Category Archives: students

Our future with Europe

Our future with Europe by Sally Faulkner, Exeter’s Assistant Deputy Vice Chancellor (Europe)

Sally Faulkner, Exeter’s Assistant Deputy Vice Chancellor (Europe)

The past few months have marked an extraordinary start to a new decade and the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a crisis across Europe and the world of a magnitude we have probably not seen since the Second World War. European countries and communities have been amongst the worst affected, with high death tolls and major impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods. We have been reminded once more that the challenges facing humanity do not respect borders and that we must work together as nations to solve problems and create a better world.

This week marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day on 8 May, a time of reflection and remembrance, and the following day is Europe Day, when many will celebrate our hard won peace and unity. We know that in the UK – and indeed for many in the European Union – the Brexit process has at times been tortuous and divisive, but I believe we must now look to the future and make sure we continue to strengthen our European relationships and work harder than ever to find common ground on the challenges we all face.

Universities must be at the forefront of this collaboration and I believe the academic community are well placed to bring our countries and communities together through this time of crisis and renewal. We already collaborate on world-class education and research that enrich and improve all our lives, from culture and the arts, to science and business. We are well connected to our communities and governments and in the months and years ahead we must use our influence, knowledge and experience to help shape a healthier and happier world that we can sustain for future generations.

At the University of Exeter we are proud of our European connections and collaborations. We currently have around 1400 European students enrolled and nearly 800 European staff at Exeter, and over recent years we have consistently ranked in the top-10 in the UK for outbound student mobility, which includes ERASMUS+ students who go to Europe as part of their higher education.

We have also forged numerous fantastic partnerships with universities across Europe – from Lund University in Sweden, to TU Munich in Germany. In December 2019, we became the first UK University to join the Venice International University (VIU) Consortium – an association of 20 of the world’s top universities. In October, we signed a partnership agreement jointly to fund research and education collaborative projects for another 5 years with the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and together we have already funded 8 research and education partnerships with them.

In December 2018, we established the Europe Network Fund to facilitate research and education collaboration across Europe. There have been 3 calls for funding to date, and we have funded 34 collaborative projects across all Colleges. These academic partnerships will be the building blocks for helping us determine our future strategic partnership and engagement in Europe for the next 3 years, and will be reviewed in detail at our Europe Regional Board meeting on May 20th.

We are also delighted by the recent growth in research funding and collaborations with European partners. Exeter is currently 14th in the UK for EU Horizon funding and in 2020 obtained €90,203,573 for 152 projects – 88 with EU partners.

From SSIS, for example, Jason Reifler’s DEBUNKER project is an ERC Consolidator Grant that looks at public misperceptions in the areas of politics, health and science and examines how to combat these and how to design policies and communications to better effect. Jason is planning to refocus some of this work to examine misperceptions of Covid-19. You can find a summary of the project here: From Humanities, Muireann Maguire’s RUSTRANS project is an ERC Starting Grant that examines the use of translation as a means of self-promotion and cultural consolidation for emergent nation-states, potentially politicised and conditioned by ideological preferences or state influences, and focuses on Russian translations into English. You can find a summary of the project here

Another of our strengths at Exeter is addressing the environment and climate emergency – perhaps the biggest challenge of our generation beyond Covid-19 – and it is especially noteworthy that under Horizon Society Challenge 5, the “Climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials,” Exeter is the top-performing institution in the UK by value of grant and 7th in the EU as a whole by value and volume of grants.

I mention these facts and figures only because they matter to our core mission at Exeter which is, through our people, partnerships, education and research, to innovate by challenging traditional thinking and defying conventional boundaries.

As Assistant Deputy Vice Chancellor (Europe), I want to help support and promote our European connections and research. I have found joy through my own work in Europe, across both research projects and teaching initiatives, as Professor of Hispanic Studies and Film Studies, and I want to use my knowledge, skills and this new role to ensure we continue to strengthen our bonds across Europe. In research, this means leading or participating in key research collaborations, and, in teaching, continuing our success in student exchanges and building on these as further research and digital possibilities open up. Ideally, our partnerships in Europe will be as multi-layered as possible, combining innovative research collaboration with opening up exciting learning possibilities for our students, as well as working with wider communities with the support of our alumni and philanthropic networks.

One way I want to make progress is to engage more with our community and bring to the fore more of our outstanding work in Europe through our communications, which include this new Exeter and Europe Blog. I also want to hear from colleagues and students about how we can strengthen our European education, research and partnerships.

I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.


Visit our European news section for the latest updates on research and education stories and I have listed a few to get you started:

University of Exeter, University of Sanctuary Award Presentation, 20 November 2019

Welcome everyone, I’m Janice Kay, of the University of Exeter. It’s wonderful to see so many of you for this award ceremony. It is a moment of celebration, and one that has a very deep and important meaning. On behalf of the senior management team and our whole university community, we are absolutely delighted to have achieved University of Sanctuary status. This award is a clear marker of our commitment, our progress and our success in creating a welcoming and supportive environment for refugees and asylum seekers.

I quote directly from the Universities of Sanctuary organisation: Universities, as key institutions within our society, have a responsibility to support people from all walks of life to reach their potential. The notion of sanctuary fits with the values and strategic plans of most universities; it contributes towards progress in inclusivity, diversity, and sustainability. It means taking a practical, public step towards inclusion, and countering discourses of xenophobia and racism both within and outside university life.

