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Cross legged and talking tongues – the winners of ‘Making Sense of Society’ ESRC/SAGE writing competition announced

March 22, 2017

The ESRC, in partnership with SAGE Publishing, is pleased to announce the winners of its 2016/17 writing competition – ‘Making Sense of Society’.

Students Wilhelmiina Toivo, from the University of Glasgow and Lauren White, from the University of Sheffield have been crowned joint winners.

They each received a £1,000 prize at an awards ceremony that took place at the Royal Society, London on 21 March 2017. The two runners up, Max Gallien, London School of Economics and Elo Luik, University of Oxford were awarded £500.

The competition, which is now in its second year, celebrates and fosters the writing skills of the next generation of social scientists. This year students were asked to write 800 words about why their research matters, and how it helps us make sense of and understand the society in which we live. There were nearly 300 entries which demonstrated the incredible breadth and depth of social science research taking place across the UK. Topics ranged from Big Data, to climate change, class, immigration, dementia, the economy and education.

Entrants were encouraged to temporarily take off their academic hat, and write in a style different to what they might be used to, using their imagination to think of new ways to capture the interest of the public.

In her winning essay Once more, with feeling: life as bilingual Wilhelmiina Toivo, from the University of Glasgow wrote about her experiences growing up in Scotland speaking English as a second language, and how speaking in her non-native tongue gave her a sense of liberation when it came to swearing and discussing her emotions. This personal insight linked well to her PhD research project, which focuses on why many bilinguals report feeling less emotionally connected to their second language, a phenomenon known as the reduced emotional resonance of language.

Lauren White, a student at the White Rose Doctoral Training Centre on the other hand impressed the judges with her winning essay on Living and looking for lavatories. Lauren’s honest and direct way of addressing one of society’s last taboos – the experience of using public toilets, especially for those who have a bowel condition – was a great way of explaining her PhD research to a general audience. Lauren studies what it is like to live with and manage the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), particularly in the place where symptoms are mostly managed: the bathroom.

Dr Alan Gillespie, Chair of the ESRC says: “It’s been a great pleasure to be involved for a second year with the ESRC Writing Competition in partnership with SAGE Publishing.”

“The standard of writing was exceptional, with entrants using a range of styles to convey their research. Congratulations to all who made the final shortlist and in particular to our winners, who impressed the judges with their skills in communicating their research in an engaging, original, powerful and thought-provoking way.”

Miranda Nunhofer, Executive Director of SAGE Publishing says: “Due to the complex nature, and often-diverse subject matter, the value of social science research is too often overlooked or called into question, despite its significant impact on society.”

“As such, the social sciences are an incredibly challenging field for voices, especially those early in their career, to be heard. Awards such as these go a long way to both underscore and recognise the longevity of the social sciences and the importance of their societal value. SAGE sends our congratulations to all those shortlisted and to our winners today.”

All those shortlisted, including the winners and runners-up, will take part in a masterclass on ‘how to get published’ delivered by SAGE Publishing. Their competition entries will also be published in print and online.

Entries were judged by a panel of science communication experts. They included Martin Rosenbaum, member of the ESRC Council and an executive producer in the BBC Political Programmes department; Martin Ince, President of the Association of British Science Writers; Miranda Nunhofer, Executive Director at SAGE Publishing; and Tash Reith-Banks, Production Editor for the Guardian‘s Science desk.