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Why Sociology?

by YPU Admin on July 16, 2013, Comments. Tags: civil partnership, marriage, Research, and Sociology


My name's Em, and I'm currently researching for a PhD in Sociology at the University of Manchester. 

If I’m honest, I came to sociology quite by accident at A-level in 1996. My university career came much later in part because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I did not have the right attitude to study which meant I didn’t get the right grades to go to university. Roll forward another 9 years (2005) my brain was still incredibly active, busy, and questioning and I thought going to university might help! So, in 2005 I applied to go to college to do an Access to Higher Education course which gave me the skills and confidence to start a degree. A year later (2006) I started at BSU (Bath Spa University) and studied psychology, sociology, history (from my second year – I concentrated only on sociology, and took a couple of psychology modules). It was here that I realised I wanted to become a lecturer and learned I would need to do a PhD. I was taught by some really inspiring, funny and passionate lecturers who introduced me to sociology and I finally felt I was home, I fitted in this environment. They showed me how sociology was made up of different parts much like a big jigsaw puzzle. Our identities (made up of different combinations such as race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality and social roles: parent; child) are worn like masks, and shape how we are seen, and how others engage with us. They also influence the kinds of encounters we can have with others. We were also introduced to the idea that certain structures like ‘school’, ‘the family’, ‘marriage’ all operate to shape our experiences, keep things the same (continuity) and pattern our behaviour to maintain social order. Excitingly, these structures are not fixed; overtime they are rejected, remoulded, and contested by individuals sharing stories and people getting together in the form of ‘social movements’ to challenge the way these structures impact people’s lives.

In Depth

I think every academic has a story to share that begins with a fascination or preoccupation about something that connects them and their experiences to the topic they end up studying.  Why am I researching Civil Partnership? For my undergraduate dissertation I had been exploring how gay couples divide housework. I picked up on academic conversations that suggested there was a lot of concern about the impact of civil partnership, and how it might alter how same-sex couples ‘do’ their relationships. I was curious about why legal recognition for same-sex relationships caused such heated ‘battles’.


A central and controversial issue recurring in these ‘battles’ was the costs of gaining acceptance and visibility and being able to fit in, and the consequences that ‘fitting in’ would have for people whose relationships could not be considered ordinary. These concerns were quite lofty and abstract, they did not seem to engage with people’s everyday concerns or represent their lived lives. I was struck by the way that legal recognition was viewed as either having a positive impact, or a detrimental impact. These opinions could not allow for the possibility that civil partnership could be both ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Additionally, no one had considered the factor of generation and how being a certain age and having different experiences before the availability of civil partnership might shape how they made sense of civil partnership. These concerns led me to develop my PhD project: After the Act: Narratives of Display and the Significance of Civil Partnership. The main aim of my project has been to explore the significance that civil partnership might have for a generation of people who would have formed and sustained intimate relationships without access to legal recognition.

Doing this project has meant I’ve travelled all over England and Wales, speaking to individuals or couples. I’ve been welcomed into people’s homes and workplaces. The stories that people have shared have focused on a number of key areas of their life: what their life was like before civil partnership; what their civil partnership day was like (was it a big celebration or a formality, who came and how did they react to the couple and how did the guests get on with each other); life afterwards (has it altered relationships with families-of-origin, and what impact has it had on encounters with others – acquaintances and strangers). Can they be more open about their relationship in public (e.g. hold hands and kiss) and are members of public they encounter tolerant and accepting? I am currently writing chapters describing my findings.

Going Further

Further information about Sociology at Manchester can be found on the department's webpages

You can find out more about studying Sociology, and careers in Sociology through the Brightside Trust's Bright Knowledge pages


The Science of LIfe

by YPU Admin on June 24, 2013, Comments. Tags: biology, cells, Research, and science


My name is Becky Williams and I am a PhD student in the Faculty of Life Sciences here at the University of Manchester. My PhD is in the field of Developmental Biology, which is the study of how the cells in the early embryo are able to become all the different cells in the body. For my PhD, I am interested in understanding how mechanisms used by cells during early development to grow and divide can be re-activated in cancer, causing tumours to grow and divide. In my lab, we are most interested in researching breast cancer, so my project is focused on this disease.

In depth

My degree

My undergraduate degree was Developmental Biology with a Year in Industry. I did my degree at the University of Manchester because I was blown away by the ambition and enthusiasm of the Faculty of Life Sciences when I visited on an open day. I love the city, and I think it is a great place to be as a student because everything is relatively cheap, and there is a lot to do.  However, it is very important to own an umbrella if you live here!