The idea of Universities of Sanctuary has grown from the Cities of Sanctuary scheme. Exeter has had an active and engaged City of Sanctuary group since 2014 with a thriving network of supporters. I am extremely proud that our students and staff instrumental in setting up the City of Sanctuary group. Not only that, they have gone on take action here at the university to enable us to become a University of Sanctuary, a university that welcomes refugees into our community and actively supports them.

This award recognises the efforts of many members of our community. I would particularly like to  recognise the work of last year’s Guild and specifically the former Students’ Guild President Grace Frain and previous Vice-President for Welfare and Diversity Rose Ahier. They championed and drove forward our activities to become a University of Sanctuary. It is wonderful to see Grace here today. Working alongside them has been our Sanctuary Scholars, our academic lead Dr Nick Gill and our Head of Student Immigration Services Jim Price, as well as many others.  Our ongoing thanks go to all of our local partners who work with the university to provide advice, guidance and support to our scholars. I would especially like to thank Refugee Support Devon and our local City of Sanctuary group.

This is a moment for celebration but I want to reflect for a moment on how important it is that we provide a safe and welcoming university community for refugees and asylum seekers. Refugees come to our country to seek safety from fear and persecution, be it for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Latest government figures indicate that there have been over 32,000 applications for asylum in the last 12 months. These numbers include people for whom a higher education in their country of birth may have been an unattainable goal. For some, exploring and fulfilling their potential through academic exploration would never have been an option. Universities in our country can help. Higher education has a longstanding tradition of providing sanctuary to academics and students. We are proud to be able to continue this tradition. The University of Sanctuary status shows we are doing this, and our commitment to going further. Equal Access to Higher Education is of course a universal right under Article 26 of the Declaration of Human Rights.

We have very many initiatives at Exeter to support refugees either directly through education and training or indirectly through our research which contributes to the evidence base and body of knowledge about forced migration and frail and failed states. Our academics and students have set up language exchange programmes, they conduct outreach activities using drama as a medium of engagement and have set up new information resources. Dr Nick Gill will share more about these later.

One of our most fundamental initiatives is the Sanctuary Scholarship programme which started in 2017. The scholarships enable the cost of tuition to be waived and provide support for living costs. We have now supported nine studentships and we are fortunate to have one of our Sanctuary Scholars with us today.

One of our Sanctuary Scholars has taken part in a video project called Lost in the Noise, which has been pioneered by Harry Bishop, a former student and Vice President for Community and Welfare at our Cornwall campus and who is now a member of staff in Cornwall. This project has sought to profile individuals and students whose voices may otherwise indeed have become ‘lost in the noise’. It is vital that we hear these stories and that we start to understand the experiences of others. This is a powerful route to becoming a more diverse, compassionate, progressive and culturally competent community. Thank you to the scholar for sharing their experiences so candidly in this film and to Harry for your project which has enabled this to happen. This film extremely impactful and brings to life the importance of universities as a place of sanctuary.

So once again, thank you for joining us to mark our award as a University of Sanctuary. It is an important milestone for us as an institution and one from which we will continue to build.

How will self-driving cars affect your insurance?

Matthew Channon, a PhD student in University of Exeter Law School, takes a look at the implications that the driverless car might have for your insurance.

This article first appeared in The ConversationConversation logo


Matthew Channon, University of Exeter

Mark Molthan admits he wasn’t paying attention when his car crashed into a fence, leaving him with a bloody nose, according to a news report. The Texan had left control of his Tesla Model S to its autopilot system, which failed to turn at a curve and instead drove the car off the road. But Tesla, like other car manufacturers, stresses its self-driving technology is there just to assist drivers, who should remain ready to take over at any time.

One of the big questions about cars with self-driving technology is who’s to blame when something goes wrong. The driver in this case may have reportedly admitted he was at fault. But that hasn’t stopped his insurance company from requesting a joint inspection of the written-off car, which raises the prospect the firm may sue Tesla to pay for the damage.

Insurance firms will always try to prove they shouldn’t have to pay for an accident. And software bugs in self-driving cars could create a new reason manufacturers might have to shoulder the cost of crashes. Yet if drivers remain legally responsible for a car even as technology encourages them to take their eyes off the road, will manufacturers be able to avoid blame, leaving insurance companies to recoup their costs through higher premiums?

The British government is already hoping to address this issue with a new piece of legislation to be introduced in autumn 2017. In anticipation of this, it is currently consulting the public and experts about how driverless cars should be insured in the future.

One model that could be introduced would build on the current system of compulsory insurance. But as well as every driver needing insurance, manufacturers of any car with a form of self-driving technology would also have to take out a policy to cover any liability for accidents. The costs of this would likely be passed on to drivers through higher purchase costs.

Eyes off the road: still not recommended. Shutterstock

Liability will then be determined on the circumstances of each individual accident. If the accident is caused entirely by the vehicle, it is the manufacturer’s insurers who will be liable. If the accident is caused by both vehicle malfunction and driver error, then it is likely to fall on both insurers.

As with the current system of compulsory insurance, there would be a battle between insurers as to exactly who will pay for any damage or injury caused. This therefore will not make much of a difference to the driver, except for an increase in premium if they are found liable.

