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The fellowships support promising social scientists who have just been awarded PhDs. It provides the opportunity to consolidate their PhD through developing publications, networks, and their research and professional skills.

Exeter researchers awarded prestigious fellowships to tackle issues from food insecurity to autism

Five researchers at the University of Exeter have been awarded prestigious fellowships to tackle key issues from food and housing insecurities to autism diagnosis.

The projects, funded through Postdoctoral Fellowships from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will also include work on the relationship between mental health and education, reducing falls in older adults, and the connections between data, commodities and behaviour in contemporary capitalism.

The fellowships support promising social scientists who have just been awarded PhDs. It provides the opportunity to consolidate their PhD through developing publications, networks, and their research and professional skills.

Professor Neil Gow, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Impact), said: “This is important work that we hope will improve the lives of many. We are proud so many new ESRC Postdoctoral Fellows will be based at the University of Exeter and look forward to supporting them in their research careers.”

Anthropology Lecturer, Dr Celia Plender’s work examines experiences of political economic change in contemporary Britain, focussing in particular on food and housing. Food insecurity is something which is thought to effect more than 8 million people in the UK today. This is despite the fact that food costs are now a significantly lower burden on household incomes compared to the past. Housing, which used to be more affordable than food, is now the biggest financial burden for many people, with places such as London experiencing a significant housing crisis in terms of quality, availability and price. 

Dr Plender previously conducted two years of ethnographic research with grassroots, retail food co-ops in London as part of her doctoral work. This focused on practices of politics, aid and care in the face of austerity and growing food insecurity. During her fellowship she will continue this work, by writing a book based on her PhD thesis. She will also run three workshops for people and organisations that contributed to her doctoral work, and host two workshops at the University of Exeter on food access, sustainability and food citizenship for academics and practitioners to share experiences and findings. 

She will develop her work on housing further by doing fieldwork with housing activists in London. Her findings from this will feed into a proposal for further research funding for a project which investigates food and housing insecurity and activism in economically turbulent times. The project will be designed to create impact for the groups involved. 

Dr Plender said: “I will examine how the social and financial value of food and housing and the insecurities associated with them cause people to mobilise and take action, as well as the structures, practices and ideologies that they draw on.”

Dr Katie Finning, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Children and Young People's Mental Health Research Collaboration (ChYMe), will explore the association between emotional difficulties and educational outcomes in children and young people. Her PhD explored how anxiety and depression in young people is related to school absenteeism.

Dr Finning said: “The fellowship will enable me to continue building my collaborations with experts in the field of mental health in schools, including researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Manchester, alongside parents and young people who are affected by these difficulties.

“I will use the fellowship time to apply for longer-term funding that will allow me to continue researching this important topic. I will also be attending training courses to build on my skills in complex data analysis and to learn more about leadership and management, and will be working with the children’s charity Place2Be, helping them to explore the impact of their mental health interventions on children’s educational outcomes.”

Dr Toby Ellmers will collaborate with Professor Mark Wilson and his clinically-focused colleagues to develop a new theoretical framework to account for how fall-related anxiety can alter balance and gait behaviour in older people, and increase the likelihood of a fall occurring. Part of the dissemination activities also involves organising a 1-day conference on the topic of psychology and falls-prevention in older people and clinical populations.

"I am delighted to be joining an organisation which such a strong, internationally-renowned reputation in psychology-related motor control research” said Dr Ellmers.

“I look forward to working with Prof Mark Wilson to translate my experimental PhD findings to applied clinical outcomes.” 

Qualitative social psychologist, Dr Jennie Hayes, will develop initiatives which build a bridge between her PhD and her future research. Jennie’s PhD, part of the Wellcome Trust funded project ‘Exploring Diagnosis’, examined how clinicians make decisions about the diagnosis of autism spectrum conditions. The process of diagnosis is complex and multi-faceted, and can be particularly challenging when cases are considered ‘borderline’ or where there are coexisting conditions. By observing a multi-disciplinary team working in diagnostic teams, Jennie was able to explore in detail how diagnostic decisions are made and impacted by social and interactional factors.

She hopes the fellowship will increase the impact of her work to both academic and non-academic audiences by running knowledge exchange workshops, developing a creative output and articles for publication.

Dr Hayes said: “I’m excited to be returning to Exeter to take up this exciting Fellowship opportunity. I’m particularly pleased to be joining the Relational Health team in the College of Medicine and Health, whose work on co-production and developing research partnerships with communities, schools and workplaces will help to shape my future research proposals.”

Cultural Geographer, Dr Paula Crutchlow, has an extensive background as a maker and educator in contemporary performance practice. Her PhD project, the Museum of Contemporary Commodities, developed in collaboration with Professor Ian Cook, combined social art practice with geographic methods to investigate connections between data, commodities and behaviour in contemporary capitalism.

Dr Crutchlow said: “My fellowship will consolidate the knowledge and insights I have gained through my PhD and share them with academic and wider audiences. This will happen through academic publication and further practice-led collaboration - including a residency with JUST AI, a multidisciplinary research network focussed on the ethics of Artificial Intelligence hosted at the Ada Lovelace Institute.”

The ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship scheme forms part of ESRC’s strategy to supporting early career researchers and a very competitive commissioning process delivered through its national network of Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs). In Exeter’s case, this is in partnership with the ESRC South West DTP which the university is a member of with the Universities of Bristol, Bath, West of England and Plymouth.

Date: 2 October 2020

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