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‘Groundbreaking’ research among WELS projects nominated for 14 Research Excellence Awards

Photograph of glass Research Excellence Award trophies on a table at the 2019 ceremony.

Research by WELS academics has resulted in 14 nominations for this year’s Open University Research Excellence Awards (REAs).

Among these is the project Dame Elizabeth Fradd DBE called ‘groundbreaking’, which explores sex and relationships for young people with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions.

End-of-life care, home education, and perinatal mental health are some of the other studies to receive a nod.

Held annually, the REAs recognise outstanding research and celebrate achievement within the OU research environment. The panel reported particularly strong submissions this time around, with 138 people or projects up for consideration.

Professor Lesley Hoggart, Associate Dean Research for WELS, led in congratulating the nominees, saying:

I am incredibly proud of the high-quality research that is a feature of WELS and has been recognised by a number of our colleagues being shortlisted for the Research Excellence Awards.
"Combined with our excellent REF results, we can confidently say WELS is producing research that makes a difference.”

Of the twelve categories, WELS features across eight:

Postgraduate Research (PGR) Student Award

Headshot photograph of Dr Ayomide OluseyeResearch Student Dr Ayomide Oluseye works in the field of sexual and reproductive health (SRH), with a focus on marginalised women and girls in low and middle-income contexts. She is nominated for contributing to the OU’s rising profile of international SRH research through her publications, conference presentations and participation in collaborative research within the OU. Ayomide said of the news: “I consider it a privilege to be nominated for this award. This shows a recognition of my work and inspires me to keep improving.

Headshot photograph of Katie JonesAlso in this category is Katie Jones, a Research Student with an interest in perinatal mental health. She was put forward by WELS Professor Emeritus of Developmental Psychology, John Oates, who recognised Katie’s large-scale, cross-sectional, survey-based methods and use of state-of-the-art statistical modelling. Katie’s work has also included giving presentations to NHS primary care practitioners in the north-east of England and assisting in running a workshop for the Society of Reproductive and Infant Psychology (SRIP).

PGR Supervisor Award

Headshot photograph of Dr Phillipa WaterhouseDr Philippa Waterhouse, Senior Lecturer in the School of Health, Wellbeing & Social Care (HWSC) is acknowledged for the academic and personal-welfare support she offers her students. Philippa’s contribution to the wider OU PGR community is also noted, where she has judged the online Graduate School PGR poster competition, as well as delivered training on quantitative methods as part of the School’s training programme.

Early Career Researchers

Headshot photograph of Dr Erica Seruset BorgstromHWSC Senior Lecturer Dr Erica Seruset Borgstrom’s contribution to helping position the OU as an internationally renowned lead in the field of death studies and end-of-life care research is the reason behind her nomination. Fellow HWSC Senior Lecturer Dr Liz Tilley, who put Erica forward, highlighted how Erica’s research is “transforming” critical end-of-life care studies.

​Best External Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange Award

Headshot photograph of Dr Jitka VseteckovaIn the first of two nominations, HWSC Senior Lecturer Dr Jitka Vseteckova is acknowledged for the Ageing Well Public Talks (AWPT) Series. More than 30,000 people have engaged with it so far, which includes a portfolio of work shared via multiple external partners including The Parks Trust MK, Carers Centre Tower Hamlets and Age Scotland.

Headshot photographs of Dr Simon Cross, Professor Freda Wolfenden and Dr Lina Adinolfi

Senior Lecturer Dr Simon Cross (Institute of Educational Technology- IET), Professor Freda Wolfenden (ECYS) and Senior Lecturer Dr Lina Adinolfi (LAL) are jointly shortlisted for their project Digital Badges for Teacher Professional Development in India. Working in partnership with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, sustained knowledge exchange, capacity building, and applied research resulted in teachers from over 220 schools in Assam completing digitally badged professional development, and helped to reframe understanding of how teachers’ developmental trajectories can be recognised, individualised and shared at scale in low-resource contexts.

Dr Margaret Ebubedike (ECYS) and Dr Saraswati Dawadi (IET) were nominated for their research into empowering victims of human trafficking. Dr Ebubedike said "We hope to not only help these young girls and women in the short term, but to create long lasting, sustainable change.”

Covid-19 Award

Headshot photograph of Dr Amber Fensham-SmithDr Amber Fensham-Smith, a Lecturer in the School of Education, Childhood, Youth & Sport (ECYS), is shortlisted for the expertise she brought when supporting parents and learners suddenly faced with learning from home during the 2020 lockdowns. Amber authored a number of public-facing blog posts, each with national and international reach. She also gave evidence as part of the Education Committee’s Home Education Inquiry 2021, which was then cited in the Department of Education’s Strengthening Home Education Report

Outstanding Impact of Research on OU Teaching, Curriculum or Students Award

Headshot photograph of Dr Azumah DennisECYS Senior Lecturer and Professional Doctorate (EdD) Programme Leader Dr Azumah Dennis is shortlisted for the PRAXIS Scholarship and Innovation Centre/WELS project, Professional doctorates: negotiating diverse knowledge landscapes. This work explores the ways in which Professional Doctorates (PD) negotiate different knowledge terrains between professional and academic knowing.

Headshot photographs of Dr Philippa Waterhouse, Dr Rajvinder Samra and Dr Mathijs LucassenAnother PRAXIS-funded project brings a second nomination for Dr Philippa Waterhouse, and a first for her co-leads, HWSC Senior Lecturers Dr Rajvinder Samra and Dr Mathijs Lucassen. The wellbeing of Level 3 students from HWSC and ECYS is commended for its deep commitment and rigorous research into how students’ work and family roles influence their mental distress, and how the OU can support students to navigate work-family-study conflict. Philippa said: “It is great to see the University recognising and valuing research’s contribution to student support.

Outstanding Impact on Society and Prosperity

Headshot photographs of Professor Sarah Earle and Dr Maddie BlackburnWELS Professor of Medical Sociology Sarah Earle and Research Fellow Dr Maddie Blackburn are nominated for the project, Sex, intimacy and relationships for young people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions. Both Sarah and Maddie are noted for prioritising a research agenda determined by young people who are life-limited or life-threatened, particularly those who are most vulnerable and marginalised. The pair said: “We see this nomination as an honour and recognition of our work, which is described as ‘groundbreaking’ (Dame Elizabeth Fradd DBE) in that it addresses an important issue that has received insufficient attention.

People's Choice Award

In a category new to 2022, the People's Choice Award, Dr Simon Cross, Professor Freda Wolfenden and Dr Lina Adinolfi's Digital Badges project, Dr Jitka Vseteckova's AWPT Series, and Dr Margaret Ebubedike and Dr Saraswati Dawadi's human trafficking research all receive a second nomination. Jitka said it’s “a privilege and an honour” to be shortlisted, and that she sees the awards as “a wonderful opportunity to showcase the excellent work we are all doing at The Open University”.

The winner of the People’s Choice Award will be decided externally–a first for the REAs–with the public being asked to decide which person or project has had the most significant impact on addressing societal challenges. An announcement is expected imminently as to when voting will open.

Elsewhere, the Institute of Educational Technology (IET) also features heavily in the shortlist, with seven nominations including People’s Choice Award, Best Research Project Award and PGR Student Award. The Research and Scholarship Team in IET, led by Maria Di Gennaro, also received a special mention in the Best Support Team Award category.

Winners will be announced at a ceremony in London on Thursday 22 September 2022.


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