Other premiums

However, a different system could stop liability battles between insurers from clogging up the courts and ultimately cost drivers less. Instead of having to buy insurance for cars with self-driving technology, drivers would simply pay an extra fee on top of the cost of the car or on the petrol or electricity they use to power the vehicle. This money would go into a central fund that would pay for any damage caused. This would be held by the government or (in the UK) the Motor Insurer’s Bureau, which compensates victims of accidents caused by uninsured drivers funded by a similar levy on insurance premiums.

This would eventually mean drivers would have to pay less in the long run because they wouldn’t be paying for insurance company costs and profits, just for the damage of accidents. A similar system is already used in New Zealand for conventional vehicles.

Either system won’t have much of an effect on how much you have to pay for insurance in the meantime. And in fact, premiums will most likely fall as self-driving technology actually appears to make the overall risk of an accident lower – something that will surely be welcomed by all. In the future, however, we may not need driver insurance at all. If cars become fully autonomous with no need for humans to do any driving, then the manufacturers will probably become responsible for every journey.

The Conversation

Matthew Channon, PhD Candidate in Motor Insurance Law, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A week with AstraZeneca

Emily Lomax, a student in the University of Exeter Medical School‘s Medical Sciences programme, was one of five Exeter students to be offered a week’s placement at global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Here she tell us all about it…

Recently, I was lucky enough to be offered one of the first ever University of Exeter placement weeks at AstraZeneca (AZ). The agenda looked really interesting. I looked forward to all the activities, which involved visiting various sites around the country, to see the entire drug development process from research and development to a new drug being available to the public.

At the start of the week we spent two days in Cambridge where we visited the cancer research building where AZ is currently renting space as their new site, next to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, is under construction. Here we learnt about the research and development of a drug. We met a scientist, Alan Lau, who has had a fascinating career working on a drug called Olaparib. He has been involved from the very beginning of the research right up to the drug’s license to be sold. This is a true example of ‘following the science’.

Cancer research building in Cambridge

Cancer research building in Cambridge

Next, we headed north to visit the Macclesfield site in Cheshire. We had an amazing opportunity to visit the Zoladex manufacturing plant. It is unusual for AZ to still be manufacturing Zoladex, but other companies that have tried haven’t been able to create the protective needle sleeve with which Zoladex is administered to the same standard. Therefore, AZ has continued its production.

We had strict dress guidelines due to the importance of sterility; this included no make-up and jewellery, sterile coveralls and sterile overshoes. In retrospect I am not at all surprised by the safety measures but at the time it was quite unbelievable and exciting to see the scientists wearing the sterile coveralls and masks, probably because I hadn’t seen anything like this before.

We spent the second half of the day on the Alderley Park site. We met Jannine Green, a biospecimen scientist. This is a job I had never heard of before. It involves organising clinical trials to ensure countries participating in the trial have correct quantities of the drug; practitioners know how to store the drug and take biopsy samples. This really highlighted the importance of co-ordination and communication, even more so in a global company.

Alderley Park site

Alderley Park site

We spent our last two days at the UK marketing company in Luton. As a scientist who enjoys lab work, I initially thought this wouldn’t appeal to me as much as the previous days. But I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting this side of AZ is. It made me realise the huge scale of AZ and how it truly is a global company. I discovered jobs I never knew existed, such as medical information and regulatory affairs.

I feel very grateful for this opportunity as it has opened my eyes to the scale of AZ and the importance of the massive range of roles and how they work together. Although after a very exciting week I am not completely certain about what specific career path to take, I feel reassured by the huge variety of options and I am sure that whichever I do choose I will thoroughly enjoy it.

Group picture of University of Exeter students. Emily Lomax, Zeeshan Rahman, Shayin Gibson, Jack Richards, Hannah Nicholls

Group picture of University of Exeter students. Emily Lomax, Zeeshan Rahman, Shayin Gibson, Jack Richards, Hannah Nicholls

Balancing academia and music

The life of an academic is full of deadlines and conflicting priorities; however, how do you balance these priorities, if you add an emerging band and a record contract? 

This is the situation which PhD researcher, and member of The Echo and The Always, Angela Muir finds herself in. In this blog post she talks about how these different roles have become intertwined.

Photo courtesy of Polly Thomas

Photo courtesy of Polly Thomas

Like most PhDs and career academics I lead a very busy life with conflicting deadlines and priorities, and an endless struggle to find the time and inspiration to write, all of which needs to be managed with an eye on future opportunities and the endless funding applications they require. Like most (if not all) academics this is balanced against other personal and professional commitments outside academia. For me, that second commitment is music.

I’m in a very fortunate situation. I’m funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada to pursue my PhD on the experience of childbirth for unmarried mothers in eighteenth-century England and Wales. Outside academia I’m in a signed indie band called The Echo and the Always which has been funded by the Arts Council of Wales to promote the release of our debut album ‘…and After That the Dark’.

The first two weeks in December highlight just how busy these two careers can be. In addition to the inevitable endless marking that comes with the end of term I was also writing an academic article, writing funding applications, fulfilling my duties as PGR Liaison for History, and preparing for upgrade before I left to spend Christmas in Canada. At the same time, the band was chosen to be BBC Wales Artist of the Week. In addition to this I stepped in as a session musician for a BBC Horizons Maida Vale session, which involved travelling to West Wales for practice sessions with another band, then to London to record and film. At one point I showed up to an Ex Historia colloquium with my trumpet on my back because I had to leave straight after to catch a train to London.

