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Towards environmental justice in the UK: educating for inclusive environmental volunteering and conservation.

   Vice Chancellor's PhD Studentships

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  Dr Elsa Lee, Dr A Greig, Dr Poshendra Satyal, Dr Helen Wheeler  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Environmental justice refers to the inequities in both the sources and experiences of the impacts of unsustainable environmental practices. This concept has been addressed internationally and across a range of disciplines; but until recently it has not featured in either Education nor in how British society conceptualises the social consequences of environmental degradation. Movements like Fridays for Future, and Black Lives Matter have brought these issues into sharper focus. There is now a critical need to understand how best to approach environmental justice through Education in the UK, where engagement with environmental issues is intensifying, partly catalysed by COP26 (Glasgow). This effort is underpinned by a longstanding tradition of world leading research. However, there is growing consensus about the need to diversify the research community and engage with members of communities long excluded. This is particularly true of volunteering in conservation organisations.

The successful candidate will be able to access underrepresented social groups and will focus on a sample of volunteer-based conservation organisations to:

  • use ethnographic methods to map the barriers and enablers to diverse engagement and their effect on voluntary conservation activities,
  • develop guidelines and recommendations for the co-production of just and inclusive conservation practices and education,
  • develop materials to improve education and training and community engagements programmes provided by volunteer-based environmental organisations in the UK.

The candidate will use ethnographic methods over a 12-14 month period with two or three UK community-based organisations that are actively working to improve the inclusivity of their volunteering programmes. Participating organisations will be selected through purposive sampling, drawing on the supervisory team’s extensive networks. The aim will be to generate a depth of knowledge co-produced with communities, that will allow for the development of a model through thick descriptions of the kinds of barriers that under-represented groups face, that reveal the implicit and unconscious biases that might characterise these spaces. The data will comprise ethnographic fieldnotes from participant observation and transcripts of interview and focus group discussions with a range of organisational and community members.

One possible theoretical framework for this work is Sandra Harding’s Strong Objectivity which argues that including a diversity of epistemologies can improve the objectivity of scientific knowledge (and thus the effectiveness of education programmes and volunteering programmes). Another potential framework is pluriversality as conceptualised by Arturo Escobar, based on studying waterway regeneration projects in Columbia. Pluriversal thinking suggests creating equitable spaces for a multiplicity of voices to be included in knowledge production relating to environmental activities capacitates addressing problems holistically and effectively. The candidate will explore the analytic power of these frameworks.

The transdisciplinary supervisory team includes environmental educationalists, natural scientists and conservationists as our publication and supervisory records demonstrate. The team has extensive experience of researching and working with environmental organisations supporting volunteer and education programmes and research degree supervision. 

If you would like to discuss this research project prior to application please contact Elsa Lee (Elsa.Lee(@)

Candidate requirements

Applications are invited from UK/Home fee status only. Applicants should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum upper-second class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in a cognate discipline. A Masters’ degree in a relevant subject is desirable.

Applicants must be prepared to study on a full-time basis, attending at our Cambridge campus. To find out more about the application process or the terms and conditions of the scholarships, please email vcphdscholarships(@)

Application Procedures

Applications for a Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship are made through the application portal on our website:

We will review all applications after the submission deadline of 27th February. We will contact shortlisted applicants in the week commencing 14th March. Interviews will be held between 21st March – 1st April. The interview date for this project can be found on our website.

If you have any queries relating to the application process or the terms and conditions of the scholarships, please email vcphdstu(@)

Documentation required

You will need the following documents available electronically to upload them to the application portal (we can accept files in pdf, jpeg or Word format):

  1. Certificates and transcripts from your Bachelor and Masters degrees, (if applicable)
  2. Your personal statement explaining your suitability for the project
  3. Passport and visa (if applicable)
  4. Curriculum Vitae

Funding Notes

This successful applicant for this project will receive a Vice Chancellor’s scholarship award which covers Home tuition fees and provides a UKRI equivalent minimum annual stipend for three years. The award is subject to the successful candidate meeting the scholarship Terms and conditions which can be found on our website:
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