Postgraduate Researchers


Hannah Absalom 

Project Title: Behavioural Insights in Social housing in England and the Netherlands

Funded by the ESRC, Supervised by Dr Jessica Pykett, Prof Andre Lymer and Dr  James Gregory

Hannah Absalom (nee Bailey) is a doctoral researcher interested in what the practice of behavioural insights in social housing has to say about possible shifts towards more behavioural forms of governance. Using a combination of semi-structured interviews, a Delphi engagement with tenants, online discussion groups, her research explores how behavioural insights is practiced, what are shaping this and how it is thought about by tenants of social housing. The research is interested in culture, effects, ethics and future forms.

As the researcher is a former practitioner in housing, there is a strong focus on making the research relevant for the sector and an intent to disseminate finding and make recommendations.

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Maria Jesus Alfaro

Project Title: Youth Happiness in the City: Young people´s experiences of happiness in the urban environment of Lima, Peru.

Funded by the Government of Peru, FONDECYT programme; supervised by Professor Peter Kraftl, Dr. Sophie Hadfield-Hill and Dr. Jessica Pykett

Maria Jesus Alfaro is an architect and researcher on urban childhoods, urban happiness and everyday experiences of the city. Her research examines children and adolescents’ sociocultural understandings and everyday experiences of happiness in the urban environment. She explores both the physical environment and the emotional attachment to, including issues around sociability, accessibility, belonging, safety and quality of the built environment through the lens of happiness and wellbeing. For doing so, it relies on a robust research programme conducted in Lima, Peru, comprising a qualitative stage with 200 children followed by a quantitative in-school survey with 700 respondents, in both cases aged 8-16 and sampled from different social economic groups and geographical areas of the city. Her work is interdisciplinary, applicable in different geographies and has already proven to be relevant to both academia and policy making due to breaking new ground in Latin America.

Her research interests lie at the interplay between urban childhoods and youth, happiness, wellbeing and human flourishing. She is particularly interested in the contrast between Western societies and the vibrant differences evident in the Latin American region. Also, she is interested in examining in more depth the relationship between urban context and human everyday thriving experiences enabling urban dwellers to be better and engaged citizens.

Twitter: @majealfarom 

Rob Booth

Rob Booth is a doctoral researcher whose research explores the way actors in the British food system understand, interpret and relate to the future. This research is theoretically inspired by critical geographies of time and temporality, as well as political ecology, but also retains a focus on the sort of material and political changes which could be adopted in order to develop agri-environmental policy that accounts for the long-term environmental externalities of contemporary food production.

Rob has professional experience of policymaking at the heart of government, having worked as a policy advisor at both the Food Standards Agency and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Rob’s academic background is in anthropology, having completed an MA in the Anthropology of Food at SOAS, University of London in 2015. An experienced researcher, Rob also has a Masters in Social Research Methods from the University of Birmingham and has worked as a qualitative researcher in the commercial research sector and as a Research Assistant on an externally funded project during his time at Birmingham. Rob also works as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, having led human geography seminars for first and second-year undergraduates.

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Rita Gayle

Project Title: The Collective Utopia: Black British Feminists’ Creative Escape from the Margins of Society

Funded by the AHRC through the M3C DTP.

Supervised by Dr Patricia Noxolo and Dr Jessica Pykett

I am a human geography PhD student in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham. I am funded by the Midlands 3 Cities Arts and Humanities Research Council DTP. My thesis investigates the millennial generation of Black Feminist womxn/non-binary collectives presently working to establish themselves in Britain’s creative and cultural industries. These creative collective groups have formed to act as a point of resistance to exclusion and a line of communication to gaining inclusion. The creative and cultural industries are Britain’s most dynamic response to managing the nation’s post-industrial economy and yet its Black employee figures have remained stubbornly low. The aim of the project will be to evaluate the spatial activities, content and forms of Black feminist, womxn and non-binary collectives located in Britain as they navigate their exclusion/inclusion in these industries.

Twitter: @rita_gayle

Polly Jarman

Project Title: Young people’s learning and interactions with(in) urban woodlands

Funded by Leverhulme Trust, through Forest Edge Doctoral Programme, Supervised by Professor Peter Kraftl and Dr Sophie Hadfield-Hill

Polly Jarman is a doctoral researcher interested in the geographies of children and young people and geographies of education. In particular, she is interested in the relationship between non-outcomes-based education and encounters with urban woodlands. Her research project uses video technologies and walking ethnography to explore how learning unfolds in such settings. These methods have been undertaken with diverse groups of young people, many with specific special educational needs and disabilities. Working with new materialist and postqualitative theoretical approaches, she considers the material, affective, emotional and embodied entanglements of young people with these environments.

In working towards a participatory project, her research highlights other ways of learning-with and walking-with disability. It also considers issues of agency and voice, interactions between human and non-human, embodied being in public space, the role of technology in learning, non-hierarchical ways of knowledge-construction and thus alternative approaches to education.

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Jessy O Jessa

Project title: Towards Sustainable Solid Waste Management: The Role of Stakeholders in Tackling the Waste Management Challenges.