This is just one example. On several occasions when we’ve been on tour I’ve spent my morning on my laptop in a hotel room analysing statistics on infant mortality or writing a conference paper, or making a detour so I can spend my day in the archives before meeting the band at the venue we’re playing that night. I spent part of the weekend of Green Man Festival sat backstage reading secondary literature for a chapter. This may not be for everyone, but I find it exhilarating.

For the past five years my academic and musical careers have been intertwined. I moved from Canada to the UK in 2010 to pursue my MA in Early Modern History, and even before I landed I was in a band with friends I had made on previous trips. Although our line-up has change over the years the academic links are still there – I met our guitarist (and my partner) during our MAs Swansea University.

It hasn’t always been easy, and the fortunes of the band and academia seem to mirror one another. The band had a great debut year at the same time I graduate with my MA and published my first academic article. Things slowed a bit with the band as we cycled through members trying to find the line-up that ‘clicked’. During this time I was turned down twice for international PhD funding. When I finally secured Wellcome funding the band signed to the independent record label, Jealous Lovers Club. Finally, not long after I was awarded SSHRC funding from Canada the band was awarded Arts Council funding. Surely this is just coincidence, but it’s been an interesting pattern nonetheless.

Photo courtesy of Gemma Conde

Photo courtesy of Gemma Conde

My schedule may seem hectic or unmanageable to some, but I’m one of those people who thrives when I’m at my busiest. Other than the never-ending worries about funding and constant self-promotion academia and music are very different, which is a blessing as each gives me an opportunity to clear my head of the other. This juggling act is also helping me learn how to make the best use of my time, and when necessary learn when and how to say no. The problem of major conflicting priorities has been mitigated by extensive planning and by making choices such as releasing our album at the end of October, which meant we could tour during reading week to promote it.

This balancing act is also made possible by the support networks I have working around me. I have a great relationship with my supervisory team, Dr Sarah Toulalan and Dr Alun Withey, and there is a fantastic community of PhDs and early career researchers at Exeter.  The band serves as a surrogate family for me, and the music community in Cardiff is incredibly supportive and inclusive. Plus we have great management behind us.

I may be busy, but I’m also fully aware of the privileged position I’m in – I get to pursue not one, but two of my passions at the same time.

Which women win? Party differences in gender bias in the 2015 English local elections

This blog was written by James Winterbotham; James is an undergraduate student of social sciences and data analysis at the University of Exeter. As part of a team of students working with the University’s Q-Step Centre he has collected and analysed the results of the 2015 local elections.

This year’s English local elections have returned relatively low numbers of female representatives; just 31 per cent of newly elected councillors are women, which is actually a slight decrease compared to the 2014 figure of 32 per cent.

In the context of renewed interest in gender equality in politics, accompanied by a film dramatising the female suffrage movement and increasing efforts by pressure groups such as the Counting Women In Coalition to secure 50/50 gender representation in Parliament, this might strike some as disappointing.

Attitudes toward the urgency of achieving proportional gender representation vary significantly between parties. Likewise, there is no consensus over which methods are acceptable to achieve this. For example, The Labour Party has considered all-women shortlists for parliamentary selection contests (p.67). The Conservatives, who also support the idea that women should be better represented in senior positions in society, nevertheless hold that ensuring equality of opportunity for all is fairer than positive discrimination is in favour of women (p.19).  Smaller parties follow a similar cleavage: the Green Party aims to field 50 per cent female candidates at next year’s elections whilst UKIP is adamant that policies targeted specifically at women are unnecessary and unfair. Given this variation, it would not be surprising if some parties had considerably higher shares both of female candidates and of female councillors than others. I set out to investigate this.

Difference in success

Is there a difference in the success of female candidates by party? There certainly is. As the bar chart below demonstrates, left-wing and/or liberal parties such as Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems have considerably higher percentages of female winners than the Conservatives and UKIP. Labour, for example, has returned councillors who are approximately 37 per cent female, whilst the new Conservative councillors are 29 per cent female; a considerable difference of eight percentage points.

Independents have a lower proportion of female councillors than any of the major parties.   Fewer than two out of ten independent councillors elected are female. This may seem surprising; media coverage of independents, although sparse, has tended to give the impression that they are generally progressive and disillusioned with the current political situation. Nevertheless, although some independent candidates may favour the greater inclusion of women in politics, they are not themselves a shining example of it.

female ward winners

A quick note on statistics: the I-shaped bars on this chart are Error Bars. As long as the Error Bars of two parties do not overlap, we can be 95 per cent sure that there’s a genuine difference between them that’s not the result of random chance. Otherwise we can’t be certain that a meaningful difference exists

This finding tells us that the under-representation of women varies between the main political parties and between independents. But it does not tell us why. Further analysis was needed to establish whether this is the result of fewer women than men standing for local elections, fewer women than men being elected, or a combination of the two.

I mentioned earlier that about 31 per cent of councillors elected this year are women. The percentage of women among candidates fielded is very similar, at 32 per cent. In fact, the difference here is so small that we can’t be certain it’s not the result of random chance. This suggests that, on average, voters do not disproportionately favour male candidates. The overall disparity between men and women, then, can be traced back to when candidates are selected and fielded, rather than to voters’ choices on Election Day.

