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

The road to a post-apocalyptic degree!

by YPU ADmin on February 15, 2018, Comments. Tags: American Literature, English, Humanities, and PhD


My name’s Christina and I’m studying for a PhD in English and American literature at the University of Manchester. Although I’m an English student, I didn’t arrive here through studying the subject as an undergraduate. Whilst studying for A-Levels, I signed up for a creative writing course at a Leeds FE college – which only confirmed I had no talent for creative writing. I’m still very glad I took the class because I met another student who spoke about the Cultural Studies degree she was enrolled on at Leeds University.

Cultural Studies taught me the importance of analysing popular culture and that television, popular music and cinema, as well as literature, are valid subjects for sustained academic enquiry. It was at university that I first began to enjoy academic work. I went on to complete an MA in Cultural and Critical Theory in the same department. By 2015, my research interests took me to contemporary American literature and I began a PhD on the post-apocalypse (or ‘the end of the world’ through war and other horrors) in contemporary American fiction. Fiction about ‘end-times’ interests me because it confirms our worst nightmares. Representations of post-apocalyptic survival tell us about our hopes for the future – an idea which is particularly important following contemporary upheavals in American politics and the beginning of the ‘Trump era’.


In my thesis, currently titled, ‘The Post-Apocalypse in Contemporary North American after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis’, I look at how the post-apocalypse – as an imagined world existing after a destructive catastrophe or event – has become a popular literary landscape for mainstream American authors. The post-apocalypse categorises a growing number of novels, including Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), Colson Whitehead’s Zone One (2011) and Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2014). I argue that, through this post-apocalyptic trend which includes zombie films like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002) as well as literary novels, authors are grappling with changing ideas of ‘risk’ and ‘danger’, especially after the twenty-first-century events like September 11th 2001 and the financial crisis. Contemporary scholars are speculating on how these events, and similar crises, are changing our perceptions of ‘risk’ and danger after the millennium. Companies and governments are allocating and spending increased budgets on security. Defence is increasingly about the web and cyber-security as it is about national defence and borders. The prospect of terror attacks permeates the modern life of British and American cities. A famous sociologist called Ulrich Beck argues that risk is becoming an increasingly prominent feature of everyday life – so much so that, in the twenty-first-century, he claims that we are living in a ‘risk society’, where risk is near-permanent feature of most of public, whether at school or at work, and private life.

My thesis argues that the post-apocalyptic trend in contemporary fiction represents a literary and cultural effort to envisage a future whether the continual prospect of risk has been suddenly – and without warning – cut off by disaster. Uniquely, in the twenty-first-century, the post-apocalypse becomes a disaster-filled and yet still risk-free landscape. According to scholars like Beck, risk is a threat which is managed by our complex democracies, technology and media. After the apocalypse, these institutions have been removed or obliterated. Survivors which are the focus of novels like The Road are reduced to scavenging, and yet they live in a world in which the almost mundane sense of constant risk is replaced by immediate danger. I argue that these post-apocalyptic novels are crucial for interrogating public perceptions of risk in the twenty-first-century, and unease with the risk-management culture which has followed 9/11. The contemporary post-apocalyptic genre, therefore, is more than an outlet for releasing the effects of global climate change and other contemporary fears. The post-apocalypse places responsibility for safety and security back in the hands of survivors, and ultimately registers public anxieties about how the abstract prospect of ‘risk’ is changing how people live and act in the twenty-first-century.

Going Further

’31 Essential Science Fiction Terms and Where They Came From’, iO9,

A debate about the popularity of contemporary post-apocalyptic novels between two literature scholars in the literary magazine Public Books:  Ursula Heise, ‘What’s the Matter with Dystopia?’ & Andrew Hoberek, ‘The Post-Apocalyptic Present’,

‘Will 2017 be 1984?’, Alluvium Journal, . Caroline Edwards and Ben Worthy revisit George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) in light of political events of 2017.

‘Zombie Preparedness: Graphic Novel’. Zombie graphic novel released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention educating readers about ‘emergency preparedness’

Science-fiction authors Ursula Le Guin and Margaret Atwood discuss the category of ‘speculative fiction’



Leading the way in biomaterials!

by YPU Admin on January 18, 2018, Comments. Tags: Biomaterials, cells, nanoscience, PhD, and Research


Hi! My name is Zara Smith and I’m a 2nd year PhD student at the University of Manchester. I’m funded by EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) and am currently based on the North Campus of the university. I am part of the Biomaterials research group headed by Prof. Julie Gough.