Supervisors: Dr Patricia Noxolo, Dr Natasha Cornea, and Dr Simon Dixon.

Jessy Oghenekevwe Jessa is an environmentalist. He is a Nigerian with a Bachelor of Science in Animal and Environmental Biology (University of Benin), and a Master of Science in Sustainability and Environmental Management (Coventry University). He is a member of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). He is currently pursuing his PhD at the University of Birmingham. His research area sits within solid waste management, environmental awareness, and the sustainable development goals (especially goal 12 –  responsible consumption and production, ensuring the negative impacts of waste are mitigated through reduction, reuse, and recycling).

Around the world, one noteworthy issue that governments have had to contend with is solid waste disposal, challenging most city governments with increasing problems of solid waste management. This challenge is even more pressing in developing countries which struggle with poverty, unemployment, insecurity, and so on.

Nigeria, a developing country, has made efforts to address the issue of solid waste management; however, there are considerable rooms for improvement as the state of solid waste management in the country is below standard.

While there is considerable research in the area, little is known of the role of stakeholders in tackling the problem of solid waste management in Nigeria. Jessy’s research aims to promote policy formulation, infrastructural development, and awareness campaigns aimed at moving towards sustainable solid waste management in Nigeria. 

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Jenny Knight

Project title: Exploring the impacts of land managers lived experience and expertise in developing Treescapes for Natural Flood Management

Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholar with the Forest Edge, BIFoR; Supervised by Dr Steven Emery and Dr Simon Dixon

Jenny is an interdisciplinary doctoral researcher integrating aspects of social and physical disciplines within Geography and Environmental Science. From Nov2020 to Feb2021 she is on placement with the Welsh Forestry Policy team, working on the National Forest project. Jenny is interested in landscapes and in particular the complexities and intertwined nature of socio-ecological ‘Treescapes’ (‘forests’, ‘trees’ and ‘woodlands’), land use and change. She won the Confor #theFutureIsForestry essay prize in 2020 challenging the forestry industries relations with wider land management. Her research focuses on bridging gaps between expertise and lived experience, and scientific practices and policy planning.

Working with land managers in a case study catchment Jenny has integrated social methodologies such as emplaced semi-structured interviews, participant mapping, participant observation and imagery with the physical methods of landscape characterisation, hydrological measurement and modelling. Hydrological models have therefore been directly informed by participants, and will be challenged and evaluated by participants to explore the knowledge generation and impact. For further information and resources please see her researchgate profile, or blog at: or on twitter @missjsknight

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Chang Liu

Supervisors: Dr Irina Kuznetsova and Dr David Adams

Chang is an urban and regional researcher in human geography in school of Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences. Researching the internal migrants’ engagement with public spaces in Chinese cities.

Her research focuses on how public space solves the social problems caused by the antagonism between rural-urban and urban-rural migration. This topic both globally as there are academic discussions about the relations between public spaces and diversity, and locally in a context of China.  

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Jessy Shallcross

Project title: Treating negative affects among young people: the emerging technological landscape of therapeutic encounters

Funded by ERSC, supervised by Dr Jessica Pykett and Professor Dominique Moran

Jessy is interested in the intersection of human geography, neuroscience, and mental health. Her PhD research explores how the technological promise of neuroscience is advanced through young people’s encounters with eMental health services and smartphone applications (apps) that are designed to assist users in moderating and managing symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress. The research is situated within the UK context of a changing landscape of mental healthcare with transitions towards digital services.

Interviews and open-space advisory groups at a mental health drop-in centre for young people will ground this research in young peoples, mental health professionals and stakeholders’ perspectives. Jessy draws on theoretical work within cultural geographies, new materialism, and poststructuralism to conceptualise relations between mental health technologies, human users, and the social environment; and to problematise how apps - through active and passive functionalities - attempt to capture thoughts, feelings, affects and emotions associated with situated depressive and anxious states.

Jessy has completed an MSc in Society and Space at the University of Bristol and a BA in Geography at the University of Birmingham.

Amy Walker

Project Title: Children's Experience of Mobility in Post-Separation Families: Intimacy, Home and Journeying

Funded by the ESRC, Supervised by Professor Peter Kraftl, Dr Sophie Hadfield-Hill and Dr Melanie Griffiths

Amy Walker is doctoral researcher interested in the geographies and mobilities of young people with separated parents. Using a combination of in-depth interviews and visual methods, her research explores young people’s experiences of journeying between their parents houses. Taking journeying to encompass moments of preparing, leaving, travelling and arriving, the research explores the varying spatial, material and temporal configurations of these journeys and their entanglements with the emotions, affects, moods, intimacies and distances produced when mobile. It therefore asks questions of the practices and processes established to manage these complex geographies. Whilst also exploring the ways in which this journeying shapes, and is shaped by, children's relationships with their family members, their home-making practices, and the forms of agency they are able to exercise.


Walker, A. (2019: online early), ‘‘I don’t know where all the cutlery is’: exploring materiality and homemaking in post-separation families’, Social and Cultural Geography.

Photo of Amy Walker