If you really want to get a sense of the wide range of subjects studied at Clare Hall, the best way is to ask the College members themselves about their specialisms. Here, our postgraduates share their current work, achievements to date and interests outside of academia...
A PhD candidate in the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, Dylan previously completed his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Ottawa.
All human life can trace its origins to a single cell that divides and morphs into the great variety of cell types that form the human body. Dylan studies the mechanisms by which these early populations of cells differentiate or ‘decide’ what cell type they will change into in marmosets. Specifically, he works with trophoblast stem cells, whose primary role is to form the placenta. The placenta (and so too trophoblast development) is essential for a successful pregnancy as it mediates nutrient and waste exchange between the mother and child. He hopes his work will better our understanding of placenta formation and aid in the development of treatments for placental diseases, such as preeclampsia, that endanger both the mother and child.
Understanding how these first cell decisions are made is essential to understanding how primate life forms. Moreover, numerous pregnancy complications and developmental disorders can trace their origins to defects in these early decisions. To help understand this complex processes, Dylan and his colleagues in the Boroviak Lab aim to generate a synthetic marmoset synthetic embryo by layering the three major early cell types (trophoblast, epiblast, and hypoblast) to form an embryo-like structure and observe how that structure develops over a short period. Studying the development of this synthetic embryo will provide unique and invaluable insights into how a small cluster of primate cells has the potential to form a functioning organism.
Dylan’s PhD is funded by the Centre for Trophoblast Research and the Cambridge Trust.
Beyond his research, Dylan is a member of the Clare Hall Cricket team and All Grey’s Rugby club. When not in the lab or on the pitch, he can be found rollerblading the bumpy streets of Cambridge.
Originally from Markham, Ontario (just outside of Toronto), Jasmyne is an MPhil student in the Faculty of English, studying Criticism and Culture. Her research focuses on the intersection of postcolonialism and environmentalism in Black diasporic literature.
Jasmyne’s MPhil dissertation surveys the work of Edgar Mittelholzer (1909-1965) through postcolonial and ecocritical frameworks, using indigenous points of reference to re-define Caribbean environmental thought. Mittelholzer was a Guyanese novelist, considered the first professional novelist to come out of the English-speaking Caribbean.
Unveiling an ancestrally rooted Caribbean national consciousness demands examining any continuity from indigenous African cultures to contemporary experience. Jasmyne’s research argues that national consciousness must be further divided into its constitutive elements, including environmental awareness. Through ecocriticism, her work scrutinises the extent to which ecological awareness, as portrayed in African diasporic literature, perpetuates either traditional indigenous or colonial hegemonic ideologies. Jasmyne aims to identify an African national consciousness in the diaspora and clarify its role in generating specific environmental awareness. She intends to illuminate diasporic ecological narratives and explain relationships among often vulnerable groups, their conceptualisations of, and consequent relationships with, natural environments.
Prior to Cambridge, Jasmyne’s interest in the interconnectedness of artistic expression and ecological change drove her to complete a Bachelor of Science with a Double Major in Biology and English Literature at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver).
Outside her course, Jasmyne serves as an Equalities Officer on the Clare Hall Graduate Student Body Committee; an Interviews Writer for The Tab Cambridge; and an Editor for the Cambridge Review of Books. She has also co-founded the non-profit organisation ECHO Canada and worked as a Research Assistant for a Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Charlotte Salley wrote her MPhil dissertation in the Faculty of English, 2018-19, on the later novels of Willa Cather (1873-1947).
After the grand adventures in Willa Cather’s Midwestern prairie trilogy, two of her later novels – The Professor’s House (1925) and Shadows on the Rock (1931) – turn quietly inward, toward more muted and moody discoveries. It’s from an attic atelier, an ancient cliff dwelling, and snowed-in Quebec City that each character can, should they wish, look out at the world. But Cather, ever an authorial enigma, presents a dimensional paradox. The protagonists’ coming of age (or ageing) experiences are tempered by a confined environment. My dissertation examined how one can learn and grow from within a hemmed-in scenario. What are the lasting effects of an outside-in rite of passage, where bound spaces either encourage or hamper educational development?