I finished high school in 2011, with A levels in Biology, Chemistry and English Literature.  Though my decision to study Biology was a quick one and rather rushed, I REALLY enjoyed studying for my undergraduate degree at the University of Hull, and loved it enough to continue onto a Master’s degree in Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine at UCL. I took a year out following this and worked as a Trainee Assistant Analytical Chemist for TATA Steel in their environmental monitoring department, before deciding on my PhD project. My work at Manchester focuses on repairing tissues in the body that naturally would not heal by themselves. I work specifically with the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), a major knee ligament, which accounts for the majority of sports injuries and has a high rate of reintervention post-surgery.

So far my PhD has been great! I’ve travelled to a European conference in Switzerland to present my work and been to another here in Manchester, where I have met academics from all over the world. Hopefully there will be many more opportunities to share my research with the academic community!

In Depth...

I first became interested in the field of Biomaterials when I was doing my undergraduate degree, specifically the tiny biological interactions that happen at a surface and how we can use those interactions to guide a desired biological response. I have always been interested in creating biomedical devices and helping to create something which would improve the life of an individual and the medical field in that area, seemed almost like a calling! After graduating from my Biology degree, I immediately began my Masters. I completed a research project on the nano-delivery of growth factors to a model central nervous system, which only served to fuel my interest in the bio-responses of cells to materials on the micro and nano scale. 

After the completion of my Master’s degree, though knowing I wanted to do a PhD, I decided it was time to take a year out, gather some industrial experience and take the time to find a project that aligned with my interests. During this year, I was selected for an assistant position at TATA Steel where I performed both regular sampling analysis and novel research in analytical chemistry. I chose the ACL project at Manchester as it sounded fascinating and combined all the areas I find interesting; fast forward a year and I still absolutely love it! The project itself focuses on producing materials that will encourage cells taken from the ACL to produce a protein scaffold that matches as closely as possible the protein scaffold present in the native ACL. This means that the cells will start laying down the protein building blocks that are integral to building a native ACL, replacing the one that has already been irreparably damaged. We are aiming to achieve this through manipulating the cells at the surface of the materials with both physical cues and proteins.

(A picture of ACL cells from a light microscope!)

For the most part, my days usually consist of lab work, planning experiments, data analysis and reading and writing.

Due to the nature of the field, our group is highly interdisciplinary. We have members from all kinds of disciplinary backgrounds spanning biological sciences, chemistry and all types of engineering. This in itself makes for a very interesting working environment where minds from very different backgrounds can come together and work to build materials/technologies.


Going Further...

If you are interested in perusing Materials sciences, the University of Manchester School of Materials webpage is here >

Interested in the Biomaterials work in my group? Find out more here > and here >

We also have a school blog which details life as a materials student and interviews a range of students and lecturers >  

If you are interested in the societies associated with biomaterials research, take a look here >


Researching heritage: Transporting people to transporting minds

by YPU Admin on January 4, 2018, Comments. Tags: Heritage, history, MSI, Museum of Science and Industry, PhD, and Research


My name is Erin Beeston and I’m a part-time PhD Student at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM) at the University of Manchester and the Science Museum Group. I’m working on a collaborative doctoral award, which means I work across two institutions: the University of Manchester and Museum of Science and Industry (MSI), Manchester.

I began my academic career at the University of Manchester in 2004, when I started a History undergraduate degree. During this time, I realised I’d like to work in heritage. The University Careers Service suggested I gain experience by volunteering and I began a placement at the Manchester Museum’s Herbarium making digital records of historic botany specimens. Then I studied for a master’s degree in Art Gallery and Museum Studies whilst working part-time in museums. I used my academic knowledge, skills from my university course such as organisation, time management, accurate record keeping and presentation skills along with what I learnt though working and volunteering to start a career in museums. I worked at Salford and then Bolton Museum, mostly with social and industrial history collections. Although I enjoyed my work, I was interested in studying for PhD as I am passionate about research. I saw an advertisement by the Science Museum Group for a PhD student to work on the history of uses and perceptions of Liverpool Road Station (the site of the Museum of Science and Industry). As I had previously worked at MSI as an assistant presenter (doing fun things like children’s activities and helping with science shows), I was keen to research the museum’s rich history and applied for the project.    