Important caveat

The caveat that voters do not disproportionately favour male candidates on average is important, because it would appear that this varies significantly according to the party they voted for. All the major parties fielded candidates that are about 30 per cent female, varying little from the average figure of 32 per cent. Once the councillors were elected, however, significant differences in gender ratios appeared. This means that those who voted for Conservative, UKIP and Independent candidates disproportionately voted for male candidates. However, those who voted for Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party voted disproportionately for female candidates. This existence of these opposing tendencies is what makes the overall effect of voters on gender representation so slight.

Based on these findings, a reasonable conclusion might be that the overall difference between male and female councillors originates in the fielding of candidates, but that variations in this disparity by party originate from the process of voting.

Although interesting, these findings barely scratch the surface of the complex and well-documented gender inequality in every level of British politics. More research is needed on the motives and the disincentives of people considering whether to stand for election at the local, national and international levels. In particular, the lack of women among those who stand as independent candidates and are elected as independent councillors is noteworthy and needs explaining. Once answered, these questions would contribute to a better-informed and more effective approach toward equal gender representation.

What they don’t tell you about ethnographic fieldwork

Sarah Foxen is doing a PhD in French Linguistics at the University of Exeter. On her personal blog NEWBROGUESANDBLISTERS she writes about researcher skills, academia and impact from the perspective of a junior academic.

Two weeks ago I returned to the UK having spent six months in Belgium doing ethnographic fieldwork for my PhD. It was my first experience of ethnography and was one of the most amazing and enriching experiences of my life. But it was also one of the hardest, most challenging things I’ve ever done. And I really wasn’t prepared for it.

I wish someone had told me about the isolation, the pressure, the vulnerability, the guilt, the pragmatic challenges and the Club. Once you’ve done ethnography you’ll realise that you’ve become part of a club: the Ethnographers’ Club.

I wish someone had talked to me about it. I wish I’d known that there was a club, and that others had experienced what I was going through, but no-one told me that. And because doing ethnographic fieldwork is like nothing else, whilst I was doing it there were few who could meaningfully empathise with me.

So today I’m writing this for those of you who will soon or one day embark upon your first experience of ethnography. I want to prepare you, reassure you, and encourage you. I’m going to share some of the things and thoughts I went through and some coping mechanisms.

“I’m trapped, and surrounded”

When you do ethnographic fieldwork everything is potentially significant: every place, interaction, event, comment, news article, whatever. This means that for as long as you are in ‘the field’, you’re at work. Such a feeling affected me in two ways: it exhausted me, and it made me feel trapped.

I found two ways of combatting these feelings: 1) from time to time I went to a near-by city. There I couldn’t observe and so could switch off; and 2) I made friends in that city, who I spent time with. Because they didn’t meet the demographic criteria for my research, they couldn’t be a part of it; they had to just be friends.

“I feel so vulnerable”

However small they might be, as we go from one place to another – be it from county to county or continent to continent – we are met with different cultural norms. I’ve lived in several European cities and I don’t know about you, but I always feel slightly more vulnerable when I’m abroad. I think this is because I just don’t have the same cultural insight as a resident, which in turn marks me out as different and this makes me feel vulnerable. In the early stages of my fieldwork I felt quite vulnerable as I wasn’t familiar with the research site and its cultural norms. With time, and through participating in the community, my insight grew, I felt less like an outsider, and consequently less vulnerable.

“Who’s doing the observing here?”

I did two lots of fieldwork, and in the first stint I had a constant feeling that everyone (be it the man walking the dog or the lady buying milk) somehow knew I was ‘observing.’ I felt like they knew, and that they were looking at me: a whole town was observing me. It wasn’t a very nice feeling.

In my second stint I didn’t have this feeling really, and I think this is why: in phase one I felt like my entire identity was ‘researcher-observer’. In contrast, in phase two I felt it was more like ‘human who does research.’ By getting some perspective on who I was in the grander scheme of things, I felt less conspicuous, more normal and better.

“This is beyond my control”

Although ethnographic insight feeds into my research, the data for my PhD comes from interviews with inhabitants from the region I lived in. I was principally living in the field in order to interview people. To interview people, you have to find people, ask them if they will participate, then, if they agree, organise a time, a place, and finally interview them.

However hard you try, if someone ultimately says no, or changes their mind, or cancels on you, there’s absolutely nothing you can do: it is entirely beyond your control. Being dependent on other people was quite stressful; however, eventually I learnt to go with the flow, which reduced the stress level.

“No-one understands what I’m going through”

As I explained right at the beginning, doing ethnographic fieldwork is like nothing else. At times when I was really struggling with the feelings above, I did what I what I think most people would do in that situation: I rang friends and family in search for comfort and support. They did their very best, and they were supportive. But they just couldn’t quite understand what I was going through, and sometimes that made me feel even more alone. However, I have a friend who has done ethnographic fieldwork and, before I left for Belgium, he told me to call him if I needed to. It’s like he knew what was going to happen: of course he did; he’s part of the Club.

So, when things got really tough, I rang my friend, and we chatted through what was going on. And I knew he understood. And that was a great comfort and encouragement.

