Meet five of the winners of the 2018 LSE Festival research competition, and find out why you should enter this year.
Tell us about your background?
Farhia Abukar, winner of the Photograph Prize, is Interfaith Development Officer at the LSE Faith Centre: I am from Birmingham. I was originally from Somalia but grew up in the Middle East. My parents migrated because of civil war in Somalia and we came to England when I was 11, so I consider myself to be a Brummie. I did my undergraduate in political economy and my Master’s in international development at the University of Birmingham, then worked as a development officer at a charity for four years.
Victoria Adewole, winner of the Beveridge Prize, is Innovations Associate at the Wellcome Trust (MSc Department of Health Policy): I’m a British Born Nigerian.I grew up in London, attended school in Hertfordshire and then did my undergraduate degree at Imperial.Being pretty much a life-long London is rather rare at LSE; it’s such a global community. I used to travel around London and see thebuildings on the Aldwych, I thought LSE would be the last London institution I would study at – even five years ago, I never would have imagined the journey that led me here. However, it’s been amazing to meet some of the world’s brightest minds here in London, at LSE.
Nihan Albayrak, winner of the Popular Prize, is a PhD Candidate, Graduate Teaching Assistant and PhD Student Representative in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science: I was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. Since I was a little child, I was dreaming of studying and living abroad. After earning my bachelor’s degree in Psychology in Istanbul, I took a gap year and spent it engaging in visual and performing arts. Then, I finally achieved my dream and came to the UK where I completed a Master’s in Applied Social Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London. Following this, I decided that I wanted to continue my education to become an academic/researcher in psychology. Thus, I gained a postgraduate scholarship from the Turkish Ministry of National Education, which allowed me to do another Master’s in Neuroscience at King’s College London and begin my PhD in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science at LSE.
Ganga Shreedhar, winner of the Poster Prize, is LSE Fellow, Department of Psychological and Behavioural Sciences (MPA Department of Government, PhD Department of Geography and Environment): I’m from Chennai in south India where I did my undergraduate degree in Economics, and then worked in food security and agriculture. Looking at how we interact and respond to the natural world has always been a really important part of my interests, and the PhD in Environmental Economics was the first time I managed to crystallise and look at that in a more structured way. Actually, I was convinced I’d never do a PhD! I was always interested in policy impact so I wanted to do the MPA because I thought it would give me the training to be able to contribute in the public sector a lot as well as more generally conservation development organisations. Bringing together both these courses is integral to the way I think about these issues.
Aurelia Streit, winner of the Research Abstract and LSE LIFE Prizes, is undertaking an MSc in the Department of International Development: I grew up in the north of Germany with an international background as both my parents were not born in the country. My strong interest in politics motivated me to study European Studies at Maastricht University and graduate studies in Public Policy and Migration. In 2015 around 600 refugees mainly from Syria came to my university town in Maastricht. I decided to set up together with other students “Refugee Project Maastricht”. This has grown into a vibrant hub for refugees, locals and students to meet, to learn languages, build friendships and find their own space in the city. Since then I have been dedicated to the topic of migration and displacement in my free time and academic studies and consider it as one of the key issues of our time.
How have you found your time at LSE?
Farhia Abukar: I personally enjoy working with students. I meet students from all parts of the world, for example some had never met a Muslim or a Jewish person and were really excited for me to introduce them to other students. Just to see them learn more and discover more about people, for me that was very joyful.
Nihan Albayrak: LSE is exactly what I expected it to be before coming here. It is a place full of people like me: obsessive about understanding the world better, keen to learn more about societies all around the world, and give more to humanity in return. I work as a Graduate Teaching Assistant and try to prepare myself as a future academic. I also enrolled on the programme for the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education, provided by the LSE Teaching and Learning Centre. The workshops I attended at this centre are definitely one of the most pleasant and useful times I spent at LSE. I not only get to improve my perspective as a teacher in higher education, but also my perspective as a student. Almost every moment I spend at LSE teaches me something, not necessarily a knowledge on a topic but rather, a new way of thinking to deal with problems one might run into in various aspects of life.
Ganga Shreedhar: It has been really fantastic. It gave me exposure to a wide variety of not just disciplines, policy and academic ideas and debates, but also people. For instance, I’ve had the opportunity to have a lot of female role models, in terms of faculty as well as really strong women friends. I think those really important for my confidence, since I come from a different background with different experiences and strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to have solidarity amongst women on campus and I’ve been fortunate to have strong female friends and lecturers, and male allies. Apart from this, the learning opportunities from the variety of seminars, courses and events on campus are immense, and I feel very lucky to be here.
Aurelia Streit: Apart from taken advantage of the wide array of learning opportunities LSE has provided me in this year – from lectures with Ha Joon Chang to extracurricular webdesign courses, I have also interned with the LSE Parliamentary scheme and spent seven months in the office of the Shadow Minister for Immigration, Labour MP Afzal Khan. While it has been a challenge combining working and studying, it has taught me indescribably much on UK politics, the ins and outs of parliamentary work and the current debate on immigration and Brexit. As I would like to work politically in Germany in the future, my time at LSE and in parliament will always remain as a unique reference for comparative analysis and thinking that I will use. Yet, one thing that has always been at the back of my mind this year was how privileged I and many other students are to be able to study at LSE and live in London. Without having a scholarship this year have been unthinkable to me.
