understood. The overall aim of the project is to explore the human-guide-dog spatial and affectual relationship and how it is enacted in everyday life, addressing the following research questions:

  • What are the salient features of guide-dog/human relations in terms of mutual understanding, mobility and spatial interaction?
  • How can guide-dogs be understood as extensions of human bodies and capacities, and what are the limits of this embodied relation?
  • Can human geography offer new ways to understand the role of training and domestication in cross-species animal-assistance relationships?
  • How does guide-dog-human interaction affect the mental wellbeing of visually impaired and blind persons?
  • How do visually impaired persons understand their guide-dog’s wellbeing?
  • What do narrative accounts of human partnerships with guide-dogs tell us about animal welfare and advocacy?
  • How can social science research on guide-dogs produce socially relevant outcomes for humans and animals?


Non-representational and ‘more-than-human’ (Lorimer, 2005) approaches to understanding the world are only recently emergent in health and disability geographies (Bissell, 2009 and Macpherson, 2009, 2010). Macpherson’s (2009) work provides insight into how visually impaired persons engage with landscape, through shifting affective encounters between bodies and the material landscape. Hall and Wilton (2017) recognise that such orientations involve studying disabilities via ontological concerns with bodies and material doings rather than an epistemological emphasis on meaning and identity. However, non-representational theory has been critiqued by Thien (2005) and Colls (2012) for ignoring the differentiated body, and for a lack of empiricism. The proposed project seeks to redress these areas of inattention, by taking more account of the differentiated visually impaired body. As Thrift (2008) says:

“[T]he human body is what it is because of its unparalleled ability to co-evolve with things, taking them in and adding them to different parts of the biological body to produce something which, if we could but see it, would resemble a constantly evolving distribution of different hybrids with different reaches”. (pp.10 emphasis added).

Thrift’s notion of bodies co-evolving with things, constantly evolving into a hybrid ‘becoming’, is echoed by Haraway (2008) ‘s notion of the human-animal relationship as a reciprocal becoming together. Using these conceptual frames, the project will consider the disabled body and animal body, and their affective and embodied engagement with each other and the material world they encounter.

Animal Geographies, and the current interdisciplinary literature on companionship, domestication and pets (Anderson, 1997; Fox, 2006; Lorimer, 2006; Power, 2008; 2012; Fox and Gee, 2017), there is a lack of attention to working, assistance and support animals. Animal geographies have moved away from ‘the animal’ solely as a conceptual device to interrogate ‘the human’, towards more intimate, lived and dwelt encounters with animals themselves as necessarily networked beings (Buller, 2014). The lived everyday encounter between guide-dog and owner fits this conceptualisation and bridges into new work by Hovorka (2017) on the ‘the fourth wave of animal geographies’. This specifically references ideas of hybridity, both a concept and a practice, that produces new and exciting knowledge about human-animal relations, through interdisciplinary engagement. My proposed research sits at a critical intersection between animal, disability, health and non-representational geographies.

The project will also address questions of mental wellbeing (Fleuret and Atkinson, 2007), recognising work such as Parr’s (2008) who explores spaces of exclusion and inclusion of mental health, through citizenship, belonging, community, the self, the body, and cross-boundary interaction. It is recognised that shared activities such as artwork (Parr, 2006), nature work (Parr, 2007), and animal contact (Beck and Katcher, 2003, cited in Gorman, 2017) can have significant health and therapeutic benefits that can positively influence people’s morale, mental health and wellbeing. The project will consider the physiological and wellbeing benefits of human-guide-dog relationships, but from a cross-species perspective, and drawing on inter-disciplinary literatures, for example, animal therapy (Casey et al 2017), psychology (Adams et al 2017) and critical vet studies (Weich and Grimm, 2017). Its long-term aim is to produce clear recommendations for policy interventions concerning assistance animals and cross-species well-being.


The Guide Dog Association of the Blind will be approached as a key access partner for research recruitment. Research will be undertaken throughout the UK dependent on research network and permission. Research will be conducted primarily through ethnography and interviews, as well as audio diaries. Interviews and observations complement each other well; interviewing allows for a better understanding of questions that become apparent through observation, while observation allows for a visualisation, and reflection, of what was heard in the interview (Cloke et al 2004). Interviews will be undertaken through ‘talking and walking’ (Anderson, 2004; Macpherson, 2016) with guide dogs and participants, and after excursions, as reflective conversations. Walking is considered an embodied, cultural and performative practice (Lorimer, 2010) that will allow observations of the daily lives and encounters in the cross-species relationship.

The ethnographic research design will be staged: firstly, it will involve walking-talks to be undertaken when a participant is first partnered with their guide dog and then at subsequent stages, to explore how the guide-dog and owner become and co-evolve together in and through space and place. Audio-diaries by the participants will be used as a means of capturing the human-animal relationship and as another, non-visual, way of presenting. The audio-diary is an inclusive method as it allows for a non-textual and non-visual medium for communication, that can be undertaken by visually impaired persons (Worth, 2009). Audio-diaries will be used, with the permission of the participants, in conjunction with field sketches and photographs of the human-animal relation within space. This will present a distinctive form of data, and mode for engaging with space, which may function differently with text or images alone (Gallagher and Prior, 2014). Audio-diaries as a method can help the researcher go beyond the written word to get to grips with “our self-evidently more-than-human, more-than textual, multi-sensual world” (Lorimer, 2005: pp.83). A robust ethical approach will problematize and mitigate for ocular-centric methods and research design, aiming for participation to be as inclusive as possible.

Within human geography non-representational theory has challenged our thinking about methods and how to go about doing research (Dowling et al 2017). Non-representational praxis is wound up in the midst of things (Lorimer, 2015); research happens when things take place, in the everyday. Non-representational ethnography, a method to be deployed in this research, lends itself well to focussing on the everyday as it strives to animate daily life, rather than merely accounting or reporting (Vannini, 2015); it is movement from a habit of striving to uncover meanings and values that await our discovery, interpretation, and representation, to a focus on life as it happens (Lorimer, 2005).


