Only showing posts tagged with 'Humanities' Show all blog posts

From Law to International Relations to Politics!


Hi everyone! My name’s Moises Vieira. I’m currently doing a PhD in the Department of Politics. In my research, I’m looking at the intersection of migration and healthcare. In a nutshell, I’m interested in the (legal and ethical) challenges around providing healthcare for migrants, in the UK. I have been a student at Manchester since September 2018, where I’ve had the opportunity to discuss my work with world-class researchers, professors and fellow colleagues in the field of International Relations.

In addition to being a researcher, I am also a graduate teaching assistant in the Faculty of Humanities. So far, I have taught a module on the ‘Politics of Globalization’ where the students and I discussed different aspects of living in a globalised world, and how that impacts on social, economic and political life. Furthermore, I have also taught online modules addressing a range of issues within the field of International Relations and beyond: creating a sustainable world, security and trust, cybercrimes, partnerships for development, among others. 

As you can see, life as a university student goes way beyond simply attending classes and hitting the books. There are always a lot of extra activities you can engage with, according to your interests, academic background and previous training.

In Depth…

I went to Law School as an undergraduate student, and decided to pursue an academic career following my Master’s degree in International Relations. I undertook my studies in Brazil, so doing my PhD at Manchester has been an incredible experience both on the academic and personal levels. Most of my activities take place on campus, such as attending seminars, lectures, workshops and specific training events for career advancement. Doing a PhD in Politics is a great opportunity to move around and explore the world, too: as a researcher, I have attended academic events in a range of cities in the UK, and international conferences in a few countries, such as Switzerland and Denmark. These have been invaluable experiences in order to further my research, but also to meet new people and explore new places.

Back to my main research interest: What does it mean to be looking at the intersection of migration and healthcare? Let’s say an immigrant (with unlawful residence in the UK) falls ill, and is denied access to the NHS. In my research, I analyse issues like that, and ask questions such as: Is it ethical to deny healthcare for migrants on the grounds of immigration status? What are the human rights implications of refusing healthcare for non-citizens? By addressing these questions, I seek to raise people’s awareness of these important issues around public health and migration, which are very relevant for both migrants and UK citizens alike. 

Going Further…

A short guide for healthcare provision for migrants by the charity ‘Doctors of the World’:

The British Medical Association (BMA) opinion on refusing migrants’ access to the NHS:

Some reflections on charging migrants for healthcare:

Some context on the extension of ‘hostile environment’ into a range of areas, including healthcare:

A special focus on pregnancy and migrant women:

A report on the health of migrants in the UK, by the Migration Observatory, at the University of Oxford:


My Journey as a Geography Student


I’m Alex, a 2nd-year Geography PhD student in the School of Environment, Education and Development at the University of Manchester. My research is focused on grasslands, and using new sensing technologies to better understand the ecosystem processes that take place in them – mainly cycling of carbon, nutrients and water. I look at images taken from satellites and drones to study the landscapes over a much larger scale than would be possible on the ground, which means we can monitor how climate change is affecting these environments, and predict what might happen in the future.

In depth...


I always found Geography exciting; thinking about far-away places and the different lives that take place in them was a fun escape from the routine of school life. I visited quite a few different universities before I chose Manchester. This would be my top piece of advice if you’re thinking of moving away – you will do a lot of growing up during your university years, so it’s really important to find the right place. Take a few days to visit different options, get a feel for them, chat to people and imagine yourself living there.

The highlight of my degree was my dissertation project, which was my first taste of designing my own research tailored exactly to the things I most enjoyed. I wrote it about landscape restoration in the moorlands of the Peak District, a place I had visited and loved as a kid which I got to see from a new, scientific perspective. The other most important thing is the friends I made. There are so many ways to meet new people and make friends at university – some of my best friends I didn’t meet until my final year, when I joined circus club.

