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Winners of the prizes for the Best Doctoral Research Theses 2017/18

4 December 2018

Six Bristol postgraduates have been awarded £500 prizes for the exceptional quality of their research degree theses.

An annual prize is made for the thesis considered to be the best within each faculty and for which a degree has been awarded in the relevant academic year. Internal and external examiners were invited to nominate suitable theses and one winner has been selected from each faculty by members of the Research Degrees Exam Board, which oversees the examination process for research awards. The Board is chaired by Professor Sally Heslop, Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor (Graduate Studies)

The successful graduates, listed below, each receive a certificate of commendation and a cheque for £500.

Faculty of Arts: Carmody Grey

‘Theology, Science and Life, with John Milbank and Hans Jonas’
(Primary Supervisor: Professor Gavin D’Costa)

Carmody is now Assistant Professor of Catholic Theology, University of Durham, a post she obtained within a year of completing her doctorate. She came to Bristol with a BA Hons (Double First Class) in Theology (Oxford), an MPhil (Distinction) in Theology and Religious Studies (Cambridge), a PGCert in Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health (Edinburgh) and an MA in Systematic and Philosophical Theology (Nottingham). Her doctoral thesis established two important claims and developed them: that the life sciences have an implicit theology within them (drawing on the work of Milbank); and that the life sciences as developed by Hans Jonas provide a helpful model to think theologically about the concept of ‘life’, drawing in all forms of life. The thesis thus makes a serious contribution to the theology and ecology debate and the debate about theological method. She has published four articles and is negotiating a book contract for her thesis. Professor D’Costa describes her as ‘one of the most accomplished and widely read students that I’ve worked with’. Carmody reports: ‘Studying at Bristol was an utter joy’. 

Faculty of Biomedical Sciences: Kerrie McNally

‘Identification and characterisation of retriever, a multi-protein complex required for retromer-independent endosomal retrieval of cargo’
(Primary Supervisor: Professor Pete Cullen)

Transmembrane proteins present at the cell surface allow the cell to sense and respond to its environment. The levels of specific transmembrane proteins, which we refer to as cargo, at the cell surface can be regulated through internalisation into organelles called endosomes. Once the cargo enter the endosome they are either sorted for degradation and permanently removed from the cell surface, or they are recycled back to the cell surface to be reused. Therefore endosomal sorting between degradation and recycling regulates the cell surface protein composition and hence the ability of a cell to sense and respond to external stimuli. Defects in the process of cargo recycling are becoming increasingly associated with human neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, so it is fundamental that we understand, at a molecular level, how endosomal recycling occurs. This thesis describes the discovery of an ancient and evolutionary conserved multi-protein complex required for the recycling of over 200 cargo. Importantly this complex acts independently of other established endosomal complexes, providing an insight into a major new endosomal recycling pathway.

Faculty of Engineering: Francesco Alderisio

‘Co-ordination and leadership in complex multi-agent systems: analysis, control and application to human ensembles’
(Primary Supervisor: Professor Mario Di Bernardo)

Francesco’s work developed a theory-driven approach for designing virtual agents that interact with groups of humans as followers or leaders which allows a much greater understanding of co-ordination and leadership with arrays of humans or machines carrying out identical tasks. The quality of Francesco’s work was noted by both PhD examiners, one of whom described the thesis as a ‘tour de force’. The PhD research has already led to seven papers in high-impact journals such as PLosOne and Scientific Reports. What is particularly impressive about Francesco’s work is the array of different approaches used: computer simulation, mathematical proof, software creation, human experiments, and practical control theory and data analysis.

Faculty of Health Sciences: Hanna Zielinska

‘Hyperglycaemia and fibronectin: the criminal partnership during breast cancer progression’
(Primary Supervisor: Dr Claire Perks)

Dr Perks describes Hanna as ‘incredibly industrious, an excellent scientist with great writing and presentation skills’ and adds: ‘her enthusiasm for her work is infectious: she has a passion for breast cancer research’. During her studies Hanna made the seminal observation that the combined exposure of hyperglycaemia and fibronectin induced epithelial breast cancer cells to undergo epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) that was associated with a more invasive and glycolytic phenotype. She also delineated the pathway through which this occurred, which could open up new ways of treating this sub-set of breast cancer patients. The quality of Hanna’s PhD is highlighted by three first-author publications including papers published in Endocrine-Related Cancer (2016) and Cancer Letters (2018). Hanna is currently writing the final manuscript from the work in her thesis.

Faculty of Science: William Ganley

‘Structure and rheology of clay suspensions and Pickering emulsions’
(Primary Supervisor: Dr Jeroen Van Duijneveldt)

William has studied suspensions of fine clay particles in water. These are found in soil and rivers, but also in products such as toothpaste. He has performed a remarkably wide-ranging and detailed study, exploring the role of additives and characterising both the structure and flow behaviour of suspensions. In particular he has shown experimentally and with computer models how clay particles can stabilise oil-in-water and even water-in-water emulsions.  

Faculty of Social Sciences and Law: Alice Willatt

‘Exploring the ethics, politics and practices of care in a community kitchen’
(Primary Supervisor: Dr Patricia Gaya)

Alice’s thesis makes a significant contribution to knowledge in several ways: theoretical, methodological and in practice. The thesis makes a rich theoretical contribution in bringing together feminist and ecofeminist theories of care with action research, critical management studies and alternative organization theories. It makes a substantial and innovative contribution to method and practice in exploring how Care Ethics gives meaning to the work of the community kitchen, how this could be deemed a transformative practice, and how it is challenged and contested. The study successfully brings empirical evidence to a largely theoretical domain; develops the relationship between localised care practice and political arguments for a public ethic of care; and offers a new theorisation of care as fluid and underpinned by reflexive cycles. Beyond this the thesis demonstrates that relational encounters and embodied engagements are powerful change agents – which can turn the localised into the political. It also shows that care is marked by tension and contradiction, but that a reflexive approach allows continuous cycles of collaborative learning.

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