The Guide Dog Association (2018b) report a range of ways in which public understandings of visually impaired persons and their guide dogs are lacking. They suggest improvement could be made in public knowledge of the ways in which people and their dogs use public space. This research will directly contribute to this need, responding to the call to change public awareness of visual impairment, and challenge stereotypes.

The plans for knowledge exchange and research impact will be negotiated with ‘The Guide Dogs Association for the Blind’, as well as suggestions from the participants of my research project. I am particularly interested in producing new research resources for the public understanding of cross-species well-being. My research might contribute to current charitable campaigns, as well as developing new innovations and suggestion. A report with public recommendations will be produced as part of the research and networked via the organizations above.




University of Aberdeen

Project title

Onwards and upwards? Exploration of the inter-generational social mobility effects on subjective wellbeing through life trajectories of the Aberdeen Children of 1950s cohort study


The dominant academic and political discourses of social mobility in the UK have almost entirely focused on heated debates over mobility rates and problems of mobility measurement (Payne, 2017). Rates of social mobility as measured by ‘objective’ markers, predominantly income and occupation, have become indicators of a ‘healthy’ and just society which has inadvertently solidified the notion of upward mobility as a socially progressive force (Friedman, 2014). The impact of social mobility on subjective wellbeing (SWB), and the experience of social mobility, as topics of sociological interest, remain relatively unexplored. However, the contemporary literature on the topic that does exist is deeply divided along the lines of quantitative and qualitative paradigms.


This proposed study is therefore directed towards a twofold aim: firstly, to explore the effects of class and inter-generational social mobility on SWB, and secondly, to investigate the mobility experience of socially mobile individuals. For this purpose, I intend to examine the Aberdeen Children of the 1950s (ACONF) cohort study (N=12,150) (Leon et al., 2004, 2006), to provide a complete and rich account of an entire cohort’s social mobility on a historical backdrop of a middle-sized Scottish city. In an attempt to reconcile the quantitative – qualitative divide, this project will employ a mixed-methods approach of quantitative analysis and original follow-up life-story interviews. This unique approach is the single biggest advantage of the study and has never been utilised. Only a few qualitative researchers merely draw their samples from survey studies (see Friedman, 2016; Miles, Savage and Buhlmann, 2011). Adoption of the Bourdieusian framework would add additional dimensions to social mobility as acquisition of particular types of capital, especially cultural capital, is thought to have impact on the mobility experience, at least within the qualitative tradition, resulting in maladjustment and feeling ‘out of place’ (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1977; Lahire, 2011; Friedman, 2016). This study will also look beyond the two most common unidimensional measures of SWB: life satisfaction and happiness. Instead, it will focus on psychological distress as a proxy for SWB, which is closely associated with the conceptualisation of ‘negative mobility effects’ by their first proponents (Durkheim, 1951; Sorokin, 1959). Ultimately, this project aims to answer the following questions:


1.       Does inter-generational social mobility have an independent effect on subjective wellbeing?


2.       How far does the fact of ‘objective’ social mobility actually correspond to individuals’ ‘subjective’ understanding and awareness of their life trajectory?


3.       To what extent are inter-generational gains and losses of economic, social, and cultural capitals shaping the experience of social mobility and influencing individuals’ subjective wellbeing?



Ever since Durkheim (1951) identified the link between social mobility and anomic suicide there has been an interest in negative mobility effects. In quantitative sociology, the problem of mobility experience has been predominantly framed as a hypothesis testing exercise of Sorokin’s (1959) ‘dissociative thesis’. Sorokin (1959) claimed that socially mobile individuals experience severe mental strain and are susceptible to weakening of personal bonds leading to social isolation. Empirical studies of the 1970s (e.g. Ellis and Lane, 1967; Kessin, 1971; Mirande, 1973) were largely supportive of the ‘dissociative thesis’, but were later discredited on the basis of methodological flaws, primarily by Goldthorpe (1980).


Qualitative sociology, on the other hand, has a small but rich tradition of researching the experience of social mobility utilising life-story interviews and ethnography (see Sennett and Cobb, 1972; Jackson and Marsden, 1973; Bertaux and Thompson 1997). However, since the late 1990s much of the qualitative work on the topic has been conducted within the wider ‘cultural turn’ (Savage, 2016) in mobility studies which embraces a Bourdieusian approach to class (e.g. Friedman, 2016; Reay, 1998; Skeggs, 2004). These studies construe the experience of mobility as ‘habitus’ encounters with unknown ‘fields’, a process that inevitably imposes negative sanctions on individuals who change class cultures (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1977), and demonstrate that mobility is rarely portrayed as straightforward linear trajectory by the upwardly mobile (e.g. Franceschelli, Evans and Schoon, 2015; Friedman, 2016; Ingram, 2011; Lee and Kramer, 2013; Mallman, 2015, 2017; Reay, Crozier and Clayton 2009; Reay 2001). This prompted a renewed quantitative interest in possible negative mobility effects in 2010s. All studies but two (Becker and Birkelbach, 2018; Hadjar and Samuel, 2015), however, outright reject the ‘dissociative thesis’ (Chan, 2017; Zhao et al., 2017; Nikolaev and Burns, 2014; Clark and D’Angelo, 2013; Daenekindt 2016; Houle and Martin, 2011; Marshall and Firth, 1999).


Goldthorpe’s (1980) account of the prominent Oxford Mobility Studies consists of a chapter on The Experience of Social Mobility. Through examination of self-reported life stories, Goldthorpe concluded that the upwardly mobile had been overwhelmingly satisfied with their lives and mobility trajectories. Contemporary qualitative studies struggle with the primacy of quantitative research on the subject of mobility experience, and the fact that Goldthorpe’s qualitative study managed to close off the debate dominated by a quantitative paradigm is quite remarkable, if not ironic.