“I only want you for your data”

This is a weird one, and it’s only now as I’m writing this that I realise how I overcame one of the most unpleasant feelings I had in the field. In the early days I had this slightly horrible feeling every time I spoke to someone: as we were chatting I couldn’t help but size up their potential to be a research participant. And this made me feel quite calculating.

But I’ve realised now how I overcame it: I started doing what I do in any non-ethnographic situation and showed interest in them quite simply as human beings. My engagement in the conversation was honest. Then, as they reciprocated with showing interest in me, my research became quite naturally a topic of conversation.

“But no-one likes a nagger”

As my leaving date got closer, and I was still lacking research participants, my supervisor encouraged me more and more to chase up people (which I read as ‘nag them’). As someone who doesn’t like to ask people for help, or put people out, I hated this idea. No-one likes a nagger. But, when it came down to it, it was a case of nag, or not get my data. So I nagged; or rather, I chased people up and I was honest: I told them I was struggling to find participants and that my departure date was not far off. I hated nagging, but it was justified. And the thing is, people are good, and they are compassionate, and so, in the end, my honest nagging paid off.

“Oh these demography-tinted glasses are turning me into a terrible person”

My project requires data from men and women of all ages and from all socio-economic backgrounds. Inevitably, it got to a point in my fieldwork where I’d done a number of interviews, but was lacking participants of certain demographic criteria. Time was finite and so I didn’t have time to waste interviewing people who didn’t meet the right criteria. Resultantly, towards the end of my research, I found myself thinking about people I knew, wondering if they met the right criteria, or if they were likely to have anyone in their network who would.

I started to see people in terms of their age, sex and socio-economic background, or rather, I started to make judgments about their identity according to these criteria. It felt horrid judging people in that way. But, I had no choice but to do that; I had to be pragmatic about it. As soon as the fieldwork was over, though, the glasses got shelved.

“It’s all take take take”

It’s hard to write about this now as I really don’t feel this way anymore, but in the early days of my PhD I struggled with the feeling that when I did my fieldwork, I would go into the community, take from it for my own benefit, then leave the community. It all felt wrong to me.

When I arrived in Belgium, I set about trying to do as much to mitigate this feeling; looking for ways to participate in the community and give to it. In the end I managed to get involved in several different organisations and groups and share my teaching and artistic skills. In the early days this helped me feel better about ‘taking’ from the community. It also helped me to integrate, and feel more like a human and less like a researcher. So I would totally recommend getting involved in networks that interest you as a human.

However, and this is a big HOWEVER, with time I started to realise that the community were interested in my research. I realised that when I’ve completed my thesis I will share my findings with the community. And so, with time I stopped seeing my research as take take take; I saw it more as a co-production of knowledge. And since I’m going to share the research with the community, rather than me taking from them, ultimately I will be giving them something.

“I just want to go home”

When you’ve spent the previous X number of weeks stepping out of your comfort zone to try to pull of this ethnographic study, you’re on tenterhooks to see if you’re going to get cancelled on, your fieldwork isn’t going as you hope, you’re tired, you’re routine is different; in fact everything is different, be prepared to be hit with the thought “I just want to go home.” It happened to me from time to time, but I got through, and you will too. Try to get some perspective: it’s just research, it’s not your life; call your friends and family – they are rooting for you, even if they don’t fully understand; and stop to congratulate yourself on all that you’ve achieved. So to conclude:

Ethnographic Fieldwork Top Tips:

  1. Find yourself an ethnobuddy: someone who has already done ethnographic fieldwork who you can ask if they will be prepared to take your calls when you’re really struggling. I can’t honestly imagine that someone would say no; we’re a small empathetic club, and we know it. If you can’t find anyone, email me. If you’ve got time before you head out, look around for ethnography research communities you can get involved in – you are certain to find an ethnobuddy there.
  2. Find your sanctuary: a place away from the research site where you can’t do ethnography. It is really important for your sanity that you find a place where you can take a break, and ideally people to spend time with who can’t be involved in your research.
  3. Congratulate yourself: we are so quick to focus on what we’ve not achieved, and that takes our mood down. So make sure you celebrate your achievements, no matter how big or small they are. Whether it is going into a shop and talking to someone, going to an event, or asking someone for an interview.

It will be challenging, but it will be amazing. Be bold and brave and know that we can’t wait to welcome you to the Club!

My Industrial Placement at Microsoft UK

Final year Business School student, Ben Kosky, has been named Intern of the Year by Microsoft UK; in this blog post, he talks about his internship experience, why it helped him plan for life after graduation and why he would encourage new students to consider the the With Industrial Experience scheme.

Learn more about Ben’s award.

Ben Kosky (left) with Michel Van Der Bel of Microsoft

Ben Kosky (left) with Michel Van Der Bel of Microsoft


When deciding on my degree and University the opportunity to take a placement year was essential. The University of Exeter stood out, with an exceptional ‘With Industrial Experience’ (WIE) programme.

I was excited by the opportunity to take a year out of studying to get stuck into the workplace. My ultimate aim being to challenge myself further to learn and develop, whilst also applying the key principles and theories I had studied during my degree.

After a tough interview process, I managed to secure 1 of 125 Internship places at Microsoft UK as a Sales Solution Professional within their Cloud and Mobility divisions of the business, selling to their largest 313 enterprise customers.