In Depth

The focus of my research is Liverpool Road Station, which dates form 1830 and is the oldest railway station in the world. Whilst the early history of the station is well known, for many decades after the passenger service (1830-1844) it was a freight station – which has been overlooked by historians. I am working on both the history of the site and exploring how it was transformed into the museum during the 1970s and 1980s. I often visit archives to view primary sources about the site, these can be documents, maps or other visual sources. I have been to London to visit National Archives, to the National Railway Museum in York, viewed archives in Liverpool, Chester, Manchester and Preston. I have also recorded interviews called oral histories with people who either worked at the railway station or played a part in rescuing it and making the museum. This research is important to the museum, who are using findings to present the history of their buildings to the public, particularly the lesser known freight story. The results of my thesis are informing work on new galleries at MSI. I enjoy finding out new stories and ways of looking at the history of the site and discussing this with staff at the museum and the public. During my PhD, I have shared my research with other postgraduates, academics and the public through conferences and talks. I’ve even attended a summer school in Budapest! It’s a brilliant journey, finding out new things and developing ideas and arguments along the way.

Going Further

I undertook an undergraduate degree in History at the University: <>

My master’s was at the Centre for Museology: <>


My first experience working in a museum was at the Manchester Museum’s Herbarium where I learnt about record keeping, digitisation and collections care: <>


Here you can find out more about the Science Museum Group’s research programme:


And the focus of my research - the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester: <>

At CHSTM we write about our work for this blog: <>

For example, I wrote a blog about my summer school experience at the CEU in Budapest! <>

Here you can find more about CHSTM and the modules available to undergraduates: <>


How Stress can have a big impact on your brain and memory

by YPU Admin on December 14, 2017, Comments. Tags: Neuroscience, PhD, psychology, and Research


Hi I’m Liz, a second year BBSRC funded cognitive neuroscience PhD student. Since A-level I have always wanted to be able to combine my interests in psychology with my interests in physics but was always told they were too different and I would never be able to study both…. LIES! Cognitive neuroscience lets me explore psychology, in my case the effects of stress on memory, while also using neuroimaging techniques (YAY Physics!) to examine the under-lying brain mechanisms involved.  Before coming to Manchester to start my PhD, I completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology with Neuropsychology and my Master’s degree in Neuroimaging at Bangor University in North Wales.

In depth…

How does stress affect memory?

Do you ever notice that some people can just handle stress really well while other people really struggle to cope and forget everything they were doing? This is known as a person’s stress reactivity. Highly stress reactive people experience much greater hormone responses when stressed than low stress reactive people, meaning that in comparison, they suffer more ‘mental blocks’ when trying to compete tasks.  More seriously, however, continual high levels of stress have been linked to serious social and health problems such as job loss, divorce, heart disease and stroke.

Similarly, have you ever sat down in an exam that you thought you were prepared for and suddenly had a complete mind blank? During stressful situations memory can sometimes become impaired leading to these sudden ‘mind blank’ moments where we are unable to remember information we previously knew. These can happen to anyone but do more commonly happen to highly stress reactive individuals who struggle to cope under pressure.

In contrast however, it has been shown that sometimes, learning under stress or intense pressure can increase memory ability. This is because stress hormones help slow the rate of forgetting which can be shown using neuroimaging the highlights brain activity in certain regions. 

What is Neuroimaging?

Neuroimaging covers a range of techniques that allow us to examine the brain and measure specific activation associated with certain tasks. The imaging techniques I use require magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners. With these scanners we are able to explore different features of the brain including the size and structure of certain regions, the connectivity between these regions and the levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals) within different areas of the brain. MRI scans can also be used to explore the function (known as fMRI) of brain regions by examining levels of activation within these specific regions while completing a range of tasks. fMRI is one of the most common methods of imaging shown on medical TV shows- often they show areas of the brain ‘light up’ in response to sounds or images when people in the scanner- this isn’t exactly how fMRI works but the gist of it is about right. 

