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From practising policy to a Politics PhD

Introduction

My name is Dayo and I am a second year PhD student at the University studying Politics. I am researching how underrepresented members of the public in policy making (in the case of my research, Black and Minority Ethnic young adults aged 18 – 25) are included in the process of policy making. I also work as a teaching assistant for politics related courses in undergraduate and Master’s level courses.

In Depth…

My route into PhD has been an interesting journey rather than a direct path. It has been a process of re-inventing myself and following my passion. My undergraduate degree was in Economics which I realised quite early on was not for me so I did not particularly excel in this degree. After a year out working, I figured out what my next steps would be so I did Master’s degrees in Human Resource Management and Management Psychology. I did well in these courses. Doing a PhD was something I had previously considered as it was suggested by my academic adviser during one of my Master’s degrees but I did not pursue it.

On graduating, I worked for about seven years in the private and not-for-profit sectors in Learning and Organisational Development. The knowledge and soft skills I gained at university meant that I was able to progress in my career by successfully utilising these skills.

Whilst I had no academic knowledge of policy making, I began to get interested in policy making as one of my jobs gave me exposure to this field. I then started to notice the lack of diverse representation in decision making bodies of public policy. There were ‘hidden’ and ‘silent’ groups of people who were not getting involved in decision-making.

I wanted to know why this was the case and also find solutions that would increase representation in policy making so that their experiences of issues could be taken into account when policy is being made.

Transitioning from being a practitioner to being back in university has been great; it has given me the opportunity to have the headspace to read and articulate the issues I am concerned about. I am doing lots of reading! What is also great and a highlight of my degree is that my fieldwork - working with real people in the real world - provides the opportunity to design an approach based on academic theories and study whether it works or not.

Skills gained from the practitioner work, in particular project management skills (time and resource management as well as organisational), are helping me progress with my PhD.

Through my journey, I have hopefully shown that a route to doing a PhD in Politics does not have to be typical. I have also shown that political parties and elections is just one component of a Politics degree.

So if you want to be the change, a degree in Politics could be for you!

Going Further…

If you are interested in finding out more about politics, here are some links you may find useful.

Politics degrees in Manchester: https://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/politics/study/courses/

Career options as a Politics graduate: https://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/politics/study/careers-and-employability/

Information about how Government works: http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/

Information on the UK Parliament: http://www.parliament.uk/

How research impacts on Policy: http://www.policy.manchester.ac.uk/blogs/

 

Can birdsong save endangered species?

Introduction

My name is Rebecca and I am a 2nd year PhD student in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. I have been interested in animals and the natural world since I was very young, so chose to study Natural Sciences, specialising in Zoology, at undergraduate level. Following this, I was selected for an animal husbandry internship at Chester Zoo, which cemented my desire to work with animals in zoological collections. I focused on this in more detail whilst completing my MSc Wild Animal Biology, examining multiple aspects of conservation and animal husbandry.

My research focuses on how birdsong can influence conservation. Birdsong exhibits clear population differences known as dialects, which are similar to accents in humans. These dialects can form very rapidly, especially in small, ex situ populations. They also play an important role in mate choice, with females preferring local over foreign dialects. Conservation interventions often bring birds from different populations together, so dialect differences could impact mate choice. This could cause many problems, the most serious being that birds may not integrate and breed in their new population. 

Automated recording unit

In depth

Many songbirds are threatened with extinction. Unfortunately, critically endangered species are often hard to access and have low sample sizes, meaning this kind of research is not possible. To avoid this, I work with a model species, the Java Sparrow (Lonchura oryzivora), which is numerous in zoos and aviculture but threatened in its home range. Once studied in the model, we can expand our techniques to more critically endangered birds.

Recording birds

Recording birds can be surprisingly challenging! Environments are full of noise, whether natural (like water and wind) or man-made (like traffic or electrical appliances), which also show up on our recordings. Lots of different equipment is available for different situations. Recordings in controlled conditions can make use of sensitive directional microphones. However, recordings outdoors require sturdy automatic recording units (ARUs), which can be left for long periods in all weather.