After graduating I did some conservation internships with two wildlife charities. I was sick of sitting indoors reading about the outside world, and wanted to go and spend time in it! Both the organisations have lots of volunteering opportunities if you’re interested in a career outdoors (links at the bottom). After a couple of months however I’d had my fill of the outside, and moved to the University of Leicester to work as a Research Assistant, making a map of landcover changes in the UK as part of a Europe-wide project. I met so many interesting and inspiring people at Leicester that I realised I wanted to continue my career in academia after all, and this is when I decided to apply for my PhD. There are lots of different routes into academia, so if you don’t know exactly what you want to do then it is absolutely fine to spend some time exploring, doing different jobs or volunteering. That way, when you do finally decide on your PhD topic you know it’s the perfect choice for you.

My first study site, in the Yorkshire Dales


For me, it is very important in research to feel that you are contributing to something bigger, important and worthwhile, but also doing something interesting and fun day-to-day.

The big picture of my research is focused around climate change, and how we can manage our ecosystems to ensure that they will continue to thrive and provide us with food, fuel, water and other essential resources in the future. I’m interested mostly in the belowground communities of soil bacteria and fungi, which are an essential part of any ecosystem as they keep soil healthy and make it possible for plants to grow, but are often forgotten about (probably because they are difficult to see). I want to know if it is possible to make predictions about these communities – for example how diverse they are, or how active they are – based on properties of the plants that we can see aboveground. To do this I use sophisticated imagery (this is the fun part!); cameras which can see the whole spectrum from ultraviolet to short-wave infrared light, rather than just the blue/green/red we can detect with our eyes. This reveals very detailed information about the plants, which I hope will hold the clues to what is going on in the soil.

Satellite image of the Dee estuary


There are some brilliant things and some big challenges that come with academic life. The best thing is how vibrant and busy the university environment is; everyone has their own project or projects going on, and there are loads of opportunities to get involved in all sorts of activities. In the past year I have been out helping friends with their fieldwork, running events at schools and museums, helped charity projects, and been on two training schools abroad in Estonia and Austria. You will never be bored! The downside of this is that, as you are trusted to manage your own time, it can be easy to get carried away and overstretch yourself, get stressed out and feel alone in tackling your enormous workload. My main advice is to communicate honestly with your colleagues and peers if you are struggling, as you will find that there are plenty of people who feel the same and are happy to help out.

Going further...

This is a website with some introductory information and tutorials about remote sensing for secondary school learners. Topics range from mapping areas affected by the 2010 Haiti earthquake to correcting distorted images resulted from a plane being buffeted by the wind. It is developed by the University of Bonn, so parts of the website are in German. There’s plenty for English speakers too though! If you’re really keen this might be good to do in a group with a teacher, perhaps as a lunchtime club. Or you could try yourself at home!

This is a mapping project set up by Dr Jonathan Huck in the Manchester Geography department. We need your help to map remote parts of Uganda using satellite imagery, in order to deliver prosthetic limbs to people affected by war.

The Royal Geographical Society has lots of inspiring Geography content on its website. There’s a section for schools, with competitions and events throughout the year for secondary school pupils.

The Wildlife Trusts and Woodland Trust have lots of events and opportunities for getting involved, especially as a young person. Their websites are really informative and easy to navigate.

You will have heard of National Geographic, but I thought I should mention it as this magazine is what first got me into Geography. You don’t have to get a subscription yourself – your school or local library might have one.

Finally, here is the website for Geography at the University of Manchester! It has loads of information about the courses, facilities and research that goes on in the department.


The Mechanics of Language


My name is Alina, and I am a first-year PhD student in Linguistics. The most common two questions I get asked when I say this are: “What is Linguistics?” and “How many languages do you speak?” So, I’ll begin by answering these. Linguistics is the “scientific study of language”. It is a vast discipline, but some examples of what linguists are interested in are: how grammars are constructed, how language changes, what the similarities and differences are between the languages of the world, how children and adults learn languages, how people’s use of language varies according to social factors (gender, age, context etc.), how the order of words in a sentence gives that sentence meaning, the list goes on…!