This study aims to challenge the current orthodoxy of the quantitative paradigm in two ways. Firstly, by fully embracing the Bourdieusian scholarship. Whilst the qualitative tradition of negative mobility effects has extensively used Bourdieu’s theoretical toolkit (economic, social, and cultural capitals; habitus and field), the quantitative studies conducted after the advent of the ‘cultural turn’ failed to sufficiently integrate Bourdieusian insights. Hence, this study follows Bourdieu’s agenda of quantification (Robson and Sanders, 2009) in the realm of his capitals, and specifically cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1984; Bennett et al., 2009). Secondly, by refocusing the attention from positive affective states of SWB to the negative ones. The vast majority of literature conceptualises SWB as a combination of positive affective states (Winifield et al., 2012) and uses single-item measures of happiness or life satisfaction as the sole indicator of SWB (Diener, 2009). Negative affective states, such as psychological distress, have been relatively neglected as only one contemporary study takes them into account (Houle and Martin, 2011), despite the fact that negative mobility effects were conceptualised as ‘mental strain’ by both Sorokin (1959) and Durkheim (1951).


Aberdeen as a setting for social mobility investigation is particularly relevant for several reasons. Firstly, the city experienced rapid rise in prosperity due to the oil industry. High rates of social mobility affected the ACONF generation in particular. Secondly, despite the oil wealth there are still many pockets of deprivation. Thirdly, it is relatively isolated geographically and over 70% of original participants still live within the Aberdeenshire region. Lastly, ACONF study offers fantastic data that has never been analysed sociologically which will be supplemented with other underexplored secondary sources as outlined below.



This research will use a mixed-methods approach by combining quantitative analysis of survey data using advanced regression techniques including diagonal reference modelling (Sobel, 1981) (RQ 1 and 3), as well as original oral history interviews from a sample drawn from the ACONF study based on mobility trajectory (RQ 2). Social mobility will be calculated from respondents’ and their parents’ socio-economic position (available variables include Hope-Goldthorpe, Goldthorpe and Cambridge Scale schemas). Psychological distress will be measured using a 4-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) which has previously yielded meaningful results in the context of the ACONF study (see Von Stumm et al., 2013).


Whilst the majority of research will be undertaken on the ACONF study, the qualitative aspect of the project will be supplemented with secondary analysis of additional sources:


1.       ACONF Oral History Project. ESRC-funded project on deep investigation of historical administrative data in the ACONF study, RG12069-10.


2.       Social Change and Economic Life Initiative. This ESRC-sponsored programme in the 1980s included Aberdeen as a rapidly changing oil-rich city.


3.       Lives in the Oil Industry. This was a project carried out in the 1980s and consists of interviews held in the Aberdeen University’s Oral History Archive (MS3769) as a collaboration with the British Library’s National Life Story Collection.


These resources make Aberdeen and its surroundings a unique opportunity to explore the impact of rising prosperity on a Scottish city.



The study will form part of the ACONF project and as such would have the advantage of access to impact activities carried out under this remit. The research represents an important innovation in academic understanding of social mobility and wellbeing. It will be presented at relevant national and international conferences. The study would take advantage of links with the Aberdeen City Council and other local authorities, to present and disseminate material that would be relevant to city officials and businesses.


At a Scotland-wide level there would be presentations to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament using the University’s existing networks and connections. Interest in the repercussions of changes in the Energy sector make this particularly relevant. The Scottish government is particularly concerned with wellbeing and the Aberdeen team have been involved in a Scottish Universities Insight Institute initiative on Paths to Wellbeing: Gathering Together Publics, Practitioners, and Policies in 2013/4. As Savage (2010) argues, we need to place our understanding of the contemporary (current oil crisis affecting Aberdeen city) in the context of detailed historical research (Aberdeen’s rise to fortunes).


InstitutionUniversity of Glasgow
Project titleThe Effects of Quantized Re-timing of Speech Rhythm on Spoken Language Comprehension


What’s going to happen next? is a question the brain constantly seeks to answer. In neuroscience, prediction is increasingly seen as the key to language comprehension, but less is known about how listeners predict when linguistic events (sounds, syllables) will occur, than about what is coming. Current theories of neural speech processing suggest a key role for rhythm, yet neuroscience and the speech sciences lack a shared understanding of the basics of rhythm. This project seeks to address this gap by asking: Can speech be re-timed so as to maximise its comprehensibility? The research will use phonetic and musical approaches to inform the re-timing of speech and the effects on comprehension will be tested using innovative eye-tracking and EEG paradigms.


A crucial aspect of speech comprehension is the ability to anticipate lexical or grammatical units. This has been demonstrated by extensive research showing characteristic neural responses to violations of expectation in speech (e.g. Hagoort et al., 2004). According to recent theories in cognitive neuroscience, listeners achieve such anticipation in part by tracking regularities in speech rhythm, at timescales roughly corresponding to individual vowels and consonants, and to syllables (e.g. Giraud and Poeppel, 2012; Gross et al., 2013).

However, this picture does not match well with phonetic or behavioural reality. First, there is little evidence of rhythmic regularity in the production of syllables in naturally occurring speech (Cummins, 2012). Second, the rhythm-tracking approach suggests that making speech more regular would help comprehension. But, while presenting isolated syllables at regular time intervals can yield processing benefits (Otterbein et al., 2012), regularising the intervals between syllables in connected speech instead has a processing cost (Aubanel et al., 2016). In sum, regularity can be beneficial, but is not always: the relationships have to be right for the speech being presented, in ways that are poorly understood.