The highlight of my degree was my year in industry at AstraZeneca, where I met some amazing people and really found a passion for studying the life sciences. My industrial project had some unexpected results, which I puzzled over for weeks. With the help of my supervisors, I eventually managed to explain my findings, and we even had enough data to publish a scientific, peer-reviewed paper on what we had found. It was the puzzle that I found addictive, and it is the puzzle that made me passionate about my subject.

My PhD

I am now doing a PhD in Developmental Biology. A PhD is an extended (3-4 year) programme where you research something in depth. In particular, I am focussing on methods that help cells grow and divide during early development, and how these can cause cancer if they are re-activated in adults.  I choose this project based both on my time at AstraZeneca, and on my undergraduate degree programme. I knew from my degree that I love learning about how animals and people develop from just a few cells in the embryo, and I knew from AstraZeneca that I love to puzzle over how cells work. My PhD project brings these two elements together, and I spend my days puzzling over how things used in development can go wrong in breast cancer.

A typical day

It sounds like a cliché, but there really is no typical day for me- I choose my own hours, and set my own schedule. The pressure to get good results means that I typically work long hours, and occasionally have to come in at the weekend to finish an experiment.  Most days involve some form of computer work (emails, checking microscope images, making graphs of results, writing my online lab book) and some time in the lab doing experiments. I also spend a lot of time doing public engagement and widening participation with school and sixth form students, so some days are completely different again. These days are some of my favourites, as I love creating workshops about science, and working with inspiring young people.  I even got to meet Prof. Brian Cox!

Why I did a PhD

A PhD seemed a natural progression for me having finished my undergraduate degree, as I loved science and scientific research. I am really proud to be part of the fight against cancer, and I work with some incredible people. A PhD is a rollercoaster ride, and the good days are AMAZING- a good result can have me skipping all the way home! Naturally, this means that the bad days can be very gloomy, and having supportive people around you helps you pick yourself up and dust yourself down. My bad days usually arise when an experiment hasn’t worked for the umpteenth time, or I have messed an experiment up, which happens much more often than I would like!

How I got my PhD and future plans

My time at AstraZeneca and my final year laboratory undergraduate project helped my to get my PhD, as they demonstrated that I had the skills to work in a lab. I was really lucky to be offered a PhD part funded by Your Manchester Fund, which means that University of Manchester alumni donate money to fund my PhD.  I am not sure where my career will take me- I love doing my PhD, and would enjoy any career in science. This could include an academic career, a career in scientific industry, or a career in teaching. As long as I am still in the world of science, I will be happy.

Going Further

To find out more about me, visit my blog

To discover more about Developmental Biology research at the University of Manchester you can visit their webpages. The Faculty's webpages also have information about studying Life Sciences at Manchester. 

The British Society for Developmental Biology has some excellent resources for schools and students. 

You can find out more about doing a year in industry at AstraZeneca by looking at their Student Workers and Interns placements.

Bright Knowledge, from The Brightside Trust, has information and guidance on studying Biology and pursuing a career in Biological Sciences. 


Whose Time is it Anyway?

by YPU Admin on June 20, 2013, Comments. Tags: Humanities, Law, Philosophy, Research, and Time


My name is Tanzil Chowdhury and I am a Ph.D researcher in the School of Law. My work lies in the field of Jurisprudence which, generally, is a fancy word describing philosophical questions about law.These, for example, can include basic questions, such as: what is a law (how is it different from the rules you have in the classroom)? What role does law have in our lives (to control us? protect us?)? Are law and justice the same thing? 

My research looks at a very specific aspect of law which is ‘time’ or temporality (the two mean roughly the same thing). A famous philosopher, St Augustine, once said: ‘What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks me, I do not know’. Whilst we often think of time as being what our watch or clock tells us (called objective time), we also have experiences of time, like the feeling we have of time passing slowly when sitting through a boring film or ‘time flying when we are having fun’ (called subjective time). Law, as a ‘thing’ that exists in society, also has its own temporality. But why should it matter what the law’s time is?

In Depth

Bear this in mind: that time and temporality is intrinsically linked to how we construct events.

