BA Policy, Politics and Economics student Megan Cole’s dissertation is grounded in an unfortunately common experience: her student housing was unfit for purpose and, unbeknownst to her, owned by an unlicensed landlord. Last year, she and her housemates took the landlord to court…and won. She has turned these experiences into her undergraduate dissertation: The Power Dynamic in Renting: Rogue Landlords, Vulnerable Tenants and Policy Proposals for Change.
Recently, Megan tweeted her joy at submitting the dissertation, and Twitter took notice: at the time of publication, her tweet has nearly 120,000 likes and 10,000 retweets, prompting supportive responses from all over the world. As debates over landlord ethics and housing policy erupted in the comments, and other students shared similar experiences, Megan was approached by the Big Issue and Dazed to speak about her journey. She hopes her work will be a catalyst for change in the housing sector.
“In writing my dissertation, it was pivotal for me to platform the voices of marginalised groups within the Private Rental Sector (PRS),” says Megan. “I drew on my own experiences and applied a broader lens on those who experience other forms of hardship external to their housing circumstances. The ultimate goal was to amplify the voices of those who often don’t get a seat at the table.”
Basing work on an unpleasant lived experience wasn’t easy for Megan. While many understand that dissertations require months of research and reflection, the emotional labour involved in such a project is often underestimated. “Combining the study of PRS policy alongside having to navigate it for our own legal battles meant I was overwhelmed, and honestly could sometimes barely read anything that used the words Landlord or HMO,” she explains. “But ultimately, I am so glad I conducted the research. Seeing my dissertation resonate with so many and the shared solidarity of these experiences has made me so happy, and also contributing to an often under-researched and unknown literature area has been incredibly fulfilling—something I never thought was possible at an undergraduate level.”
When working on personal subjects, it is crucial that researchers practice self-care, seeking guidance from all available networks. “From the support of my supervisor, Dr Harriet Thomson, and her incredible insight into the dissertation process, to being able to discuss my findings with my housemates, all contributed towards sustaining motivation levels throughout the project and ultimately, protecting my mental health, especially during the pandemic,” says Megan. “Also, sometimes you have to realise you need to take a break, whether that's a few hours, days or weeks. I am so grateful to all who helped and guided me throughout the process and my dissertation would not be the same without each and every one of them.”
While waiting for her dissertation to be graded, Megan has written about her journey in more depth on Bulseye, and has plans to eventually share the work online. You can keep up to date with her progress on Twitter at @MeganC2301.