Global Food Systems: Addressing Malnutrition Through Sustainable System Pathways
I loved having the freedom to shape my own research and outcomes.
What was your research about?
My PhD focused on understanding the compatibility between environmental sustainability (with a focus on greenhouse gas emissions) and providing a nutritious diet for the global population. In essence, it aimed to explore the question: “can we provide a nutritious diet for a growing population within our environmental limits?”. I approached this question through the development of a scalable framework which maps nutritional components from production to final human consumption, therefore highlighting the scale of chain losses, but importantly where the real hotspots are for intervention.
What made you apply to the E3 DTP?
My background is in environmental sustainability (previous degrees of BSc Environmental Geoscience and MSc Carbon Management) and I knew I wanted to undertake a PhD in the disciplinary area of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences; the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) was therefore a perfect funder to apply with. The E3 DTP programme in particular was even more attractive: the additional opportunities for development and training seemed a fantastic opportunity. When I saw the E3 DTP was offering PhD places at the University of Edinburgh – especially a project with previous supervisors and lecturers of mine – I knew I had to apply.
- Five publications in very good journals (all formed chapters of my PhD)
- The University of Edinburgh Geosciences prize for public engagement
- Keynote speaker at the 2018 Planetary Health Conference
- Tutoring and teaching on the University of Edinburgh online, interdisciplinary course in Sustainability and Social Responsibility.
What did you find challenging during your PhD?
I think the PhD process was relatively close to my expectations. The most surprising element that I hadn’t anticipated was how malleable the overall research questions/focus could be: although scientific research starts with a primary research objective/question, further or sometimes different questions arise as the work develops. Research reveals further questions, which can in some cases take an unexpected direction. This is an important overall learning of how the research process evolves (and is rarely straight or linear).
I had five published academic papers in very good journals by the end of my PhD (all formed chapters within the thesis). This process of publication submission was an invaluable teaching. However, multiple submission tends to bring both rejections and the lengthy publication journey. I found this process to be the most challenging aspect of the PhD.
Looking back, what would you have done differently?
Invested more time at the very beginning of the PhD into mastering statistical software (alongside the DTP courses on statistical software) rather than learning some in the initial stages then have to build on that in the later stages of the thesis.
Which aspects of your PhD did you enjoy the most?
I most enjoyed the freedom of guiding and developing my own research methodologies, analysis, and evolution of the process. Both of my supervisors were true mentors and provided support when required, but the whole PhD was really self-guided. I loved having the freedom to shape my own research and outcomes.
The most surprising element that I hadn’t anticipated was how malleable the overall research questions/focus could be: although scientific research starts with a primary research objective/question, further or sometimes different questions arise as the work develops.
Which skills did you gain during your PhD?
Increased data and project management skills via E3 DTP training courses in Semester 1 of the 1st year. Improved skills in scientific writing, and invaluable experience in the process of manuscript submission and publication. Project planning and time management.
What would not have been possible without the DTP?
Very useful team-building, presentation and project definition training at the very start of the 1st year of the DTP. Invaluable training opportunities in data management, analysis and skills. Training in scientific writing.
How has your PhD helped you to decide on a career pathway?
A dominant element to my PhD has been the use of large data to provide an overview of high-level systems (in my case, global and national level food systems) – this has strongly solidified for me that doing so is one of my strengths and should be a focus for my future career path. In addition, my PhD project evolved to lie at the intersection/crossover of many disciplines including food and agricultural systems, environmental impact and climate change, human nutrition, economic development and biotechnology. This interdisciplinary approach is where I see crucial importance; my career is very much geared towards research at the intersection of many disciplines.
The interdisciplinary approach is where I see crucial importance; my career is very much geared towards research at the intersection of many disciplines.
I am currently on a four-year contract as a Postdoctoral Researcher on the Programme for Global Development (Our World in Data) at the University of Oxford. This contract began immediately following my PhD submission/completion. I had already began working with researchers on the programme on a voluntary basis (in my free time) alongside my PhD. The focus of this project is on communicating global level, long-term progress of development across all relevant areas using empirical evidence and interactive data visualizations. My work as an environment and food systems researcher, and the focus of my PhD on big data was very complimentary to this project and a perfect fit. Having collaborated closely with the project during my PhD project, securing a full-time role at its completion was a natural progression.