Post graduates exchange ideas at their annual event

Ian Merrell reflects on the annual PGR review event which, this year, he and Katie Aitken McDermott organised.


CRE aims to be an inclusive place where colleagues can bounce ideas off one another and work together – and post graduate students are very much a part of that community of ideas.  The annual PGR review reflects that ethos and provides a welcoming, friendly, yet critical, space for the CRE’s Post-Graduate students to present their writing. This year they submitted a varied range of academic papers, thesis chapters and research proposals. 


As well as the eight post-graduate students presenting papers, staff members Sally Shortall, Mark Reed, Guy Garrod, Menelaos Gkartzios and Regina Hansda offered their wide-ranging expertise as discussants. The format has been adopted from the Trans-Atlantic Rural Research Network (TARRN) group, who prefer papers to be presented by a discussant rather than by the author themselves.  The discussant and others can offer feedback, concerns and questions, concerns and feedback, and the author will respond.


Mwana Othman kicked off the day with the introductory chapter for her PhD thesis. She is researching women small-holder farmers in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Prof Sally Shortall has a particular interest in gender dynamics in agriculture, and she raised some questions surrounding the social norms and religion of the area and how Mwana envisioned these dynamics affecting her research and the results. Regina then contributed her own global development expertise to suggest that Zanzibar appeared to have high levels of woman-owned farmland.  It will be interesting to see how Mwana’s research develops on this.


Vajira Balasuriya provided a draft paper he and his supervision team aim to submit for publication soon.  His very inspirational work is concerned with micro-finance to support female-led entrepreneurship in war-torn communities – in this case, in his homeland, Sri Lanka. He is approaching the end of his PhD journey (with data collection completed) and is now working on a whole series of academic papers arising from the research.  Sally Shortall shared her experience of researching women-led enterprise and drew from personal experience of Northern Ireland following the Troubles, providing Vajira with some interesting food for thought. She was excited to see the results of the paper and was interested in the framework he had applied. Mark Reed was able to offer Vajira tips on how to increase the paper’s impact so it could make a real difference to future practice.  


After a coffee break, we were joined by our first on-line long-distance participant – Rosmarie Katrin Neumann – who is based in Leipzig in Germany. Rosi is being supervised by Mark Reed and she is researching ecosystem policies for peatbogs.

Her contribution was a literature review looking at the role of trust in policy-making. Menelaos Gkartzios asked Rosi to consider the (non-)static nature of trust and how this changes over time, as well as considering spatial differences, prompting quite a lively discussion.


Next up was (recently Dr!) Beth Clark (congratulations from all of us again Beth!) Her paper is being submitted for publication and draws on fascinating work that spans both natural and social sciences – on a day when she had to defend herself in a room dominated by social scientists. The paper was concerned with consumer behaviour and attitudes towards Vitamin D – something that we in the UK are prone to be deficient in. Menelaos asked Beth some questions about the methodology and the (publishing) issues related to using a non-probability sample. I provided feedback and discussed with Beth how to integrate a policy-influencing argument into the paper.


Nur Bahiah Mohamed Haris is going to be giving a presentation at the Agricultural Economic Society (AES) and she brought the draft conference paper along for comments.  She is researching the adoption of organic farming in her native Malaysia and, more specifically, the range of underlying factors that contribute to this decision. Regina Hansda provided Nur with some useful feedback to help tighten both the narrative and statistics before she submits the final version. Nur’s contribution created a real buzz in the room with the debate spanning different topics – there was plenty to talk about!


Guy Garrod introduced my own contribution – a literature review concerned with entrepreneurial ecosystems in rural development.  He noticed that the framework appeared to confirm some of the discourse in CRE about rural areas as incubators for businesses. People felt that I could be focusing more on the positives of the model rather than the negative aspects of previous models. Vajira and I have very similar research projects and he also provided me with some constructive feedback. He thought the model would also apply to his research context.


Fiona MacLachlan was an intrepid contributor from environmental sciences and a very welcome addition to the programme. Her research, which is in its final stages, looks at the effects of Machair rabbits on a rare dune ecosystem in the Scottish Hebrides. Guy Garrod led the debate. He has a wealth of experience in land designated for nature conservation and was able to compare Fiona’s findings with some of his own.  Social science colleagues were, of course, keen to suggest ways in which Fiona could add a social element to her research and we look forward to developing some collaborative papers in future.


Katie Aitken-McDermott’s paper on different types of Social Enterprise rounded off the day. The paper explores the different models, ownerships and agendas of Social Enterprises and is the result of a sizeable literature review for her PhD thesis. Heidi Saxby provided feedback and this led to what was possibly the most philosophical debate of the day – wondering whether real life was influencing the research or vice versa. We also discussed the impacts of public bodies receiving fewer finances and whether this was driving the creation of social enterprises. Nur suggested that this model would also apply to Malaysia.


Everyone left with plenty of feedback to integrate in to their papers and we look forward to another event next year.  Thank you to everyone who contributed.

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