Tell us about your career?
Farhia Abukar: The main focus of my role is looking at campus relations in terms of faith and belief and trying to foster a community and a sense of religious and cultural cohesion on campus, tackling issues such as disagreements among students, issues that come up around religiously motivated hate crimes, and to create an inclusive and accepting environment on campus. We just had funding from the Office of Students, formerly HEFCE, to extend the work and we were told that we were leading in the field and we are a model for other universities to follow in terms of how we deal with students of faith. We do faith awareness training for staff and tailor it to different contexts, so an event on a Friday afternoon might not have as many Muslim or Jewish students attending, and to know why that is.
Victoria Adewole: I studied undergraduate medicine at Imperial College, graduated with distinction, and had my first job as a junior doctor in London before starting surgical training in Brighton. Initially, I aspired to be a urological surgeon, passing my Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons exams first time. But a desire to solve bigger, more structural problems in health led me to LSE. While thinking about volunteering abroad I became more aware of how context specific my skills were due global health service inequalities, and at the same I had a growing interest in macroeconomics and the interplay between policy, economics and finance in health care. I wanted to see how I could influence the bigger picture of health and healthcare.
Nihan Albayrak: As part of my scholarship agreement, after completing my PhD, I need to go back to Istanbul and become an academic at a university. This exactly fits with what I want: I want to be an academic who enthusiastically and critically teaches young generations and makes solid and impactful research for the improvement of the society. As an academic, one of my biggest passion is going to be to act as a role model for those who comes from unusual, underrepresented, and unprivileged backgrounds.
Ganga Shreedhar: I’ve just submitted my PhD and started as a Fellow in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Sciences. An LSE Fellow is essentially a development position where I’d be teaching on the Executive Master’s programme there but also doing my own research. I’m really interested in and passionate about looking at biodiversity conservation and understanding what motivates people to protect their environment, so I looked at the example of donations to conservation charities. We’re living amidst the sixth mass extinction event and we can say with a lot of confidence that this particular event has been driven by human action. I was interested in understanding what motivates people to be more pro-social towards the environment in terms of conservation, but also what motivates people to protect themselves from ambient environmental risks.
What are you most proud of?
Victoria Adewole: I have to say I am most proud of the journey that I’ve been at LSE – stepping up to the challenge, succeeding in taking a social science perspective, and the personal and intellectual growth I have achieved. Winning the Beveridge Prize at the Research Competition crystalised that. I’m incredibly proud that it’s a combination of my clinical background together with what I learnt during my MSc and while writing the dissertation on which the prize-winning entry was based that really informs the work I do today.
Nihan Albayrak: I followed my dreams, kept going (though sometimes in different directions than I planned), and stayed aware of my capabilities even when others doubt, underestimate, or ignore. In doing so, having my family supporting all my decisions was also a blessing for me as it made me comfortable with making mistakes as well as learning from them.
Ganga Shreedhar: Actually getting in to the PhD was quite an important moment and it was an up and down journey as the project I wanted to do didn’t work out. So basically learning to navigate that process has been important in terms of building my self-confidence – as a researcher and with different research projects. The second thing has been the opportunity to teach during my PhD and I’ve had students writing back to me telling me how important it was to be in my class because that has influenced them into joining environmental organisations. I’m very proud to be able to work in this area which I really enjoy, and it’s wonderful that it’s recognised and celebrated, which is a good source of motivation; the fact that other people find it interesting and important as well.
How did you find your experience at the LSE Festival research competition?
Farhia Abukar: I’ve always liked photography and in Birmingham there’s not a big photography scene but I discovered there’s more in London; more exhibitions and galleries and events and festivals happening, all around the year. So that’s been really exciting, and really something that has encouraged me to get involved more and to just take my hobby seriously. There was an email about the competition and I thought, “ok, that could be interesting, I’ll enter”, and my team have been really, really supportive and said “you should enter”… I’ve never shown my work to anyone else, I just used to do it for myself. It’s amazing to win a prize for photography for the first thing I’ve entered! That really boosted my confidence to be honest. It’s a great thing to have such a festival for staff to take part in because I originally thought it was just for students. I just spoke to different people and I went to one of the workshops, which was very helpful as well. They said it’s open to everyone, and a diversity of people won which was really, really good.
Nihan Albayrak: I submitted a poster about my PhD research on helping the victims of global disasters, and won the Popular Prize. Seeing so many people from the public showing interest in my research felt amazing.
Aurelia Streit: One of the most memorable and unexpected events at LSE has been the LSE Festival research competition. Only on the morning before the prize giving I had learned that my research abstract had actually won two categories, Research Abstract and the first LSE LIFE prize, which had left me very grateful and honoured. I have been very passionate about the topic of my research - how Syrian refugee women perceived their empowerment as women in refugee camps in Lebanon, but did not expect that it would be received as positively. Talking to the other participants at the festival, receiving the prize from Julia Black, and having this unique opportunity to discuss the research I am very passionate about served as a great motivation for me to continue on this path.
Watch interviews with the winners on YouTube
Inspired? Find out how to enter the LSE Festival research competition 2019