(Image 2: This is an MRI scan of my brain)

Using Neuroimaging to Explore Stress & Memory

So, using MRI we are able to compare the brain differences between high and low stress reactive people. This allows us to attempt to understand why some people can and some people cannot cope during stressful situations. We are also able to examine the activation in the brain during memory to attempt to compare brain activity to behavioural memory task outcomes. Finding any differences in brain structure or activity between stress reactive groups will help us to better understand what causes this detrimental response to stress that may then allow us to control negative outcomes as bets as possible


Going further…

To read more about neuroimaging work, check out this website ( that explores current work using neuroimaging to discover more about the human brain.

There are lots of cool blog posts and YouTube videos that go into more detail about stress. Here are just a few to get you started:

·         TedBlog- Stress as a positive (

·         TedEd- Stress in the Brain

·         TedEd- How memories form (

·         Science Central- Stress & Memory (

Finally, The Signal ( is a student magazine founded by students at The University of Manchester and has some brilliant articles for young scientists interested neuroscience, behaviour, psychology and mental health. Issue 1 ( was all about stress and is well worth a read for anyone interested.



Back to the Future? Look North – It’s Positively Medieval!

by YPU Admin on December 7, 2017, Comments. Tags: literature, medieval, PhD, and Research


My name is Gillian and I am an AHRC funded first year PhD candidate at the University of Manchester. The focus of my research is the medieval religious dramas (known as the mystery plays) that originated from areas of the north of England, specifically those associated with the cities of York and Chester, along with those contained in the Towneley manuscript that appear to have some connection with the Wakefield area. I did my undergraduate degree in English Literature at Manchester where my passion for medieval literature soon became apparent. Having achieved a First Class B.A., I went on to study my M.A. in Medieval Studies also at the University of Manchester. Hard work is rewarded at Manchester – I got a scholarship which enabled me to study for a Master’s with all fees waived!


In Depth…

Medieval literature may seem rather irrelevant to a modern society, but I believe that there are important challenges that we face today on global levels that have precedent in medieval society. Negotiating borders and boundaries, tensions inherent in religious beliefs and differences, the global economic and environmental challenges we face today – all of these, I contend, were of concern to medieval people who imagined the consequences of these challenges in ways which could appeal to an everyday, non-academic audience. The texts of the religious dramas are, on a very basic level, re-workings of Christian biblical narratives that depict the story of the bible from Creation to Doomsday. But they are also much more than that. People wrote how they spoke well into the seventeenth century (and in some cases well beyond this) and so what you can also tell from these stories is where these plays could have been best understood, in the region in which they were written. They are regional texts written with a preferred audience in mind. Part of the humour which, perhaps surprisingly, runs through these plays, depends upon local dialects – they promote regionalism as a mode of belonging just as much as any religious persuasion. My research is currently investigating the plays’ depiction of Noah and the flood from the three different regional perspectives of York, Chester, and the West Riding of Yorkshire (Wakefield). The questions I am posing are whether the differences between the plays’ dramatization of similar material is influenced by the environment of their production – do they display an acknowledgement of the very real threat of global environmental disaster caused by flooding that is of concern to everyone today? Do they promote inclusive community reaction and therefore action? Or do they display more individual responses that reveal exclusions and self-interest? During the summer months I will be visiting both York and Chester where the plays are being staged again. I want to ask the people who go to see these plays today what they get out of them, why do they still go? Why do the cities still produce these plays? What relevance do they have in today’s society? Can they be produced to appeal to a multi-faith international community, or do the choices taken by the producers of these modern versions maintain notions of civic imperialism and Christian elitism? My research will investigate these plays as transtemporal texts to suggest that each rendering of familiar material has specific differences in order to offer a very regional mode of both belonging and questioning as the following medieval images reveal. The first image is from a manuscript housed in the John Rylands library – look at all the fantastical beasts, and then see how the raven pecks at the eye of the corpse not among the chosen few on Noah’s ark. Were Noah and his family the first boat people, early refugees?


 There are twelve people in the image below, but only eight made it onto the ark – go figure!


 How do the texts respond to/replicate/question these contemporary images?

Going Further…

( A really useful website detailing the lastest research areas of key medieval scholars and the relevance of medieval literature to modern society.

( A key contact point for all current information regarding entry requirements, course components, etc. in the School of Arts, Languages, and Cultures at the University of Manchester.

( A veritable treasure trove of free to access information/essays/texts on all things medieval.

( Blog from the Manchester Medieval Society which is run by current academics who are all at the cutting edge of research in their fields. All are welcome to join and join in!