To explain what this means, imagine this: your mother has been forced to sort out a conflict between you and your brother. According to your elder sibling, he says you hit him in the leg. You don’t necessarily disagree, only that this was not the entire story. You tell your mother that your punch was a response to years of pent up aggression at the hands of your brother’s bullying. Your mother, preoccupied with more pressing matters, looks to you both and hands down her judgement: ‘this is going to stop now! From now on, if either of you complains about the other, you shall both be grounded’.

Her justice is firm and swift; her construction of the event is directed toward guiding both your future actions.  Your focus, however, was rooted firmly in the past. Put simply, your mother and you have different temporalities (your mother is more concerned with the future, and you the past) and this directly effects how you construct the pattern of events. Lawyers, judges and law makers exercise construction in very much the same way. 

The main question, therefore, is to look at how laws construct their own time (what we might call ‘legal temporality’). The clearest way of determining this is looking at the way legal actors (such as judges and law makers) apply legal principles to facts when they are ruling on a case and how this directly affects the way they reconstruct events in those cases. Interestingly, we don’t all share the same ‘temporality’. For example, the law aims to guide future conduct but I may be preoccupied with an event in the past which affects my future conduct. Because humans and the law courts have‘competing temporalities’, it maybe that the legal system can never really work.

I hope that my work will contribute to understanding how the law is a unique phenomenon within society and allow others to criticise and discuss the law from an entirely new angle. It may hopefully help to inform how the law can be more sensitive to the temporalities of humans’ who use the courts, and also help us to understand why a person may have committed wrongdoings.

Going Further

For another explanation of my research check out my university webpage and for information about studying Law at the University of Manchester, the department's pages are a good resource.  

 If you would like to learn more about the jurisprudence, and the philosophy of law generally, Law Teacher and Princeton University's Wiki provide useful resources. The Legal Theory Blog also contains some great information. 

Sixth Form Law provides opportunities for you to explore the questions that legal philosophers ask, and Stanford University's Encyclopedia of Philosophy an interesting section on Justice as a VirtueThis website is generally good for anything related to philosophy.

Discussions about time and temporality vary in philosophy, sciences and the social sciences. A good starting point for understanding this is the video attached to an article on time in the Huffington Post, while Stanford's Philosophy encyclopedia again provides a detailed overview of the experience and perception of time

The Guardian's Law Student section is great reading for those studying, or interested in, law.

Bright Knowledge, from the Brightside Trust, has some excellent information on studying law and pursuing a career in law. 


Body Broken?

by YPU Admin on June 12, 2013, Comments. Tags: Biophysics, Computer modelling, Physics, Research, and science


Since before your birth you have interacted with the world via the physical form that is your body; but how much do you really know about it? Do you know how it works? What do your cells actually do? How do organs like your heart and brain function? What stops them from functioning, endangering or even ending your life? Can we prevent them from failing?

My name is Craig Testrow and I’m a Biophysicist; in other words, I solve biological problems by investigating the physics behind them, asking (and occasionally answering) questions like those above. My project is to build a computer model of the uterus, or womb, with the aim of preventing women from giving birth too soon, which can greatly harm their newborn baby.

In Depth...

I’m a physicist by training. At A-level I studied Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Further Maths. I then went on to do a physics degree at Manchester. But what business does a physicist have poking his nose into biology and medicine? Well, ultimately all biological and chemical systems are governed by the laws of physics. Let me give you an example; consider a heart cell. Such cells are the building blocks that make up the heart; if you understand those blocks, you can assemble them and understand the whole organ. This is where the physics comes in: we view the cell as a little electrical circuit.


An imbalance of charged calcium, sodium and potassium ions inside and outside of the cell creates a potential difference, forcing the ions to flow across its membrane in an attempt to balance the charge. This remarkably simple analogy of a cell to a circuit board works really well. We just apply all the familiar laws of circuits, like Ohm’s Law (V=IR) to our cells and find we can replicate the activity we witness in living systems on a computer. It is all the more amazing when you realise how incredibly complex the systems in our body actually are. But these complex systems are entirely dependent on simple, universal physical principles.

But why do we bother writing computer programs? Shouldn’t we spend our time with patients instead of fiddling around with all this code? Well, not if we want to help as many people as possible. Our computer models can perform thousands of simulations, with hundreds of variations in the time it takes to run a single traditional laboratory experiment; not to mention it’s cheaper and doesn’t require you to give up your organs so we can prod them with probes (well, not as often anyway). And on a purely numerical basis, a medical doctor might be able to treat 20 or 30 people a day; if successful, our research could be put into practice worldwide, directly helping thousands of people each day, millions every year.

