A Research Assistant in Geography


Hi, I’m Ellie and I have just completed a month’s work as a research assistant in the Geography and Urban Studies and Planning departments at the University of Sheffield. I had just finished first year of my Geography degree at Newcastle University, and wished to do something proactive with my summer that was related to my studies, and which would broaden my horizons.

I emailed the Head of Geography at Sheffield, who put me in contact with Thom Sullivan, who works in the Geography office. He considered what I stated my interests to be, and perfectly matched me with Dr Megan Blake, a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography and the Director of the MA in Food Security and Food Justice. I was given my own desk space and computer in the geography departmental office and was immediately treated as a respected colleague rather than a ‘helper’.

Throughout my time here, I have assisted Dr Blake research numerous interesting and current issues.  I worked on two major projects for her. First, I collated academic papers and government documents on the upcoming Universal Credit benefit system which allows claimants to receive what they are entitled in one lump sum at the start of the month, rather than split up into various smaller, spread out payments. The Universal Credit’s stated aim is to simplify and make more efficient the current benefit system. Furthermore, the single payment mimics a monthly wage which – so its logic goes – strives to improve claimants’ ability to budget and handle money, preparing them for the world of work. Dr Blake was particularly interested by how Universal Credit could increase claimants’ need to rely on food banks at the end of the month, through unfamiliarity with budgeting a single monthly payment. I teased out relevant information from many papers and produced an annotated bibliography which will inform a research grant application she is currently writing.

Another large portion of my time was spent building a database of census data on various indices of deprivation in different community areas in Doncaster. This was a lengthy yet valuable task, as Dr Blake will be analysing the compiled data, to see what correlation there is between different indices of deprivation and the proportion of overweight children in these areas of Doncaster. The work I have done will also be included into a report sent to the Doncaster Council Public Health Team.


Additionally, I worked alongside Professor Rowland Atkinson who specialises in urban social problems including the role of the superrich in residential life in the UK, gentrification, community trauma/violence and social vulnerability. With Professor Atkinson I collated both journalistic articles and academic papers on social segregation created by gated communities and ‘poor doors’, as well as the extent and process of money laundering.


With Dr Jamie Gough, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, I researched various papers on Labour government initiatives involving the decentralisation of powers. This work will help him complete the book he is currently writing called ‘New Labour, New Localism’.

I have really valued my time here, as I have been introduced to just a few of the exceptionally interesting niche areas that Geography research enables you to delve into. My key interest in social geography has been pushed to greater levels, and I can definitely see my future-self involved in some way with social inequality and food poverty.

I would like to say thanks to all the academics who have allowed me to badger them for tasks, whilst providing guidance even with their busy schedules. I would also like to give a huge thank you to those in the geography office, who have made me feel more than welcome this past month, and have made it really lovely to work here every day.

I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in Geography to contact the department here at the University of Sheffield, if you want to be a part of current world leading research!

pippa gardner



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