As for the second question, being a linguist does not automatically mean you speak tons of languages (though some do)! I speak French, I am learning Spanish, and I understand Reunion Creole, which is the language that my PhD research is on. Reunion Creole is spoken on the island of La Réunion, a French overseas department (next to Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean). Creole languages are relatively new languages (compared to English or French, for example) which arise when groups of speakers with different native tongues are found in a situation where they need to communicate with one another. This happened in La Réunion when French colonisers settled on the island and imported slaves from Madagascar and East Africa. Later, immigrants from India and China came to the island to work. Over the subsequent generations, the language formed through the interaction of these groups of speakers. It is now the native language of the majority of the island, spoken alongside French. Many of the words in Reunion Creole are derived from French words, so it may sound familiar to a French speaker, but the grammars of the two languages are different. 

Cap Noir, La Réunion: here’s a picture which shows you the beautiful mountainous landscape of La Reunion

In Depth…

So how did I find myself doing a PhD on this topic?! I have always had a fascination for foreign languages, and just words in general, which led me to study French at undergraduate level. During my degree, I chose modules in French Linguistics and really enjoyed them. I enjoy the discipline as it applies the scientific rigour and logic of the Sciences and Maths, to an inherently social phenomenon: language. In the third year of my degree, I got the opportunity to go on a year abroad. I chose to study in La Réunion, and it was there that I discovered Reunion Creole.  On returning, I decided I wanted to continue studying and explore the subject of Linguistics in more depth with an MA and PhD.

My PhD project investigates the syntax and focus structure of Reunion Creole. This is essentially how the word order of a sentence can be manipulated to change its emphasis and by consequence, its meaning. And what is the point in this research? Firstly, a better understanding of the mechanics of individual languages enables us to make comparisons with the languages of the world. This in turn allows us to better understand the faculty of language, which is a fundamental part of our existence. Secondly, knowledge of the technicalities of a language also enables us to better teach it in the classroom. In La Réunion, Reunion Creole is an officially recognised regional language and French is the national language. Historically, French has been more highly regarded and continues to be the language of the law, administration and schooling.  Like many creole languages, Reunion Creole has not always been highly regarded with respect to French, despite it being the native language of the majority of the island. A person’s mother tongue is a fundamental part of their identity, so I consider it very important that it be valued. Furthermore, research has suggested that bilingualism has cognitive benefits, which may reduce the likelihood of dementia, for example. It is therefore imperative that bilingualism is encouraged, so any research promoting historically undervalued languages serves this purpose.

La plage de l’Ermitage, La Réunion. 

Going Further…

If you’re interested in languages generally, there are plenty of resources that may feed your curiosity:

Grand Bénare, La Réunion: at the top of a hike in La Réunion – above the clouds! 


Music to your Ears

by YPU Admin on December 20, 2019, Comments. Tags: Humanities, instrumental composition, music, music composition, PhD, and vocal composition


My name is Maria Palapanidou and I am a second-year PhD student in Instrumental/Vocal Music Composition. My research is about structuring music in a three-dimensional environment with the help of specific software. I draw various curved surfaces, colourful shapes, and rectangular planes on a virtual three-dimensional space to visualise musical parameters, such as which instrument will play first, second etc. or how loud or soft the dynamics will be. This aggregate ‘3D image’ of the shapes and planes is then used as a compositional tool to translate this image into a traditional musical score.

In Depth…

For me, doing a PhD in Music is a dream come true. I have always wanted to continue my Music studies to a postgraduate level. In order to do so, I did a Bachelors Degree in Piano Performance at the University of Macedonia in Greece, and I completed a Masters Degree in Instrumental/Vocal Music Composition at the University of Manchester. As my research is led by my own practice, it is ultimately important to myself as a developing composer and musician. It focuses on the way I understand time, space, shapes and their connection, and how I translate them into a piece of music.