To begin with, it was very daunting and I found it completely different to the familiar environment of studying that I was accustomed to. However, by not being afraid to challenge and push myself to learn and develop, whilst also not shying away from sometimes failing, it was truly amazing how much I grasped during my year, in order to grow as an individual and team member, whilst developing into a more rounded business student.

Some of you may be asking yourselves should you do a year in industry? Personally, I cannot recommend it enough! It is a fantastic opportunity to really push yourself, to apply what you have studied and finally to have a lot of fun. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Microsoft, we had an amazing intern community, with a huge array of opportunities and activities to get involved with.

Further, a year in industry really develops your ability to manage your time effectively and improve your work ethic, which will be imperative in having a strong final year. It is known that WIE students secure excellent grades in their final year as they are able to apply the theories they study into practice using their personal experiences, whilst building and utilising the work ethic and time management competencies they developed from the workplace into their studies.

My industrial placement at Microsoft was truly unforgettable and was rounded off with their most prestigious award. Through the contributions I had made to Microsoft’s Sales and to areas outside my actual job specifications, I was named their ‘Intern of the Year’ against 125 other interns across the UK.

Reflecting on WIE

Upon reflection, the award highlights to me that if you’re willing to work hard, apply yourself and if you love what you do, if that is towards your sport, studying or whatever hobby you have, then you have the ability to succeed and excel.

The support I received during my year from my team, manager and WIE programme tutors and directors was incredible and without them, I would not have had such a successful and enjoyable year.

Looking forwards I am excited about coming back to Exeter to finish my final year Business Management with Marketing degree. I truly believe that my ability now to really relate to the theoretical concepts I will study, through drawing on my personal experiences will be imperative to me having a successful final year.

I am also looking at graduate jobs with the aim to start in September 2016. I will definitely be applying back to Microsoft as I cannot recommend the company enough. The time and effort they put into their programmes is truly remarkable and the responsibility and authority you are given, even as an intern, is amazing!

Without these components, I truly don’t believe I would have had such an amazing year and would have learnt and developed as much as I did. However, there are a vast array of companies out there so I would definitely recommend, and have been recommended by others, to apply to other companies.

One final thing I would say is that even if your industrial placement highlights to you an area of a business or industry that you may not want to continue your career in, this is still a key and a vital learning point in your career development and therefore is hugely valuable.

In light of my year I cannot recommend the WIE programme enough and truly recommend everyone to at least consider the opportunity and possibility of taking a placement year. I do hope this brief insight into my experiences has been useful and I would be happy to help with anyone looking for further information or who has any questions I will leave my details below. Thanks and good luck!

Ben Kosky – 4th Year Business Management Student

Is social media the answer to getting youth engaged In electoral politics?

The votes have been cast and the results are in.

As we reflect on the results of last week’s General Election, Professor Susan Banducci and her colleagues from VoteAdvice* have been thinking about how engaged the under 25, youth, voters have been with the electoral process.

You can follow VoteAdvice on Twitter.

Voters in Britain had more options than ever this election – smaller parties are a significant part of the electoral landscape.

This might have been particularly confusing for first time voters and younger voters who do not have strong party attachments. In order to help voters understand the positions of parties, they had the option to turn to social media for help. Because young citizens are more likely to get their news, engage in political discussions and try to persuade others via social media, it is thought to be a particularly useful way for this group of voters to become informed.  One way in which they are becoming informed is via the use of Voting Advice Applications (VAA). There are over 10 sites available for voters to help them decide who to vote for in the upcoming British elections such as UK Electoral Compass and TickBox.  Some of these sites had over 1 million users who were trying to find out which parties most closely matched their policy preferences.


Figure 1: Likelihood of Voting in 2015 by Age

Figure 1: Likelihood of Voting in 2015 by Age. Source: Fieldhouse, E., J. Green., G. Evans., H. Schmitt, and C. van der Eijk (2014) Preliminary British Election Study Internet Panel Wave 4.

According to the British Election Study 2014, the percentage of the under 25 that declare they are “very likely go to vote” (63.7 per cent) is lower than the percentage in any other age group. One reason citizens don’t vote is because they feel they do not know enough about politics or where the parties stand on important issues. Voting Advice Applications then will be particularly useful in helping them to sort out whether and which parties are addressing their concerns. Using these tools may then encourage them to get out and vote.




The idea behind a VAA is that users respond to a series of questions on political issues, and then receive personalised advice as to how their issue preferences compare to the policy stances taken by parties/candidates competing in an upcoming election. VAA sites have been used extensively in other countries such as The Netherlands and Sweden and frequently attract millions of users, and are now a normal part of election campaigns in a growing number of established democracies. For example, the first VAA was Stemwijzer, which was set up for the 1998 Dutch elections and attracted a quarter of a million users. By the time of the 2006 election the same site was accessed 4.7 million times.

Since VAA are a comparatively new political phenomenon, we are still investigating their consequences on electoral outcomes and turnout. We do have limited evidence that the use of one of these online tools during an election encourages users to seek out even more information. One thing we do know is that the typical visitor is younger and it is younger voters who feel particularly disengaged when it comes to parliamentary elections. These younger voters who may be voting for the first time may feel that they do not have enough information to be able to choose a party or they may feel that political parties are not addressing issues of concern to them.