At the turn of the twentieth century, nearly thirty years before Cather published these two popular novels, she was herself in a confined environment: she spent five years teaching high school. Biographers have given limited attention to this period, but I discovered that, corralled as she was within the academic calendar, watching so many students grow up, left an impression. It’s odd, though, that Cather’s later characters learn through experience instead of traditional classroom work, which was her teaching style. I used the works of progressive contemporaries John Dewey (the Laboratory School) and Dorothy Canfield Fisher (Montessori education) to help differentiate between Cather’s pedagogical and fictional character development – is the contrast ironic, paradoxical, or just a belated trickle-down consequence?
From Cambridge – 5,000 miles away from these educational contradictions – I had a broad vantage point, but I was still able to burrow into Cather’s fiction and life. It was a learning process for myself, as well, sitting in the Clare Hall library, looking out at the wider world.
Meir Yishai Barth (Yishai to his friends and colleagues) is a graduate student at Clare Hall with a background in social philosophy, communication theory, and disability studies developed at the University of Massachusetts Commonwealth Honours College. In the 2019-20 academic year, he completed an interdisciplinary MPhil in ‘Health, Medicine and Society’ in the Cambridge Department of History and Philosophy of Science as well as the Sociology, History, and Anthropology departments. Yishai’s research explored the rehabilitation of identity from the harmful impacts of biographical disruption caused by the diagnosis of many chronic conditions and ‘disabilities’.
Yishai self-identifies as a bio-divergent or diff-abled person with disabilities. His wider research interests centre on the study of human ability and development treatment and understanding of society, particularly as it relates to individual and group identities. His research over the past year consisted of a multi-method ethnographic study of a manifestation of Sci-Fi and fantasy culture to study identity narrative authorship practices within that context.
Yishai was awarded a scholarship from the Gates Cambridge Trust to continue on to a PhD in the Cambridge Department of Sociology and he was awarded the Forrester Prize for highest MPhil dissertation mark in his course for the year.
Following a one-year deferment due to Covid-19, he intends to continue his research by conducting a multi-method comparative ethnological study of a wide variety of different fields where ability-based identity construction takes place. In the meantime, Yishai intends to spend 2020-21 working on the development of a blog platform and the writing of a book entitled The Theory of Everyone to translate his ideas on identity, ability, biodiversity, and the essence of humanity in post-modernity into a format suitable for wide public consumption. Yishai eventually aims to embark on a career in the academy as an activist, scholar, and social thinker.
Emily J. Goodacre
Emily is a PhD student in Education, based at the Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development, and Learning (PEDAL) and researching children’s play communication.
Her research focuses on children’s conversations during play. When children play together, they discuss all kinds of things: the characters, storyline, and each child’s role in acting out the story. If they communicate effectively, the play can continue and develop. On the other hand, ineffective communication could lead to an early end of the play session. Take this example: Camilla says to her playmate Clive, “The baby’s hungry!” If Clive responds, “Let’s make the baby some pizza,” then the play can continue where the children act out making a pizza and feeding it to the baby. However, if Clive responds, “The train goes choo choo,” it’s clear that the two children are not on the same page, and it may be difficult for the children to continue playing together for long. Clive’s first response was connected to what Camilla said as it maintained the topic of conversation, but his response in the second scenario was not connected. Connecting conversation over multiple turns indicates that two children are on the same page and can help maintain the play.
Emily analyses children’s connected communication to see which skills and abilities (such as language, emotion comprehension, and theory of mind) might help children to maintain a connected conversation. Her research accounts for the social dimension of communication, incorporating the development and abilities of both children in her models because both children make contributions to the conversation and the play interaction.
Emily’s PhD is funded by the Vice-Chancellor’s & LEGO Cambridge Scholarship, awarded by the Cambridge Trust in partnership with the LEGO Foundation.
Before coming to Cambridge, Emily studied at New York University for a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood and Special Education. She came to Clare Hall in 2017 for an MPhil in Social and Developmental Psychology, researching parents’ use of mental state terms (e.g. want, need, like, hate, happy, excited) with their toddlers during shared picturebook reading. She’s been at Clare Hall ever since, beginning her PhD in Education in 2018.
Beyond her research, Emily has been a bartender in the Anthony Low Building (ALB) bar since beginning her MPhil and has recently been appointed ALB Bar Manager. She has been heavily involved in the Graduate Student Body (GSB) Committee for two years – one as Treasurer and one as Vice-President – but has now stepped back from the committee to focus on the final year of her PhD.
Hailing from Toronto, Meghan studied for the MPhil in Public Policy at the Department of Politics and International Studies in 2019-20. For her dissertation, she researched the effectiveness and feasibility of restorative justice programs for sexual assault cases in Ontario, Canada.