A speech signal does not necessarily need to be regular to be rhythmic. In response to musical rhythms, neural correlates of the pulse (or beat) can be found when listeners are presented with complex polyrhythms where the pulse is not physically present in the signal (Tal et al., 2017). Similar principles might apply in speech, but the relevant empirical work has not been done, and speech research has a much reduced lexicon of terminology for rhythm compared to music (Smith et al, 2014). In order to understand how the temporal characteristics of speech facilitate comprehension, it may be necessary to consider a more nuanced approach to rhythm, informed by music.

This project seeks to improve understanding of the role of rhythm in speech comprehension by answering two Research questions:

1.          Does re-timing speech to increase its rhythmicity help speech comprehension, when a more sophisticated approach than equalising syllable durations is used?

2.          If so, on which properties of the speech signal should re-timing ideally be based?


The experimental approach in this project is to re-time speech in various ways, and test how these re-timings affect comprehension. The project involves methodological innovations in two key respects:

•           First, we adapt methods used to extract rhythmical meter from rhythmically complex musical sources, using a technique called quantization. This will allow a more nuanced reproduction of natural speech timing while still increasing its rhythmicity.

•           Second, we develop novel cross-modal eye-tracking and EEG paradigms that use concurrent presentation of speech and written text. This will furnish detailed evidence of how timing patterns disrupt or facilitate comprehension.

Passages from annotated corpora (e.g., IViE, Aix-MARSEC, Buckeye) will be re-timed so that events in the speech signal are quantized to the nearest subdivision of the phrase duration. Quantization in music works as follows: After detecting note onsets, these notes are aligned with common subdivisions of the musical bar rather than the musical pulse (Klapuri, 2004). This is necessary as the relationship between a note in a melody and the musical pulse can vary considerably. Applying the method to speech, we can re-time speech events to align with musical subdivisions of a fixed rhythmical pulse, rather than the pulse itself. Figure 1 shows an example.

Figure 1: Examples of isochronous and quantized re-timings of a naturally spoken utterance. The middle panel shows a natural utterance from Aix-MARSEC (Auran et al., 2018); vertical black lines mark syllable onsets. In the isochronous re-timing (top panel), syllables are aligned to eight equally-spaced sub-divisions of the intonation phrase. In the quantized re-timing (bottom panel), syllables are aligned with the nearest of 16 equally-spaced sub-divisions of the intonational phrase. The x-axis shows sub-divisions of the intonational phrase: Quarter divisions are marked with numbers; eighths with ampersands; sixteenths with short vowels.

To examine which properties of the speech signal most affect comprehension, the passages will be re-timed based on phonemic, amplitude and pitch markers. Initially, for the phonemic re-timing, vowel onsets will be annotated and used as a quantization point; the amplitude re-timing will use peaks in the amplitude envelope; and the pitch re-timing will use change points in the f0 contour. To control for the effects of temporal distortion and associated acoustic artefacts, jitter conditions will be used. These will be re-timed to match the mean temporal distortion of quantized speech and its standard deviation, but with no rhythmic alignment. It is expected that quantized speech will be associated with enhanced behavioural and neural measures of entrainment, while jitter conditions will be associated with decreased entrainment. These re-timings may have subtle effects, requiring some degree of exploration and refinement to achieve the benefit of temporal regularity while minimising effects of temporal distortion.

Three experimental approaches will be taken to study the research questions set out:

1.          Participants will be presented with passages of naturally spoken and re-timed speech in a novel cross-modal experimental paradigm which I piloted in my undergraduate final-year project (Beith, 2016). A transcript of the passage will be presented concurrently with the auditory stimuli, and eye-tracking will be used to measure the synchrony of eye movements in response to the speech. Increased synchrony would provide evidence that increased rhythmicity facilitates anticipation of the timing of speech events.

2.          Participants will be presented with an audio-visual count-in (e.g. a series of four cross-hairs and accompanying beeps) followed by either a naturally spoken or re-timed utterance with the same phase and mean pulse as the count-in. Participants would be told that the count-in is intended to prepare them for the stimulus, however, the intended purpose is to prime participants with the pulse of the utterance. EEG will be used to detect whether quantized speech conditions result in stronger neural responses to unexpected semantic and grammatical units. For example, the word watch in the sentence “For breakfast the boys would watch…” is associated with a negative EEG signal approximately 400ms after onset (N400; Brouwer et al., 2012). A stronger N400 response for quantized speech would indicate a processing advantage to the re-timing.

3.          Participants will be presented with an audio-visual count-in followed by a visual presentation of the re-timed speech. Each word of the sentence will be presented sequentially with the duration corresponding to natural or re-timed speech. The same EEG measures will be used to investigate whether findings from auditory presentation extend to the visual domain.

In addition to facilitating these experimental approaches, stimulus creation will result in the production of a rich data set of temporal speech measures. Analyses and expansions of this data set will be carried out throughout the project to enhance experimental approaches and to better understand natural speech rhythm.


The findings and methodology used in this project will be of value to broader psycho-linguistic study. Determining the underlying structure of speech rhythm is an important step in understanding spoken language comprehension. Furthermore, establishing a replicable experimental paradigm for measuring cross-modal entrainment will allow other researchers to build on this work.

This research has practical applications for the bi-modal presentation of language. For example, in educational contexts, determining how speech rhythm facilitates entrainment in reading could help to enhance the comprehensibility of pedagogical material, both live and (especially) in the context of online learning. This may be of benefit to students with a wide range of additional support needs. More broadly, the research could contribute to technological applications in situations where effective transfer of spoken information is crucial (e.g. speech synthesis and dialogue systems).

A further potential application would be to contribute to the development of new forms of auditory prostheses. A major challenge in cochlear implant design is distinguishing between signal and noise (Goupell, 2015). This project could offer insights, firstly, by advancing theoretical understanding of the temporal characteristics of natural speech, and secondly, by examining cross-modal relationships between speech and associated visual cues.

