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ESRC announces winners of national science writing competition: Better Lives

Winners have been announced for a national science writing competition organised by the Economic and Social Research Council, called Better Lives. Finalists were in attendance at an awards ceremony at the British Academy in London on 4 April 2019.

The ESRC, in partnership with SAGE Publishing, was running its third student writing competition and ESRC-funded PhD students were asked to explain how their research has an impact on improving the lives of people. Two winners were picked from 12 finalists with 117 applicants entering the competition in total. 

The winners were: Ian Ross, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, with his article Better Lives with better toilets and Rosie Cowan, Queen’s University Belfast with her article Notes on a G-string

Rosie Cowan’s article outlines her research’s attempt to improve the treatment of rape complainants by the criminal justice system through the use of mock juries to investigate attitudes to rape in Northern Ireland. The article draws its name from women’s bloodstained underwear being brandished in courts to infer intention and in a manner where it can feel like the victim is the one on trial.

Ian Ross’s article explores his research into improving the lives of 1.4 billion people who use a toilet that does not meet World Health Organisation standards for ‘basic’ toilets. Ian’s research is based on developing a measure of sanitation-related quality of life that can be used to compare investment options when money is spent by governments. The research is part of the MapSan Trial supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Miranda Nunhofer, Vice President, Editorial Journals SAGE Publishing said: “As both a publisher of the social sciences and a vocal advocator, dedicated to working with the academic community to champion the value of the social science disciplines, SAGE Publishing is delighted be supporting the ESRC’s writing competition– awards which both highlight creative thinking from emerging voices and underscore the important value that social science research holds.” 

Entrants were encouraged to use their imagination to write 800 words that would capture the interest of the public, engage people with their research and demonstrate their writing and communication skills. 

Professor Shamit Saggar, Director, The University of Western Australia Public Policy Institute, and a judge for the competition said: "The judging panel of the 2019 Better Lives competition examined many excellent examples of work that showed the very best of ESRC-supported doctoral research that was both intellectually strong and highly focused on tackling real-world practical social problems. The finalists amply demonstrated that social science matters in shaping evidence-led solutions. Investment in doctoral research is therefore vital and reflects the seriousness in our ambitions as a society to drive prosperity and social cohesion."

The competition celebrates and fosters the writing skills of the next generation of social scientists, while engaging the public with the incredible breadth and depth of social science research taking place throughout the UK. 

Professor Jennifer Rubin, Executive Chair of ESRC recently said:

“The winners’ entries are a celebration of the work and writing of researchers who have told their stories in a compelling and engaging way. Writing about research in language that connects with the general public is a vital skill for all researchers to develop today, and we saw much evidence of it in this competition. There were important findings on sensitive issues and experiences; and the writers employed a range of writing styles to discuss their research, humanising and personalising it in the process.”

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