Reported sexual assault cases are rapidly increasing in Ontario, but the criminal justice system fails to support both the recovery of survivors and the safety of their communities. Many stages of the criminal justice system, from reporting an assault to being cross-examined in a criminal trial, can cause secondary trauma for survivors. According to Statistics Canada, 80% of survivors do not report, and approximately 5% of reported cases result in a custody sentence. Despite considerable evidence that access to public services is a more cost-effective way to address the roots of violence compared with punitive measures, $20 billion CAD of public funding is spent on police, courts, and prisons per year.
Restorative justice programmes are a proven and effective alternative to traditional punitive justice. The principles of restorative justice are empowerment, participation, self-determination, reconciliation, healing, and re-integration into society. Survivors are empowered to voice their experience without feeling scrutinised, and offenders have the opportunity to accept responsibility for their actions and to express remorse. Practices include but are not limited to: victim-offender mediation, community conferences, and restorative circles.
Meghan is researching policy options for restorative justice programme implementation in Ontario as an alternative to the criminal justice system for survivors of sexual assault. Funding restorative justice programmes for sexual assault cases, as well as victim services and offender rehabilitation programmes, will allow Ontario to reduce costs and invest significantly in community services that attack the roots of violence, rather than continuing to invest resources into a carceral system that perpetuates it.
Meghan is also interested in research around the social implications of emerging digital technologies, particularly algorithmic justice and data privacy. As part of her MPhil programme, she spent two months working on technology policy projects with the Smart Cities team at the Greater London Authority. Prior to her MPhil degree, she spent two years working for a Computer Science Professor at McGill University. She worked for the Centre for Social and Cultural Data Science, the Network Dynamics Laboratory, Charitable Analytics International, and the Digital Democracy Project.
Outside her course, Meghan is a member of the Clare Hall Boat Club women’s team, which won Blades in virtual May Bumps in 2020. She is also an Associate Editor of the Cambridge Review of International Affairs, a bartender at the Clare Hall Anthony Low Bar, and a Research Assistant for a Professor at the McGill University Faculty of Law.
Yuzhe Stephen Chen
Stephen Chen is an MPhil music student at Clare Hall who completed his studies on musical composition in 2020. Having obtained his bachelor’s degree from Durham University, he began his research on practices of cross-cultural synthesis in works by East Asian composers, especially those of Chinese origin. His thesis aims to provide a global perspective on contemporary Chinese music, addressing the concerns on the conflict between values of twentieth-century musical idioms and cultural/national identity.
During his ten-month study, Stephen has completed four compositions with a total duration of 45 minutes. These compositions are a reflection of his self-exploration/experimentation on cross-cultural synthesis, balancing qualities of different musical traditions and compositional practices. The inspiration for these works roots in his love of traditional Chinese poetry, calligraphy and mythology, from which he seeks to reimagine as well as reinventing his own cultural heritage. By manipulating different timbral sonorities and incorporating them in a carefully ‘serialised’ framework, Stephen continues to search for new modes of musical thinking and writing that he has previously ignored, utilizing their expressive potential for musical integration.
Besides his composition studies, Stephen is also an accomplished pianist. With an in-depth knowledge on different historical styles and composers, he performs in a wide repertoire, ranging from Bach to Boulez. During his time at Clare Hall, he joined the college choir as an accompanist and occasionally sung in the bass section.
Bernhard Seidler is an MPhil student from Germany studying at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) in 2019-20. His previous degrees were taken at Ludwig Maximilian University and the Technical University, Munich, in art history, classical philology and medicine.
In his MPhil course, he focused on the relationship between early modern aesthetics and medicine. He is writing his dissertation in the interdisciplinary field between medical history, early modern literature and art history. Focussing on the geographical region of Central Western Europe during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, he examines biographies of artists to ask what they tell us about the physical and medical body of the artist.
Accounts of famous artists’ lives were a type of literature which spread from Renaissance Italy all over Western Europe. They were written by artists who wanted to secure their social status at court for an audience of art collectors, artists, and other people interested in art. Berhard looks at biographies of artists Francesco Francia, Fra Bartolommeo, Jacob de Backer, and Robert Nanteuil. Curiously, these works abound with details about physical accidents and diseases that the artists suffered from during their lives.