An Impact Plan will be developed in Year 1 of the project. This will be geared towards first identifying key stakeholders, by liaising with colleagues in Computing Science at Glasgow and Edinburgh, with relevant potential users (e.g. in subtitling and online learning). Once potential users have been identified, consultation meetings will be set up, which may create opportunities for knowledge exchange and/or co-design of selected aspects of the research as it proceeds.


Economic and Social History


University of Edinburgh

Project title

From moral treatment to mad culture: an exploration of alternative therapies in British psychiatry 1840-1990.


This PhD project aims to explore the relationship between creativity, madness and experience within the changing landscape of psychiatric therapy in Britain, examining the perspectives of both medical practitioners and patients/clients. By examining the use, purpose and experience of creativity within the history of psychiatry, I hope not only to shed new light on continuity and change in alternative approaches to madness and healing across time, but also challenge conventional narratives which dichotomise the boundaries of the doctor-patient relationship, the asylum and the community, sanity and normality. Moreover, by shifting away from a reliance on documentary evidence and of stories told through a solely clinical lens, I hope to construct a history of madness and creativity that emphasises patient perspectives, experiences and expression. 

My key research questions are:

·         How do we define ‘creativity’ and what significance does it have within the history of psychiatry?

·         In what ways, and by whom, has creativity been used and for what purposes? What can this reveal about continuity and change in a) psycho-therapeutic practice and b) the experiences of practitioners/patients across time?

·         What sources can the historian utilise to examine the shifting uses of creativity in the psycho-therapeutic landscape?

·         How can historical research into the relationship between creativity, mental health treatment, and the experience of madness in the past contribute to understandings of patient experience, therapeutic practice and mental health policy in the present?


The historical field offers considerable potential for the exploration of connections between madness and creativity, providing rich territory for interdisciplinary research. The relationship between psychiatry, patient artwork, and the asylum experience, for example, has been explored in the British context by scholars such as Beveridge (2001) and Park (2002), whilst further afield, Reiss (2008), Coleborne and MacKinnon (2003) have explored notions of ‘culture’ within the American and Australian contexts with reference to objects, sound and performance. More recently, a completely independent field of research termed ‘Mad Studies’ has emerged. Led by social activists and scholars, it aims to “challenge medical paradigms of mental illness” by drawing upon history and applying it to the present-day context (Bacopoulos-Viau and Fauvel, 2016). Through championing patient voice, proponents of ‘Mad Studies’ seek to demonstrate that it is possible “to write a history of mad cultures” in which patients are firmly at the centre of their own stories (ibid). Through adopting new concepts, methodologies and sources to evaluate the history of madness and society, increased attention has thus been paid to the ways in which patients themselves have made sense of their illness and treatment.

However, these innovative approaches to patient subjectivity and experience require further scholarly application. Save for the growing body of research into psychiatric patient artwork and an increasing acknowledgement of the usefulness of employing alternative evidence in historical analysis, the use of visual, oral, material and multi-media sources, has lacked full consideration (Barfoot and Beveridge, 1993). For instance, the value of hospital magazines, which include both written and visual contributions from patients and doctors alike, has received scant attention in scholarly discourse. This has meant that creative outlets such as music, theatre and performance have been somewhat overlooked in comparison to more traditional artistic forms such as literature, poetry and fine art. Historical examination of the relationship between creativity and madness also remains underdeveloped in chronological scope. Research tends to centre on creativity within the context of early-to-mid nineteenth-century moral treatment or on the emergence of creative therapies in the twentieth, without fully tracing developments in-between. Nor has the concept of creativity been fully considered beyond the ‘asylum era’. This is particularly surprising considering the growth of the survivor movement in the 1970s when service-users themselves harnessed the arts, culture and imagination as a catalyst for social change.

In fact, scant historical attention has been paid to the changing use and purpose of creativity as a multi-faceted, alternative form of treatment in general. With a few notable exceptions, research into therapeutics has tended to focus predominantly on the ‘heroic age’ of somatic treatments or the psycho-pharmacological revolution (Digby, 1985; Hogan 2001)..As a result, more physician-centred, clinical historical narratives of progressive scientific and medical breakthroughs, catering “to the claims and self-images of current medicine” have been produced, thus obscuring the more complex and dynamic nature of psycho-therapeutics, which arguably involved more than a two-way encounter between psychiatry and the ‘mad’ patient (Porter, 1985).


My proposed project seeks to address these limitations through an exploration of the relationship between creativity, madness and experience within the changing landscape of psychiatric therapy in Britain. The concept of creativity will, itself, be interrogated, although the use of art practice and therapy will be a central area of scrutiny. Examining the perspectives of medical practitioners and patients/clients, the PhD will combine alternative and documentary sources, adopting a thematic approach that explores patient involvement in key forms of creativity within the nineteenth and twentieth-century asylum context. This will include sections on a) the visual arts, b) creative writing and c) music and performance. A concluding section d) will explore creativity within the context of the Survivor Movement, tying together key trends within contemporary history and allowing for reflection upon continuity and change across time. 

In order to examine these themes across 150 years, a case study approach will be taken, enabling the research to focus in on rich pockets of material in archival collections across the UK. In respect of section a) visual material will be drawn from the Wellcome Collection Digital Image Archive, which contains artworks produced by patients in a range of British nineteenth-century asylums, as well as the Adamson Collection, a body of work produced by patients at Netherne Hospital Surrey, in the early-to-mid twentieth century. Analysis of the use and purpose of patient artwork will follow a similar methodology to Stargardt (1998) in his analysis of children’s artwork of the Holocaust. By approaching 4000 paintings thematically, Stargardt traced recurring motifs and variations in the content and form of the work, using documentary evidence to assist him in gauging what was typical or atypical given the context. Demonstrating that it is possible to glean considerable insight from artwork through contextualisation, Stargardt was therefore able to identify the common qualities of children’s’ experience of life during the Holocaust. 

