World Changers: Celebrating impactful research | Researcher spotlight part two

We continue to look at the work of those who contributed to the collection of essays exploring research at Leeds, and how it is helping to change the world.

The essay collection was curated by Vice Chancellor, Professor Simone Buitendijk

World Changers

World Changers: Celebrating Impactful Research features 13 essays by early-career researchers working across an array of disciplines to make the world a fairer and more equitable place.  

The authors’ areas of expertise are wide-ranging and diverse, but the common thread tying them together is a vision of a better future for humanity, working together to tackle inequalities and create a fairer future for all.

In this series of features we’ll profile each researcher and their contribution to the collection in more detail.

Dr Jessica Mitchell, in black, stands in front of a red colour splash.

Dr Jessica Mitchell wrote What if the drugs don’t work?

The piece explores antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – the ability for microbes like bacteria, fungi and viruses to increasingly resist drugs we use to treat the infections they cause – and ways global, local and national communities can come together to respond to it.

She said: “I very much enjoyed creating my piece for the VC essay collection as it was a chance to put my current research on antimicrobial drug resistance into context. I mean this both in terms of relating my current projects to my wider research aims, but also in terms of discussing the problem of antimicrobial resistance in ways that can be appreciated by a wider audience.

“So often AMR is considered a complex scientific topic, much like climate change was several decades ago. However, to create meaningful change on this problem it must become accessible to everyone, in a similar way to the public conversations around the climate crisis.”  

For Dr Mitchell, who has a research background in zoology, being selected for inclusion was unexpected, but also came with unforeseen benefits.

She said: “As a junior member of the University’s research community, I was surprised that my work was selected for the essay collection. I felt my story was more exploratory than other candidates who have established research groups.

“However, through creating the essay I enjoyed many conversations with team members who were genuinely interested in the challenge of AMR and excited by the community engagement projects I describe. Personally, the writing of the essay has enabled me to formulate a clearer plan for my research trajectory which I hope to implement during my time at Leeds.”  

Read What if the drugs don’t work?

Dr Laura Carter, in black, standing in front of a blue colour splash.

Dr Laura Carter was behind Chemical pollution knows no borders.

Her research has found hazardous traces of chemicals in plants, soil and water from Yorkshire to remote rivers in Nepal – often as a result of wastage during manufacture.

Her essay outlines this work, and how she’s creating an international network of academics, industry and regulators to pool knowledge and draw up frameworks so we can better manage such pollution crises across the world.

She said: “I think the essay collection provides a valuable platform for Early Career Researchers to showcase their work to the wider University of Leeds community.

“Writing the essay was a challenge, as it quickly became clear that writing about your research in an accessible format for a varied audience is very different to writing the lay summary for a grant proposal!”

As a University Academic Fellow in Soil Science, Dr Carter’s research focuses on understanding the fate and uptake of emerging contaminants in the natural environment.

She hopes that the work she put into making the essay more accessible will help broaden its reach.

She added: “The essay has been well received within the scientific community but I hope in the long term the essay is accessible and of interest to readers beyond academia to highlight the challenges associated with this ‘invisible’ form of chemical pollution.

“This work highlights the need for taking global and transdisciplinary approaches to ensure we are able deliver research that really tackles key scientific problems. This echoes the approach currently undertaken in my UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship”.

Read Chemical pollution knows no borders.

Dr Vien Cheung, in black, standing in front of a red colour splash.

Dr Vien Cheung wrote Colour: its influence and impact on the way we live.

The piece examines the significance of colour in our lives beyond simple aesthetic impressions.

It explores how, through bridging and shaping colour awareness across institutional and geographic boundaries, we can increase understanding of equality, diversity and inclusivity.

It also shows examples from around the world of how colour can be used as a declaration to help us move towards a fairer and more balanced world.

Dr Cheung said: “Whether it is natural or digital, we are constantly surrounded by colours.

“This piece provides a wide-ranging perspective to illustrate the extensive historical, cultural and symbolic attachments that colours carry, and the consequential societal values that we are bounded to.”

As Associate Professor of Colour and Imaging Science, Dr Cheung's research often looks at how colour can impact wellbeing, behaviour and performance, as well as the cultural differences in the meaning of colour.

Her areas of expertise include colour imaging, science and vision, as well as textile technology, engineering and design. She is also a writer for VC2 (weseetoo), covering topics including existence, wellness, culture, value, universe, nature, environment and sustainable living practices.

Read Colour: its influence and impact on the way we live.

Dr Jasjit Singh in black in front of a red colour splash.

Dr Jasjit Singh’s essay, Not ‘hard to reach’ but ‘hardly reached’, looks at how universities can make a difference to society and empower communities by engaging them in research.  

He highlights how he has experimented with ways of producing knowledge through his research and used it to engage with non-academic audiences, such as through feedback events.

This approach eventually enabled his work to influence national and international policy.  

Dr Singh said: "When I read the University's new strategy with its focus on Community, Culture and Impact, it was as if the strategy had been written with my research and teaching in mind.

“Being invited to write for the World Changers essay collection allowed me to gather my thoughts and experiences in engaging minority religious communities with research.  

“I'd heard the term 'hard to reach' regularly being used to label these communities during the pandemic and reflected that this hadn't been my experience at all. Rather than being 'hard to reach', members of these communities said that my workshops and research events had been the first time they'd ever been a part of an academic conversation. This meant that rather than being 'hard to reach', these communities were in fact 'hardly reached'.”

As was the case with some of his fellow contributors, Dr Singh noticed that his essay had a further reach than initially anticipated.

He added: “It was quite a surprise to see my World Changers essay being shared widely across social media and being read by people working in non-academic arenas.

“A number commented how the term 'hardly reached' puts the onus on organisations to recognise the gaps in their current engagement strategies, rather than putting the blame on communities for not engaging. It's really great to see Community, Culture and Impact at the heart of the new University strategy and I look forward to doing all I can to help implement it."  

Dr Singh’s research interests include religious and cultural transmission and the role of digital technology in religious learning.

He also explores the interaction between religion and media and examines how media and policy makers engage with issues of religious representation and the production of religious knowledge.

Read Not ‘hard to reach’ but ‘hardly reached’.

Be sure to check back on For Staff over the coming weeks for more in this series of features in which we’ll profile each researcher, and their contributions to the collection. 

In the meantime, you can read World Changers: Celebrating Impactful Research on Spotlight.

The essays are also available as a audiobook series on our SoundCloud page.

Read more about Research Transformed and how we are enabling our research to thrive in the future.

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