Analysing songs

Although we may be able to hear differences between the songs of different birds, it can be difficult to understand and explain how songs are different through listening alone.  We can visualise songs as a spectrogram, which allows us to analyse songs much more accurately.

Generally, we are interested in two main parts of song: spectrotemporal and structural features.

Spectrotemporal features include information about the timing of the song, for example its duration and the intervals between notes, and spectral details, such as minimum and maximum frequency.

Structural features relate to the notes themselves - their shape, how they are grouped together.

Once we have extracted these features for songs from multiple birds, we can compare them to see how similar their songs are.  If bird songs are more similar within than between populations, it is good evidence that dialects exist in the species.

Going further

Find out more about songbird conservation with Chester Zoo’s Sing for Songbirds (https://www.actforwildlife.org.uk/what-we-fight-for/conservation-challenges/our-campaigns/sing-for-songbirds) and EAZA’s Silent Forest (https://www.silentforest.eu) campaigns

The Macaulay Library (https://www.macaulaylibrary.org) is a great birdsong resource with recordings from thousands of species.

My links

Chester Zoo profile link:

https://www.chesterzoo.org/conservation-and-science/work-with-us/conservation-scholars/rebecca-lewis

DTP Profile:

https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/studentships-earth-atmosphere-ocean/our-students/2017-2018/rebeccalewis/

 

Selfish species: game theory and the ecosystem

Introduction

I am studying for a PhD in Statistical Physics and Complex Systems at The University of Manchester. My research studies a system of many interacting species where the population of one species can facilitate or hinder the growth of another species. This relationship is determined by a specific interaction coefficient between the species. The interaction coefficients for the relationship between every pair of species are drawn randomly from a two-dimensional Gaussian distribution, and we use the parameters of this distribution to predict how the ecosystem behaves. We can then simulate these interacting species using a computer programme to check our predictions.


In Depth…

I studied Mathematics and Physics for my undergraduate degree at The University of Manchester. I chose this degree because I enjoy understanding how the world works, and appreciate how bizarre and counter-intuitive our reality is. I had a fascination for quantum mechanics and relativity, higher dimensions, and sub-atomic particles. I really enjoyed learning about these concepts as well as being introduced to many other fascinating ideas. I enjoyed the lecture style of teaching but I also developed my ability for independent learning, I became really good at managing my own time, and absorbing information at my own pace from reading textbooks and lecture notes. The most useful skill I learned during my degree was how to computer programme, I learned how use Matlab, C++, and Python, and I learned how to write codes for simulations, data analysis, solving complicated equations, and optimization algorithms. I decided to do a PhD after my undergraduate degree because I really enjoy self-study and programming, and I am further developing these skills with new challenges every day.

I became interested in population dynamics after reading "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins, where he described behavioural evolution using ideas from Game Theory. He described how an animal’s behaviour, and the behaviours of the other animals it interacts with, would determine how successful the animal would be at surviving and passing on it genes. These successful behavioural strategies would dictate how the behaviour of the population as a whole would change over time, and evolve to an Evolutionary Stable Strategy which could be understood as stable Nash equilibria. During my degree I took the opportunity to study Game Theory further by writing my second year vacation essay on the topic. I researched many areas of Game Theory and went through a short online course. I discovered how it can be applied to statistical physics, in the Ising model for ferromagnets, and really enjoyed learning about how ideas from quantum mechanics could produce Quantum Game Theory, where a player could play multiple strategies at the same time. In my fourth year I undertook a project with my current PhD supervisor on a population of individuals who had the choice of two behavioural strategies to interact with. The population evolved by the number of individuals playing the more successful strategy increasing, but this model also considered the effect of time delay, such as a gestation period in nature. I really enjoyed my project with my supervisor and through this I continued onto a PhD with him.