Section b) will draw upon the hospital magazines of Crichton Royal Hospital, Dumfries, the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, and Bethlem Hospital, London, which were produced between the 1840s and 1980s. Asylum Magazines are of particular interest as they combine the writings of doctors and attendants but predominantly patients, offering a rich foundation for comparing the uses of writing from the perspectives of different historical actors. These archives also all hold a wealth of other literary sources, including newsletters, patient poetry and letters which, through a close analysis of language, can be used as further illustrative examples. 

In regard to section c) I will combine close analysis of patient produced songs, theatre programmes and newspaper reports of asylum performances to explore an overlooked element of asylum experience: music and performance. I will utilise the collections of theatre programmes held in Wakefield Asylum Archive and Bethlem Museum of the Mind, as well as the Gartnavel Minstrel, a collection of songs and rhymes produced at Gartnavel Royal Hospital, Glasgow. Drawing upon recent methodological developments in sound studies, these sources will be examined to explore notions of performativity and sound (Born, 2013).

Section d) will draw upon written, visual and oral media produced during the Survivor Movement of the late-twentieth century. A pivotal innovation in this period was the creation of Asylum, the magazine for democratic society. Accessible via The Wellcome Collection, it includes creative writing, visual arts and examples of music and theatre created by service-users and ‘allies’ of the movement. This section will also draw upon the online archive produced by the Survivor History Group, which documents survivor perspectives through an extensive collection of material that includes service-user art projects, leaflets and manifestos, and oral testimonies. Borrowing methods used by Davies (2001) in her study of post-war patient experiences, the testimonies and written manifestos of survivors can be approached through a qualitative analysis of language use and the construction of narratives through memory.


Understanding of the approaches to the treatment and experiences of madness in the past has important implications for our understandings of, and responses to, mental illness in the present. At a time when it is estimated that approximately one in six individuals in the UK suffers from mental illness, my project is relevant and timely with the potential to impact the work of academics, social policy makers and health professionals due to its interdisciplinary nature. 

Most importantly, my research offers the opportunity to engage and collaborate with mental health service-users themselves. I have been participating in meetings with the Survivor History Group, a community for service-users and individuals interested in patient experiences and in the Survivor Movement. Building on this established link, I will collaborate with this forum to support service-user led history groups in local communities. Thus, through an endeavour to restore the patients’ perspectives to the historical record, my project simultaneously has the potential to draw attention to patient voice in the present.  




University of Strathclyde

Project title

Implementation intentions, cognitive abilities and self-harm


Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds and nearly 800K people die from suicide each year (World Health Organisation, 2017). A history of self-harm is the best predictor of eventual suicide. As is the case for many behaviours (e.g., Elliott et al., 2015), self-harm is a multifaceted problem (e.g., Rasmussen et al., 2012). However, it is well-established that critical situations (e.g., feeling hopelessness) act as triggers for this behaviour (O’Connor et al., 2013). Interventions that provide coping strategies for dealing with these critical situations are therefore required. Implementation intentions (IMPs) have recently shown promise in this regard. 


IMPs (Gollwitzer, 1999) are ‘IF–THEN’ plans that require people to specify critical situations that trigger unwanted behaviours (e.g., self-harm) and mentally link them with coping strategies (e.g., IF I am tempted to self-harm when I feel hopeless, THEN I will think about how my self-harming would upset my loved ones). The specification of the critical situation (IF) serves to encode a representation of that situation to memory. That mental representation is activated when the specified critical situation is encountered. The mental association between the specified critical situation (IF) and the coping strategy (THEN) serves to initiate a suitable response for ensuring that the unwanted behaviour is not performed when the mental representation of the critical situation has been activated. Essentially, the situations that typically prompt unwanted behaviours become triggers, instead, for desirable courses of action (e.g., avoidance of self-harm).

Armitage et al. (2016) recently showed that self-harm patients who had specified IMPs were significantly less likely to self-report suicidal thoughts, threats to die by suicide and future suicide attempts over a three month period compared with control patients. These improvements were small to moderate in magnitude (d = .35 to d = .55), raising the question of whether these beneficial effects can be increased and, if so, how. Research in other domains shows that IMPs do not change behaviour in up to half of all cases and there are systematic differences between people who successfully change their behaviour following an IMP intervention and those who do not (e.g. Elliott & Armitage, 2006; Brewster et al., 2015 and 2016). The proposed research aims to identify key cognitive abilities that distinguish between these two groups with a view to highlighting the problems that make it difficult for some patients to change their behaviour following intervention. This knowledge is essential for identifying remedial action to improve intervention effectiveness.

Theoretically, cognitive abilities are essential for enabling IMPs to change behaviour. People need to encode critical situations into long-term memory and create long-term associations between critical situations (IF) and coping strategies (THEN). Deficiencies in the cognitive processes that govern attention and memory encoding, as well as long-term storage and retrieval, are therefore likely to distinguish between patients for whom IMPs do and do not constitute a useful behaviour-change strategy. It is also known that there is substantial variation in cognitive abilities within samples of self-harm patients (Wenzel & Beck, 2008), meaning that cognitive abilities are worthy of investigation in this context.


1.       To test the extent to which IMPs reduce self-harm in the longer-term (6-months post-intervention) using objective outcomes (hospital readmission rates) in addition to self-reported outcomes (e.g., suicidal thoughts) and therefore extend the findings of Armitage et al. (2016). It is hypothesised that suicide-outcomes will be less prevalent in patients who have been asked to form IMPs than in patients who have not.

2.       To explore the profiles of cognitive abilities within self-harm patients that are likely to help explain why IMPs reduce suicide outcomes for some patients but not others. It is expected that there will be variation in key cognitive abilities that govern attention and memory encoding, as well as long-term storage and retrieval.