To date, these details have been either neglected or taken at face value, whereas Bernhard hypothesises that many of them were fictional passages inserted in order to suggest the physical impact of making art on the body of the artist. This physical value of art has been underestimated in favour of moral, social, and metaphysical values.
Bernhard intends to work more broadly on this subject in his PhD project. His studies in Cambridge were supported by the Clare Hall S. J. Lee bursary, the Kurt Hahn scholarship, and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Scholarship.
Elena Christodoulou MPhil student in Innovation, Strategy and Organisation, Judge Business School
In the last nine months, I have studied for the MPhil in Innovation, Strategy, and Organisation at Judge Business School. This course offers a rigorous program which provides a solid basis and preparation for PhD studies. It provides a great balance between a breadth of topics in management and organisation research and a depth of knowledge in one’s research interests. My work focuses on what the role of a business should be in society. I am mostly concerned with how the private, public, and third sectors can contribute to the alleviation of societal problems. One frequent response to social issues is that of philanthropy.
Philanthropy is an intriguing phenomenon with a long history, and it is continuously increasing and widely practised around the world. My thesis explores how corporate philanthropy emerged, even though it was regarded with suspicion. It shows how a new category of philanthropy has emerged, paving the way for the institutionalization of the practice by corporations.
Having reached the end of my MPhil journey, I am currently a research assistant at the newly formed Centre for Strategic Philanthropy at Judge Business School. The Centre looks at how we can bring sustainable change and increase the impact of strategic philanthropy, with a focus on philanthropy within and from global growth markets. Together with other members of the Centre, I am exploring the impact of the current pandemic on foundations and beneficiaries. At present, we are working on an industry report to examine how the philanthropic community has responded to the crisis and whether their response will have long-term effects on the way philanthropy will be practised.
Animesh hails from India and is pursuing his PhD at the Department of Engineering. He is funded by Harding distinguished postgraduate scholarship.
He is currently studying one of the most intractable and persistent challenges in rocket and aircraft-engine development with a completely innovative approach: prediction and control of thermoacoustic instability by exploiting symmetries. Air transportation is anticipated to double over the next couple of decades, which calls for novel methods to cut back on up to 80% in oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and up to 50% in noise. The downside of making aircraft engine cleaner is that the lean flame burns unsteadily. In this complex multi-physical environment, the sound waves interact with the flame to generate violent thermoacoustic oscillations. During his PhD, Animesh will try to propose a new framework to predict thermoacoustic oscillations by grouping theory into software using tools of machine learning and artificial intelligence for optimal design to make aircraft engines cleaner and quieter. His research interest includes fluid dynamics, aircraft propulsion, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Animesh has previously worked on a joint project with Indian Space Research Organization and Indian Institute of Science on checking the possibility of making 'space bricks' using bacteria with in-situ resource utilization for extra-terrestrial settlements. Also, Animesh was awarded Indian Institute of Technology, Varanasi gold medal for his academic achievements in his undergraduate and postgraduate studies.
Apart from research, he has a keen interest in eastern mindfulness spiritual practices and has been practising yoga and meditation for many years.
Tristan is currently pursuing a PhD in Biological Anthropology in close affiliation with the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. He is a dual citizen of the United States and the United Kingdom and grew up predominately in San Jose, California. His undergraduate background from UC Santa Cruz is in physical anthropology, focusing on skeletal remains and human evolution, but he transitioned to ancient DNA during his MSc at the University of Tuebingen.
Tristan’s current PhD work follows on his previous research aiming to improve the material and economic efficiency of extracting genomic quantities of DNA from small quantities of ancient and historic hair. He hopes that combining these methodological improvements with the dramatic advances in medical genetics will enable historians and biographers to analyse the genomes of historical individuals from whom hair samples abound and to address particular questions in historical biography that genetics is well suited to answer. He is terming his subdiscipline ‘genobiography’.
Tristan’s favourite hobbies include woodworking, metalworking, car and motorcycle restoration and he has an active interest in history and archaeology, particularly the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War and both World Wars. He also enjoys playing a range of musical instruments including bagpipe, guitar, piano, violin and viola.
Eric Eisner is an MPhil student from the United States studying American history.
The subject of his master’s dissertation is the relationship between race and the religious test in North Carolina from 1776 through 1868. While the national government has never restricted the right to hold office on the basis of religion in America, at the state and local level, certain religious beliefs were often a prerequisite for public office before the Supreme Court ruled that the federal Constitution prevented state governments from imposing a religious test in 1961.