However, this 3D tool I am using can have further applications in education and musical analysis. Three-dimensional visualisations can be a very helpful when explaining or describing musical terms such as register (high or low pitches), tempo (how fast or how slow) and form (the number of different sections and their order). In addition, I am currently searching how this ‘3D image’ can be used to help people with hearing loss understand what a piece of music ‘looks like’ without needing to detect vibrations.

'In this piece, the performers 'walk' inside a virtual maze and improvise on their instruments according to the shapes and colours they see on the walls'

Most of my time, as a full-time student, includes composing music, listening to other composers’ pieces, reading articles relevant to my research, attending composition workshops and research forums, and collaborating with other musicians to organise concerts and rehearsals of my pieces. Being aware of current trends in composition, new instrumental techniques and new technology, as well as, receiving feedback from the players are a very important part of a composer’s life.

What is more, as a pianist, I work with other composers by performing their pieces and giving them feedback on notation and pianistic techniques. This double identity (composer-performer) allows me to understand both sides of musical creation, and helps me realise how to use notation to communicate a complicated thought through the musical symbols with precision.

'Sketching the four sections of a string quartet piece (two Violins, one Viola, and one Violoncello) in three dimensions' 

Going Further

My research has a connection to architectonic features (space, height, structure, surface, material and colours). One of the most important musicians to establish this field was a Greek composer named Iannis Xenakis ( He worked a lot with computer based music, as well as literally translating an architectonic sketch into music. Some of his very characteristic works are:


Unnecessary Amputations - what are the social, ethical and legal implications?

by YPU Admin on November 29, 2019, Comments. Tags: bioethics, Humanities, jurisprudence, Law, PhD, and philosophy of law


My name’s Richard Gibson and I am a third year PhD candidate in Bioethics & Medical Jurisprudence in The University of Manchester Law School. My research examines the social, ethical and legal implications of allowing people to have their limbs amputated when there is nothing medically wrong with them. In short, if you wanted to make yourself impaired or disabled, what arguments exists to support or refute such a decision. In addition to my research I also work as a teaching assistant on the Jurisprudence (more commonly known as philosophy of law) course.

In Depth

In all honesty, I am not sure how I ended up being based in a school of law, especially given that my background isn’t in law but philosophy. My A-levels were in Psychology, Biology, ICT and Photography but after finishing sixth-form I didn’t go straight to university. I took several years out working in various jobs before finally accepting an offer to study Philosophy at the University of the West of England; a subject that I picked slightly at random. It was here that I became interested in ethics and the ways in which we come to understand what makes decisions right and wrong, good and bad. When I graduated, I took another couple of years out from education to work and travel before being awarded a place on the newly formed master’s programme in Bioethics & Society at King’s College London. It was here that my interest in ethics was combined with the biological sciences, and specifically, the concept of human (dis)enhancement. Again, after graduating from here, I took a couple of years out to work in a variety of roles, to travel more and enjoy life, before finally making my way to Manchester and the PhD project on which I currently work.

The project I work on looks to examine what reasons we have to refuse the request of someone wanting to make themselves impaired or disabled, and why we have such reasons in the first place. This is important because the question isn’t a hypothetical one; there are people who wish to transition from a state of ‘health’ to one of disability and impairment and, currently, there exists little research into this topic and practically no guidance on how we should respond to such desires. This is what my work tries to change. I’m attempting to provide clear moral arguments on why such requests should, or should not, be respected. In addition to this ethical component, my research also examines the legality of such requests. For example, if a surgeon amputated a person’s leg because they wanted it gone, would that surgeon be subject to criminal prosecution, and if not, why?

My work is highly interdisciplinary and draws upon the work and theories of scholars and researchers from a vast range of subjects including philosophy, law, disability studies, medicine, biotechnology, robotics, psychology, and sociology.

Going Further

For a good introduction to the varied topics that philosophy examines, see here.

To read more about the field of bioethics, in its various forms, check out this blog by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an internationally recognised leader in the field.

For a guide to the people who wish to transition into disability and impairment, see this article

You can read about my research centre here.

And, of course, you can follow my work on twitter at @RichardBGibson!