Figure2: UK Election Compass Users by Age Group Source: Krouwel, A., et al, (2015), “UK Election Compass”, data collected by the Kieskompas Voting Advice Application, Amsterdam

Figure2: UK Election Compass Users by Age Group
Source: Krouwel, A., et al, (2015), “UK Election Compass”, data collected by the Kieskompas Voting Advice Application, Amsterdam


The data collected by the UK Election Compass VAA for the General Election 2015 show very clearly that the under 25 were the top users of this VAA. In fact, the 27.2 per cent of the users were in the age group 18-25 years old.   Those over 45 make up almost 30 per cent but this slightly larger proportion is most likely due to this particular VAA being promoted by local and regional newspapers where the average reader tends to be older.



Figure 3: Twitter Users by Age Group Source: Fieldhouse, E., J. Green., G. Evans., H. Schmitt, and C. van der Eijk (2014) Preliminary British Election Study Internet Panel Wave 4.

Figure 3: Twitter Users by Age Group
Source: Fieldhouse, E., J. Green., G. Evans., H. Schmitt, and C. van der Eijk (2014) Preliminary British Election Study Internet Panel Wave 4.

Use of online tools by young people for political information would appear to be an extension of other social media activity. Data collected by British Election Study shows that that 18-15 year olds are the largest group of users of both Twitter and Facebook. They were only slightly more likely to look for information about parties and candidates on Facebook (15 per cent compared to 9 per cent for 26-35 year olds) and Twitter (25 per cent compared to 22 per cent for 26-35 year olds). However, they were no more likely to share political information on Twitter and Facebook than older respondents in the survey. Therefore, despite greater use of social media in general, younger citizens are not that much more likely to use it for political discussion than older users of social media. One note of caution, the data reported here was collected in March 2015. As election-day approached, the information seeking of younger citizens may have increased and they may have turned to social media more often than older voters.

Figure 4: Facebook Users by Age Group Source: Fieldhouse, E., J. Green., G. Evans., H. Schmitt, and C. van der Eijk (2014) Preliminary British Election Study Internet Panel Wave 4.

Figure 4: Facebook Users by Age Group
Source: Fieldhouse, E., J. Green., G. Evans., H. Schmitt, and C. van der Eijk (2014) Preliminary British Election Study Internet Panel Wave 4.

Our data from the UK Election Compass shows younger people made up a large share of users. However, despite being the largest group of social media users they are only slightly more likely to use social media for obtaining political information and no more likely to share political information via Twitter and Facebook. Therefore, while parties and candidates need to communicate to younger citizens via the mediums they use (social media); it still seems there is work to be done in engaging you in the political process by speaking about issues that are important to them.

* VOTEADVICE is a four year project funded by the European Commission, led by Professor Susan Banducci (Politics & Exeter Q-Step Centre).  The co-investigators are: Professor Daniel Stevens (Politics), Dr Gabriel Katz-Wisel (Politics), Dr Samuel Vines (Sport and Health Sciences), and Dr André Krouwel (Kieskompas). Claudia Zucca, Raluca Popp and Laszlo Horvath are the VOTEADVICE early career researchers. VOTEADVICE examines how new technologies and social media influence political and social behaviour. In order to achieve this aim we develop and apply techniques for the analysis of online information tools and opt-in samples. 

Sending a balloon into space

Laura Dawkins, a PhD Student from Exeter Climate Systems sent a high altitude weather balloon into space, capturing some amazing footage. Here she tells us more…

This week I sent a high altitude weather balloon to near space. The aim of this project was to capture fascinating video footage of the earth from space using an onboard camera. This video shows the journey from launch to recovery:

The balloon was launched at 9:20am from Redditch, Worcestershire. Due to strong westerly winds aloft, the balloon travelled 106 miles east to a small village near Newmarket, Suffolk where it was recovered at 1:17pm.

The 800-gram high altitude balloon was filled with 3.5 cubic metres of helium, enough to carry a parachute and a payload containing a waterproof high definition camera, a SPOT GPS tracker and of course Ned the astronaut.

The balloon and payload ascended into the sky at a rate of 6.5m/s. As the balloon rose the outside air pressure decreased causing it to expand until the balloon reached bursting point. It took 67.3 minutes for the balloon to reach a burst altitude of 26,400m where it was possible to see the curvature of the earth and the refection of the sun on the Thames Estuary. The payload then descended back to earth at an average rate of 14m/s.

The balloon was tracked in real time using the SPOT GPS tracker; this meant the drive to find the payload could begin before the balloon had landed. The payload was safely recovered in a farmer’s field, having crashed into a fence. An element of luck was present as it is not uncommon for weather balloons to land in hard to reach places such as trees or rivers.

The preparation of such a launch involves the purchasing or hiring of equipment: a camera, balloon, helium, GPS tracker, parachute, and payload box. In many high altitude balloon launches the camera will freeze or run out of battery during flight. To prevent this from happening, the camera was wired to a larger external battery pack that sat inside the payload box and heat packs were used to keep all equipment warm.

It is essential to gaining permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) by filling out an online form 28 days before launch. This is of great importance as flight traffic control need to be aware of the launch to ensure the balloon does not obstruct any flight paths.

Future plans for further launches include improvements such as using multiple cameras, a larger balloon for increased burst altitude and an onboard flight computer to collect temperature and altitude data.