There is a key point to be made here: people working outside of science and medicine often overlook the role of research in coming up with new knowledge and techniques, which are placed in the hands of doctors who go on to implement them. Cancers are treated on hospital wards, but they’re cured in the lab. That said, our work would be impossible without the efforts of experimental biologists providing us with raw data, and irrelevant without the dedication of medical staff on the front line; like links in a chain, we’re each dependent on the others for support.

Something I’ve learned while studying physics is that the well-trodden path is not necessarily the right one. Whichever subject interests you, be it science, medicine, or any other; take the time to ponder less conventional routes. If you are interested in medicine, consider a career in research; the scientist who cures cancer or eradicates HIV will secure their place in history.

Going Further

You might like to have a look at the following links if you are curious about physics, biophysics or medical research:

Undergraduate physics courses at Manchester. Includes lots of useful info, including views of current and previous students:

Postgraduate physics at Manchester, for when one degree just isn’t enough!

The Institute of Physics website

An introduction to biophysics and its importance as a field by the Biophysical Society

Topics covered in biophysics

Want to live forever? Dr. Aubrey de Grey of Cambridge thinks medical research will soon lead to immortality, by curing age-related diseases through regenerative biotechnology. Read more about the SENS Research Foundation. 


Researching Religion

by YPU Admin on May 7, 2013, Comments. Tags: Religion and Research


My name is Francesca Frazer and I am currently studying for a PhD in Jewish-Christian relations. I’ve always found studying religion fascinating as it’s a way of looking at the world through the eyes of others and understanding what motivates people to believe what they believe and do what they do. I’m especially interested in the relationship between Christians and Jews. They have a shared heritage – the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament – and yet they’ve fought for centuries. Jewish-Christian relations is a massive area that has become especially important since the events of the Holocaust. Repairing such a fractured relationship has been difficult, but one man, an American rabbi called Samuel Sandmel (1911-1979), was a pioneer in this area and I have chosen to spend three years of my life researching his impact on the world of Jewish-Christian relations.

In Depth

I came across Samuel Sandmel’s many books when I was studying for my first degree in Religions and Theology and then in my Masters degree in Biblical Studies, both at the University of Manchester. I was impressed by his tolerance and his respectful explanations of beliefs which were different to his own, especially so soon after the atrocities of the Holocaust, and at a time when Jews were still being persecuted. At that time, universities were mainly Christian institutions and very few Jews were allowed to teach at them. Sandmel was one of the first Jews to undertake a PhD in New Testament studies and, even more rare, to become a Professor in this field. He wrote not only textbooks about the history of the troubled relationship between Christians and Jews, but also popular books in common-sense language, which could be easily understood by ordinary people of both faiths. He explained about the misconceptions each religion had about the other and showed how through looking at the beliefs of another, they could understand and appreciate not just their differences but also their similarities.

In order to assess how much influence he had on Jewish-Christian relations, I have to know everything about Sandmel. Researching someone’s life means really investigating every detail about them, not just what books and articles they published, but finding out their thoughts and actions. So, last year I went to the USA to an archive where his wife had donated all his personal handwritten diaries and letters he’d written to her and his children. I’ve spoken to one of his children and students that he taught to find out more about him. So, researching involves a lot more than just reading books!

The more people understand about other religions, the more tolerant they become and hopefully we can act to make sure attitudes like those perpetuated in the Holocaust are never allowed to happen again.

Because of this I also spend part of my time working for the International Council of Christians and Jews and coordinating the International Abrahamic Forum, which promotes Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations. These two organisations are made up of thousands of members from 38 different countries. My job is to organise conferences and events where students, academics and religious leaders can all come together to learn about people from other faiths. It’s incredibly rewarding.

I also teach at the University and give talks about the study of religions to local schools and colleges. I’m passionate about improving understanding and therefore tolerance between religions, so after my PhD I will pursue a career in either interfaith work or teaching.

Going Further

To find out more about the relationship between Christians and Jews, you can become a member of the Council of Christians and Jews. You can also join the International Council of Christians and Jews and the International Abrahamic Forum, which promotes Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations. 

To find out more about academic study of Jewish-Christian relations, there is a really good website, called, which is full of all sorts of articles, news stories, book reviews, statements and other interesting information. 

The Brightside Trust provides information about studying for a degree in Religious Studies

If you want to know more about studying religion at the University of Manchester (I can highly recommend it!), have a look at our Centre for Jewish Studies and our Religions and Theology department webpage.