Going Further…

Here is a link to my supervisor’s webpage, if you are interested in my research you could look at his publications:

https://www.theory.physics.manchester.ac.uk/~galla/

Here are links to the undergraduate Mathematics and Physics courses webpages:

http://www.maths.manchester.ac.uk/

https://www.physics.manchester.ac.uk/

If you are interested in game theory, here is a brief course:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZKErrvVMaY&list=PL76B0EB6DDFC42D02

If you are interested in “The Selfish Gene” here is a brief summary of the book, chapter 12 discusses game theory:

http://old.unipr.it/arpa/defi/econlaw/SELFISH%20GENE.pdf

and the full text can be downloaded here:

https://www.zuj.edu.jo/download/the-selfish-gene-r-dawkins-1976-ww-pdf/

 

Children's mental health and wellbeing

by YPU Admin on March 29, 2019, Comments. Tags: children, Education, Humanities, Mental Health, psychology, SEED, teaching, and wellbring

Introduction

Hi, my name is Kim Petersen and I’m a second year PhD student at the Manchester Institute of Education (MIE).

My PhD research focusses on primary school children’s mental health and wellbeing. I am interested in looking at lots of different aspects of children’s mental health and wellbeing (e.g. feeling sad, angry, happy, enjoying  life etc.) and finding common patterns of mental health and wellbeing. I want to find out:

1) what causes the different patterns of mental health 

2) whether behaviour programmes used in schools affect children’s mental health 

I hope this information will help us to find ways to improve children’s mental health and wellbeing in the future.

In Depth…

How did I get here?

After my A-levels I went to Glasgow University to do a degree in Psychology. I went on to work for a charity, supporting children with different neurological conditions, like autism spectrum disorder. Then, I did a PGCE teacher training qualification and worked as a primary school teacher. While working as a teacher I became really interested in children’s mental health and wellbeing and what schools could do to try and improve it. So, I decided to go back to  university to do research in this area. First, I did a Master’s degree in Psychology and Education and then I applied to do a research PhD. I didn’t always know that I would end up doing this, but my experiences and interests sort of led me here, and I really enjoy what I am doing.

What is mental health?

Mental health is a term we have all heard of, but what does it actually mean? Sometimes, when people talk about ‘mental health’, they are only talking about mental health disorders, like depression or schizophrenia. Today, many researchers, and others, think that mental health is more than this. As well as mental health difficulties, there are also positive aspects of mental health like feeling good and satisfied with your life. There is a widely held statistic that ‘1 in 4 people have mental health problems’. However, 4 out of 4 people have mental health because 4 out of 4 people have brains! In other words mental health is something we all have and we should focus on helping everyone gain better mental health and wellbeing.

My research

I am investigating mental health in this broad way, which includes both mental health problems and positive aspects of mental wellbeing. We collected information about children’s mental health and wellbeing by giving surveys to around 3000 primary school children and their teachers. We also collected other information about the children, like whether they were male or female, how they felt about their school, their relationships with other children, their school grades, and whether they had taken part in a school behaviour programme.

To make sense of all the information collected I use a computer programme to help me to find patterns in the data. For example, I can use the programme to see if there are some groups of children who show very similar patterns of mental health. I can then look at what other characteristics these children have. For example, if I found a group of children that had no mental health problems but felt very happy and satisfied with life, I could find out if those children were more likely to be male or female, have better relationships with their friends, or have taken part in a school behaviour programme, compared to other groups. The aim is to identify what might be important for good mental health and wellbeing so that we can try to improve children’s mental health in the future.

Why is this kind of research important?

Improving children’s mental health has been highlighted as an important issue in the UK. The government has said that schools have an important role to play in doing this. Research is needed to show what schools can do to try and improve children’s mental health and wellbeing.