Although the religious test in North Carolina was never consistently applied in practice, North Carolina formally restricted the right to hold any position 'in the Civil Department within this State' to Protestants from 1776 until 1835, when the state amended its constitution to narrow the religious test to exclude only non-Christians. In 1868, in the aftermath of the American Civil War, North Carolina adopted a new constitution that barred only atheists from office on the grounds of religion.
Between American independence and the Civil War, North Carolina also, like several American states, gradually abolished the property requirement to vote and redefined political inclusion in racially exclusive terms. Whereas free black men with property had once had the right to vote, North Carolina restricted the franchise to white men in 1835. Several historians have recently argued that the regrounding of political inclusion on the basis of race and gender in the early nineteenth-century United States served both to end the property requirement and also to reduce the already meagre rights possessed by free blacks. I extend this interpretation further in my dissertation and argue that the primary force behind the diminishment of the religious test in North Carolina was a white male populism that simultaneously advocated the greater inclusion of white men in politics—by removing property requirements and abolishing religious tests—and the constriction of non-white political participation, by disenfranchising free black men.
Viviana is a doctoral student in the Department of Geography and a member of the Infrastructural Geographies Research Group. Her doctoral training is funded by the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes). For her doctoral research, Viviana explores the territorial transformations of Cecil Rhodes’ project, Cape to Cairo, for a railway between the Cape Colony and Egypt from the 1890s. She analyses the socio-political impact of the South African Railways with emphasis on Cape Town by investigating how Rhodes’ infrastructure became a tool for territorial capture, as well as exploring the political vision of post-colonial planning. Viviana’s work examines, on the one hand, how the territorial governance of this large-scale infrastructure materialised and influenced geopolitical and socio-political relationships considering spatial and social justice. On the other hand, her project scrutinises to what extent the historiography of Rhodes’ infrastructure project in southern Africa can indicate why and how its vision and realisation are contradictory on the ground, as well as how the project is received in order to contribute to public policymaking in distorting African city imaginaries. Viviana hopes her findings will not only be relevant for intellectual advancement in urban geography, urban history and urban studies but will also provide useful insights to planners and policymakers engaged in infrastructure projects across Africa.
Before beginning her doctoral studies, Viviana earned her Master of Philosophy in Architecture and Urban Studies (2020) at Clare Hall whilst in the Department of Architecture and History of Art. For her distinguished dissertation entitled Government Railways in the 1900s. A Resource for Resistance she was awarded a second prize for the best-taught master’s dissertation by the Royal Geographical Society’s Planning and Environment Research Group.
Prior to Cambridge, Viviana worked in the Urban Studies Institute at the Universität Basel as a teaching and research assistant, and in architectural firms in Switzerland, Jordan, Germany, and the Netherlands. She earned her Diplom-Ingenieurin degree in architecture (2013) from the Leibniz Universität Hannover, and also studied Naples’ urban history at the Università Degli Studi di Napoli Federico II.
Viviana is an enthusiastic member of the Cambridge University Lawn Tennis Club.
Dr Roland Alexander
Roland has recently completed his doctorate in English and is currently supervising undergraduate students in a range of papers. His research focuses on late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century literature, especially fiction, with a particular interest in the intersection of philosophy, form and style.
Roland’s PhD dissertation focused on the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson, under the supervision of Professor Adrian Poole. The dissertation examined the language of Stevenson’s fictional writing in light of his views on decision in life and literature. The study adopted a stylistic approach to Stevenson’s fiction, identifying an aesthetic patterning of language and character in Stevenson’s writing based on the author’s ideas about decision; and exploring the ways in which contemporary philosophical ideas on decision surpassed aesthetic mimesis in Stevenson’s later fiction. A digital humanities inspired analysis of Stevenson’s word usage added weight to the qualitative analysis of Stevenson’s language.
Roland has a combined Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Melbourne and was a solicitor for five years. He then studied for his Master of Arts by Research at the University of New South Wales Sydney, under the supervision of Professor Roslyn Jolly.
Roland has published On the rack: shame and imperialism in Robert Louis Stevensonʼs 'The Ebb-Tide', in Robert Louis Stevenson and the Great Affair: Movement, Memory and Modernity, ed. Richard J. Hill (London: Routledge, 2017); and is about to publish Robert Louis Stevenson, On Balance. He is currently preparing his dissertation for publication as a monograph.