3.       To identify which cognitive abilities distinguish between patients for whom IMPs reduce suicide-outcomes and those for whom they do not. It is hypothesised that deficiencies in key cognitive abilities will distinguish between these two groups.                  

4.       To develop ways of delivering IMP interventions that can help overcome the cognitive deficits that interfere with their effectiveness.


A series of randomised controlled experiments will be conducted. All consecutive adult patients (aged 16 years or over) admitted to the medical wards of Glasgow Royal and Queen Elizabeth Infirmaries following a self-harm episode (intentional self-injury or poisoning; Hawton et al., 2003) will be eligible for participation in the research. The Consultant Psychiatrist at Glasgow Liaison Psychiatry Service has confirmed that access will be provided to the N > 1000 self-harm patients per year in these two hospitals, meaning that the sample sizes specified below can be achieved within the time-scale (power analyses confirm that the target Ns provide sufficient power).

The first experiment will simultaneously address the first three aims of this PhD (target N = 200). Following informed consent, patients will be randomised to either an experimental or a control condition. At time 1, usually within 24 hours of hospital admission, all participants will be asked to complete a questionnaire to assess baseline levels of suicide-outcomes. These will be defined as part of the PhD. Candidates include the Scale for Suicide Ideation, which measures suicidal ideation and behaviour (Beck et al., 1979), and standard supplementary measures of intentions to self-harm (Fishbein & Ajzen, 2010), depression (Beck et al., 1996), defeat and entrapment (Gilbert & Allan, 1998). Cognitive abilities that are likely to distinguish between patients for whom IMPs are a useful behaviour-change strategy and those for whom they are not, will also be used. These are to be identified during the PhD. Candidates include:

·         the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (Wechsler, 2010) to measure information processing speed, short term memory and working memory;

·         the Wechsler Memory Scale (Wechsler, 2010) to measure long term episodic memory;

·         the Colour-Word Interference subtest of the Delis-Kaplin Executive Function Scale (Delis et al., 2001) to measure attentional control

·         the Verbal Fluency subtest of the Delis-Kaplin Executive Function Scale to measure access to long term memory; and

·         the Cambridge Prospective Memory Test (Wilson et al., 2005) to measure prospective memory.

The participants randomised to the experimental condition will be asked to specify IMPs to avoid self-harming. In line with Armitage et al. (2016), the participants will use a volitional help sheet that provides a selection of critical situations and coping strategies. The patients in the experimental group will be asked to form IMPs by selecting the critical situations in which they think they are most likely to self-harm in the future and link them with coping strategies that they will try to employ when they find themselves in those critical situations. The control patients will also be given the volitional help sheet. However, they will be asked to select critical situations and coping strategies only. They will not be asked to form IMPs by linking the two. The control group will therefore be ‘active’ and help rule out alternative explanations for any changes in suicide-related outcomes, other than the intervention.

At time 2 (six months later), telephone interviews will be used to collect follow-up measures of the same suicide-outcomes that were measured at time 1. The Information Services Division will be asked to extract hospital admissions for self-harm in the period between baseline and follow-up.

The data would allow a comparison of the experimental and control conditions in suicide outcomes both prior to and following intervention (aim #1), an exploration of the cognitive abilities within self-harm patents (aim #2) and the effects of these on the effectiveness of IMPs (aim #3). Standard analytical techniques (e.g. ANOVAs) would be used.

The remaining studies in this PhD will address aim #4. They will be dependent on the findings of study 1. Different strategies for improving the effectiveness of IMPs are likely to be needed depending on which cognitive abilities are found to dictate reduction in suicide outcomes. For instance, rehearsal of IMPs at the point of origin is likely to strengthen the memory trace between critical situations (IF) and coping strategies (THEN), thus overcoming deficiencies in working memory that might interfere with the encoding of IMPs to long-term memory (cf. Unsworth, 2016). On the other hand, daily reminders of critical situations and coping strategies (e.g., through smartphone apps) might negate the need to recall previously formed IMPs and help overcome deficiencies in accessing long-term memory (cf. Gohier et al., 2009). Randomised controlled studies will be applied to test the effectiveness of such intervention strategies.


This PhD will advance the literature on IMPS and behaviour-change. The impact of cognitive abilities on the effectiveness of IMPS has received little exploration, a gap which this PhD aims to address. Additionally this PhD aims to enhance an understanding of the techniques required to change complex real-world behaviours which are recognised as wide societal problems, more specifically, self-harm and suicide. This PhD will also provide international innovative research through publication in top academic journals. The findings will be disseminated to the Scottish Government to help advise mental health and suicide prevention policies.


Social Work and Social Policy


University of Stirling

Project title

Using research in policymaking in the age of impact


Do policymakers understand something radically different by ‘impact’? If academics continue to use the most popular methods for creating and disseminating their work, are they doomed to achieve low policy impact?

The creation of ‘useable’ research has, for some academics, always been part of their role. The impact agenda was strengthened in 2008 when HEFCE announced plans to include impact as part of the newly created Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment, which ran for the first time in 2014. This has led to significant cultural change in the UK’s higher education sector (Manville et al., 2015; Manville et al., 2015). Despite this, there are significant challenges for academics and research users in seeking to maximise the effects of the impact agenda. This research, in seeking to understand impact in more detail, is therefore important and timely as impact becomes further embedded in REF2021 and more widely.

We are in the early stages of understanding the ways in which impact is created, especially in multi-causal, multi-actor environments such as policymaking.  This PhD will scrutinize how policymakers see the impact agenda, and whether it is driving an increased take-up of research by policymakers, either through different types of research being undertaken or more targeted dissemination methods. This PhD will examine the problems, contradictions and ethical constraints for academics trying to create impact. The research will also look at two routes to impact: the use of academic blogging – as a short-term first step to creating impact; and the building of partnerships – including co-production of research as a long term impact creator. I will seek to answer four questions:

·         Q1: What do policymakers understand by impact? Are current theories of impact useful to them and their work?

