Why did you choose to complete your research degree at Manchester's School of Law?
I came to Manchester in autumn 2015 to get a master's degree in Social Research Methods and Statistics in the Manchester School of Social Sciences. While working on my master's, I realised I wanted to pursue a larger research project and decided to apply for PhD programmes around the UK. Manchester was an obvious choice to consider - it has an excellent reputation domestically and internationally for research, plus I already had good connections within the University and the city environment.
I knew I wanted to continue using quantitative methods in Criminology and found a potential supervisor with that kind of expertise here (Juanjo Medina). After discussing a research proposal with him and applying, I was offered full funding through the Faculty of Humanities School of Law Studentship. Once I secured funding and found a good fit with regard to supervision, both in the School of Law and also additional supervision in Social Statistics with Maria Pampaka, the decision to complete my degree here was an easy one!
What's your current research about? Why did you choose this topic?
My research focuses on literacy and numeracy skill use inside prisons. I am examining how incarcerated adults are able to engage in reading, writing, and mathematics-related activities in their daily lives within prison and also in their prison jobs. I am using data from a US survey of adult skills and to construct measures of skill use in these two environments and seeing how the frequency of skill use relates to their assessed levels of literacy and numeracy.
I am also examining skill use specifically in a correctional industries setting. Correctional industries organisations exist in all fifty US states; they employ inmates in manufacturing, agricultural, or service jobs. I was originally interested in examining the effectiveness of correctional education and work programs on reducing recidivism specifically for female offenders. However, during the first year of my PhD, my focus drifted little by little to the current topic. Additionally, I completed a work experience in the re-entry department of a correctional industries organisation.
This greatly spurred my interest in how these types of programmes operate within the correctional system and how these work experiences in prison impact men and women once they are released from prison. My past experiences as a teacher and academic tutor influenced my strong belief in the transformative power of education. Therefore, with my research I wanted to explore the role of education in desistance from crime. While the exact topic has changed as I have progressed, all of my research continues to inform my understanding of this overarching theme.
What do you most enjoy about studying here?
I am grateful for the very active network of researchers here. Every week there are seminars, workshops, or lectures to attend that allow me to learn about different topics in criminology, law or statistical methods in social sciences. These formal research groups and presentations are excellent for learning about what others in my field are doing and also provide platforms for postgraduate research (PGR) students to share their research. More informally, the School of Law PGR community is fantastic.
Everyone is very supportive of each other. Coming in to the office each day, I know there are people willing and eager to discuss ideas, give advice and feedback, or just be a good ear to listen when I need it. There is so much stress built in to completing a PhD, so having a strong support system of other students (and also school administrators like Jackie and Helen!) is extremely important.
Have you been involved in any of the Law School’s societies and events?
I regularly attend guest lectures and Work in Progress sessions through the Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice.
What are your career aspirations after graduation?
I would like to return to the US after graduation and work in an applied setting evaluating or developing criminal justice programmes. Perhaps working for a research organisation, such as a criminal justice think tank or a consultancy firm, or working in a state or federal government office of justice programs or statistics.
If you could name one experience that you will take away with you from your time at Manchester, what would it be?
It is too difficult to pick a PhD-related one, so I will change direction on this question slightly. My favourite Manchester experience (so far) was running the Greater Manchester Marathon in 2016. That was my first marathon and a big challenge for me. I was able to raise funds for a cause I care about, Alzheimer's Research, push myself to the limit, and also connect a bit more with the city.
What advice would you give to new research students at the Law School?
Being a statistics nerd, I recently shared this math with my fellow research students and think it is important to remember for anyone starting a PhD: a 3 year PhD with 8 weeks of leave annually and two days off per week would result in 780 working days. If you were to work 5 hours a day, or a total of 3900 hours, you would only need to write 21 words per hour to complete an 80,000 word thesis on time. If after working 5 hours each day you can manage 100 words that are decent (decent defined as worthy of being in the final product of your PhD), you are right on track! You can write just 200 words each day, have 50% of them be total rubbish, and still come out on top.
So for new students, I think it is important to keep this in perspective: there is time! There is time for mistakes, for sleep, for tangents, for a social life, for side projects, for exploration, for teaching, for holidays, for (a little) procrastination. A PhD is a rare opportunity that allows us to fully commit to and have control over a research project we are interested in. Take the time to enjoy it.