Rethinking the relationship between the UK and the Overseas Territories: Kew, science diplomacy and soft power


   Department of Geography

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  Dr Alasdair Pinkerton  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Royal Holloway, University of London and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew are delighted to invite applicants to join with us to apply to the South East Doctoral Training Arc (SEDarc) ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership for a PhD studentship to commence October 2024.

Applicants may apply via 1 of 2 routes:

  • +3.5 studentship which includes tuition fees and stipend for 3.25 years of research plus a 3-month placement
  • 1+3.5 studentship which funds a one-year integrated Master’s programme followed by a PhD.

The project will be supervised by Dr Alasdair Pinkerton (RHUL), Thomas Heller (RBG Kew – UKOTs), and Sara Barrios (RBG Kew – UKOTs). The student will be based at both RHUL and at Kew, as well as becoming part of the wider cohort of SEDarc-funded students and the PhD cohort at RBG Kew. There will be overseas fieldwork in 2 UKOTs (locations to be decided in discussion with the student) and a 3-month placement which can be taken at Kew or elsewhere. The studentship can be undertaken on either a full- or part-time basis.

We encourage the widest range of applicants for this studentship and are committed to welcoming those from different backgrounds and non-standard pathways. Applicants should have a Master’s degree in a relevant subject or be able to demonstrate equivalent experience in a professional setting.

Project Overview

Kew is virtually unique within the community of scientific and heritage institutions in the UK in having a long-standing and clearly defined commitment to working in and in partnership with the UK’s Overseas Territories (OTs). At a time when the UK Overseas Territories are going through a period of change and challenge (as a consequence of Brexit, funding cuts, the cost of living crisis, climate change, and against the backdrop of growing anti-colonial sentiment within the UK and the OTs themselves), Kew occupies a particularly important position in materialising, maintaining and manifesting cultural and scientific (and even para-diplomatic) relations between the Overseas Territories and the UK. A good example of this commitment and interrelationship can been seen through the Kew-curated UKOTs Online Herbarium.

Drawing upon archives, collections, and interviews with current and former Kew colleagues (and partners within the OTs), this PhD project will, initially, seek to produce a detailed historical account of Kew’s role in fostering scientific, heritage-related and even para-diplomatic connections between the UK and the Overseas Territories up to the present day, and to explore how these have expressed themselves through Kew’s organisational structures, collections and curatorial practices. This PhD is also an opportunity to explore and develop new sets of relationships between Kew and the UK Overseas Territories in ways that are relevant to the present and future needs and generations of the OTs, and in ways that will also advance Kew’s scientific strategies.

Quantitative and digital methods will include network analysis of Kew’s connections across the UKOTs and visual mapping using GIS. There may be further opportunities for the student to mobilise archives and datasets held at Kew and in the OTs themselves in order to bring collections pertaining to the UKOTs into closer scientific-diplomatic dialogue.

This PhD project has the potential to contribute new thinking to debates around science/heritage as ‘soft power’ and science diplomacy/para-diplomacy within and beyond the specific context of the UK Overseas Territories.

The student will have the opportunity to be embedded in the UKOTs team at Kew and will have staff-level access to relevant data and collections. They will also be able to conduct wider public engagement, supported by Kew staff. 


Geography (17)

Funding Notes

This would involve the successful candidate working with the supervisory team to complete an ESRC PhD funding application for 2024-25 start.
Successful applicants would be eligible for 3.5 years of funding (ESRC SEDarc DTP including a placement of 3 months), equivalent part-time or 4.5 years for a Masters and PhD programme.
The studentship is open to UK and International students.

Where will I study?