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The role of research culture, practice and choices in pursuit of sustainability and climate change mitigation - Sustainability and impacts of research cultures and practices

Project Description

Based within the Cardiff University site of the prestigious Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, this PhD project will examine the cultures, practices and choices within the academic community that affect whether research programmes are themselves in line with a low-carbon and sustainable ethos.

The project will reveal the extent to which sustainability and climate change research is effectively challenging academic and societal norms around high-emitting activities such as diet, mobility, and material consumption. The PhD candidate will set out to uncover assumptions about research practice that may be unstated or largely invisible to those working in research and higher education. They will explore the synergies, tensions and overlaps among different roles that researchers occupy, as well as the wider sustainability strategies within Cardiff University and other university and research sites.

An important wider context for the PhD is a recognition that effectively tackling climate change will require far-reaching action at all levels of society. The research community has played a pivotal role in drawing attention to the need for rapid emissions reduction. At the same time, universities and research programmes are themselves embedded within social structures and organisational practices that often incentivise high-carbon activities. Sustainability commitments may be in competition with financial pressures, the need to recruit students internationally, and even the subject matter of courses. For researchers and academics working on climate change, the balancing of professional, public, and personal roles can be problematic. There may be an expectation to attend international conferences and meetings for work; at the same time, researchers’ credibility in this field might be undermined by a perceived lack of consistency with their own choices. These tensions can be particularly pronounced for those working to influence policy or changes to people’s lifestyles, where the distinction between ‘advocacy’ and impartiality may be unclear.

The PhD will consider research practices at multiple levels, including individual, group, and organisational contexts. The research is likely to use mixed (quantitative and qualitative) methods, such as individual interviews, participant observation and ethnographic approaches, practitioner surveys and the measurement of carbon emissions. The research is intended to drive forward best practice in the establishment of a low-carbon research culture, and to foster in-depth reflection on the role of the social and natural sciences in societal transformation.

Ideally, candidates will have some experience of and an interest in mixed methods research, and a background or interest in social or sustainability sciences. In addition, research experience and interest in the establishment of sustainable practice would be an advantage. The studentship offers an exciting and challenging opportunity to understand and shape research practice, at a time when climate change mitigation is increasingly recognised as urgent and fundamental for a prosperous society. The candidate will join a vibrant, interdisciplinary and agenda-setting academic community at one of the UK’s top five universities ranked by research. The student will be co-supervised by Dr Christina Demski and Dr Stuart Capstick (Cardiff University) and Dr Sarah Mander (Manchester University).

The studentship will commence in October 2019 and will cover your tuition fees (at UK/EU level) as well as a maintenance grant. In 2018-2019 the maintenance grant for full-time students was £14,777 per annum. As well as tuition fees and a maintenance grant, all School of Psychology students receive conference and participant money (approx. £2250 for the duration of the studentship).They also receive a computer, office space and access to courses offered by the University’s Doctoral Academy and become members of the University Doctoral Academy.

Funding Notes

Full awards (fees plus maintenance stipend) are open to UK Nationals, and EU students who can satisfy UK residency requirements. To be eligible for the full award, EU Nationals must have been in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the course for which they are seeking funding, including for the purposes of full-time education.


As only one studentship is available and a very high standard of applications is typically received, the successful applicant is likely to have a very good first degree (a First or Upper Second class BSc Honours or equivalent) and/or be distinguished by having relevant research experience.

You can apply online - consideration is automatic on applying for a PhD in Psychology, with an October 2019 start date (programme code RFPDPSYA).

Please use our online application service and specify in the funding section that you wish to be considered for ESRC funding. Please specify that you are applying for this particular project and the supervisor.

How good is research at Cardiff University in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 69.33

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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