Going further

Find out more about children’s mental health and wellbeing on these charities’ webpages:

https://youngminds.org.uk

https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/back-to-school/childrens-well-being-and-mental-health

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/c/children-and-young-people

The Good Childhood Report provides information about what children and young people say about their own mental health and wellbeing:

https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/good-childhood-report-2018-youth-summary.pdf

This is a summary of a recent government proposal for how to improve children’s mental health and wellbeing:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/transforming-children-and-young-peoples-mental-health-provision-a-green-paper/quick-read-transforming-children-and-young-peoples-mental-health-provision

Here is a link to the Manchester Institute of Education so you can see what courses we offer and what research we do:

https://www.seed.manchester.ac.uk/education/

 

What links: cigarettes, psoriasis and John Snow?

Intro

My name is Alex Trafford and I am a second year Epidemiology PhD student in the Division of Pharmacy and Optometry. I have quite a diverse academic background for somebody in my field, being unsure of which subjects I enjoyed most at school and splitting my A-levels between the sciences and humanities. I eventually decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in geography, with two years at Lancaster University and one year abroad at the University of North Carolina. In my final undergraduate year I took part in a module looking at health geographies - during this time I came across the field of epidemiology, which combined aspects of science and humanities, and decided that this was the direction I wanted to go in. In order to learn more about the field, I completed a master’s degree in Demography and Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2017.

In late 2017, I received funding from the Global Psoriasis Atlas and started my PhD in Epidemiology at Manchester. My project here involves using huge datasets to understand how having psoriasis might make somebody more or less likely to get cancer.  

In Depth


Although epidemiology is not a field that is as well-known as others, like maths or chemistry, its results are often very well publicised and can shape how many people live their lives. The first epidemiological study was conducted in London by John Snow (not the one from Game of Thrones), who used a map of cases of ill health and interviews with local people to identify a contaminated water pump that was spreading cholera. Since this first study, epidemiology has been developed and used in a lot of different ways to improve health – from proving that smoking can be extremely bad for your health to recognising the role of mosquitos in the spread of yellow fever. Though more traditional methods are still used to quantify disease and its distribution - for example, in recent Ebola outbreaks - epidemiology has also evolved to use big data and more complex techniques, such as machine learning. 

In my research, I will be using big data to understand how having psoriasis may influence the risk of developing cancer. Although psoriasis presents as a condition of the skin, it involves chronic, systemic inflammation and this has been linked to an increased risk of cancer in other conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease. However, attributing an altered risk of developing cancer to the inflammation involved in psoriasis is challenging due to the presence of other lifestyle behaviours, such as smoking. As it has been demonstrated that smoking is more common in people with psoriasis, it is challenging to say whether people with psoriasis develop cancer more often because of their psoriasis or because they are more likely to smoke – this is a concept known as confounding in epidemiology.

To try to understand whether people with psoriasis do develop cancer more, and whether it’s likely to be a result of their psoriasis or other lifestyle behaviours, I am analysing health data recorded by GPs and Hospitals in England. By following anonymous people with and without psoriasis through their health records, it is possible to compare the number of cancer diagnoses in each group. Having data for behaviours such as smoking then allows me to understand how these factors might be influencing any risk.

Gaining an understanding of whether people with psoriasis do develop cancer more, and what might be causing this, is vital for the current care of people with psoriasis and may also guide important future immunological research into the topic.


Going Further

To learn more about John Snow’s first epidemiological study - 

https://www.pastmedicalhistory.co.uk/john-snow-and-the-1854-cholera-outbreak/

To learn more about epidemiology –

https://www.bmj.com/about-bmj/resources-readers/publications/epidemiology-uninitiated/1-what-epidemiology

To learn more about psoriasis –

https://www.psoriasis-association.org.uk/

Population health at the University of Manchester –

https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/en/facultiesandschools/division-of-population-health-health-services-research--primary-care(19db7129-c98b-4029-a819-8c5ffe20e845).html