·         Q2: What does it mean to be an academic in the age of impact? How do impact activities fit with the other roles and characteristics of being an academic?

·         Q3: Is social media (particularly academic blogging) a useful channel in disseminating academic research for policymakers, as a first step to creating impact?

·         Q4: What does the work involved in creating long term partnerships with research users, including co-producing research, tell us about the contradictions between the roles and responsibilities of being an academic and the push to create impact?


This PhD’s topic sits within large bodies of literature that look at how policy is created; at how research is used in policy-making; at the growth of ‘evidence-based policymaking’, along with the relevant areas of science and technology studies.

·         Policymakers and impact (Q1)

Despite government being a key sector being ‘impacted’ on, much of the literature exclusively covers the academic side of impact. For example, how academics can increase their knowledge of the policymaking process or skills to translate their work for a policy-making audience. This PhD will investigate how policymakers see impact and the impact agenda, and whether they find the impact models discussed in existing literature useful. 

There are relevant parallels with the models created to describe impact and those that depict the policymaking process (Ingold and Monaghan, 2016). In addition, how policymakers find and use evidence – and indeed what they want from academics – may not fit well with the REF impact model (Tinkler, 2012): “The evidence on evidence use by policymakers questions a lot of the assumptions behind the ‘impact’ model used in the REF exercise” (Matthews et al, 2017: 2).

·         Being an academic in the age of impact (Q2)

As impact becomes further embedded, with its weighting increasing to 25% in REF2021, it is important to understand how it sits alongside other academic roles, responsibilities and expectations. The PhD will look at the ways in which the focus on impact has changed what an academic is expected to do. It would also examine how the pressures to create impact overlap or contradict with other pressures on individual academics.

·         Short-term and long-term routes to impact (Q3 + Q4)

The research will examine two key routes to impact. Firstly, a short term one – that of academic blogging. Increasing in prominence within universities since the early 2000s, some academic blogs now reach tens of thousands of readers each week. Anecdotally, they are an increasingly useful way for academic research to reach policymakers and influencers such as journalists (Mewburn and Thompson, 2013; Dunleavy and Gilson, 2012). However, there is little research that can underpin these claims. This PhD would aim to contribute to this gap.

Secondly, a long term route to impact that is consistently recommend throughout existing literature is increased collaboration between policymakers and academics (Armstrong and Alsop, 2010): “The sustained involvement of practitioners throughout the research process is one of the most important determinants of research impact and utilization in practice” (Buick et al., 2017: 38). These partnerships can create challenges for academics: around their independence and the role of ‘expert’ (Flinders et al., 2016); their impartiality when working with policymakers or organisations over long periods; and the difficulties of seeming to become an advocate for particular policy solutions as: “Meaningful influence requires a long-term strategy to form alliances and develop knowledge of policy makers and policy making, not a one-off dissemination of state-of-the-art knowledge” (Cairney, Oliver and Wellstead: 2016: 401).


·         REF Impact Case Studies

Of the 6,975 impact case studies submitted to REF2014, nearly 40 per cent detailed an impact on policy. This provides 2,800 cases that outline successful policy impact. Research done on this rich data source often only addresses one aspect (e.g. discipline, funding source, or research type). This PhD will look across a sample of the policy relevant impact cases, identifying the ways impact was achieved, the channels used by academics to interact with policymakers, and if translators/ mediators were used to achieve impact. This research will also provide a more detailed look at how blogging or partnerships affected the impact created. 

·         Altmetric Policy Document Data

Altmetric creates products that allows users to track and analyse online activity around scholarly research outputs. They collate mentions of scholarly research within mainstream media, social media and multimedia platforms. Two output types will be especially relevant for the proposed research:

o   Public policy documents: They track and text mine a range of public policy sources globally, looking for references to published research.

o   Blogs: They scan a manually curated list of over 9,000 academic and non-academic blogs daily.

As an Altmetric Advisory Board member, I have been given access to the data from these two (not currently publicly available) sources. I can therefore identify where academic research within blogs has fed into policy documents.

·         Policymaker interviews

Policymakers will be involved in this research in two ways: Firstly, I plan to run eight focus groups with policymakers (2 groups each representing UK central government, UK Parliament, Scottish Government, and Scottish Parliament) to discover whether theories of impact on policy, as well as strategies for creating impact, used by academics are seen as useful by them.

I will also undertake approx. 25 interviews with policymakers who have been involved in projects using academic research or who work closely with academics. REF case study analysis will be used to identify interviewees.

·         Researcher interviews

I will undertake approx. 50 interviews with academics involved in impact projects to identify how they see impact fitting in with their roles and responsibilities, as well as the contradictions and the ethics involved in attempting to produce useful research alongside interacting with policymakers. REF case study analysis will be used to identify interviewees.


This research will benefit policymakers working with academics or their research as part of their roles, as well as academics seeking to influence those working in government and Parliament. The impact of research on policy is not just of interest to those within the political science/social policy domains, but is relevant to all academic disciplines. I plan to use the network of policymaker contacts I have cultivated within the UK government/Parliament and the Scottish Government/Parliament over my career, to ensure research findings are disseminated widely using briefings and blog posts (such as via the LSE Impact blog and Guardian’s Political Science blog). I also plan to continue to take part in seminars and training sessions with academics, especially other PhD students and ECRS, on these topics. In the past I have created ‘how to’ guides for these sessions and I will be keen to do so again using this PhD’s findings.

I will be working on the PhD during a period of substantial change within UK HE. Impact on policy is a key theme for research councils and other funding bodies. An increased understanding of the challenges faced by policymakers and academics due to the impact agenda will be vital to those making decisions within the wider HE environment. I will feed this research into these debates wherever possible.