The first of eight doctoral seminars has been held in York as N8 AgriFood’s PHD training series gets underway.
The seminars are open to students from both natural and social sciences studying at Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York, and have been designed to utilise “the power of the eight” to offer a unique opportunity to attend a series of informal, interdisciplinary one-day workshops.
The programme got underway on World Food Day when around 70 people attended the inaugural seminar hosted by the University of York.
Led by one of N8 AgriFood’s chairs and academic leads Professor Bob Doherty, the seminar saw senior academics and students discuss global food systems as well as how to design research for impact.
Talking about her experiences of steering strategy within commercial giant Cadbury through the findings of her research, guest speaker Professor Stephanie Barriento, of the University of Manchester, told the seminar: “If you are not motivated by impact then it is less likely you are going to have any impact.
“The key to a PHD is contributing knowledge, so you have to identify a knowledge gap.
“As researchers you can contribute in ways that others cannot. The research that you find and put together in a balanced and unbiased way is really important and that will get picked up by people involved in change.
“If you want your research to have impact, engage with users from the beginning. By engaging it helps you realise what people don’t already know and that helps you hone in on the gaps.
“What you have got to show on impact is that someone has gone away and made changes that have improved culture or society. You have got to demonstrate change as a result of impact.”
Students also heard the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to tackling sustainable food issues through a presentation given by Professor Jonathan Rushton of the University of Liverpool, as he talked about how livestock has changed in our food systems and the implications on nutrition.
Professor Rushton said: “The type of animals we eat has changed dramatically, in part because the food system is changing.
“We are feeding our animals grain instead of grass now, so the fat content is different. How do we understand the impact of these changes with regards to diet, and the impact of the food we eat on human physiology?
“It requires a range of skills from biology, land management skills, and psychology in terms of behaviour, as well as disciplines in public health.
“What we are missing are methodologists that assess quality across this system. We have the answers we need around food safety but we don’t have the answers around food quality that will allow us to legislate.”
Students attended from across the N8 institutions and took part in group discussions around the two presentations.
Louise Beveridge, a PHD student at the University of Leeds, researching food security and climate, said: “I’m coming to the end of mh PHD, and it’s been really useful today learning what is going on in a bigger circle outside of my PHD focus. It’s been great for research ideas and developing networks.”
Michael Clarke, who is studying the impact of megacity outflow of crop yields, and traveled from Lancaster University for the event, said: “The seminar has been very interesting from the point of view of developing ourselves as researchers.
“It has been great to talk to people in similar areas but not necessarily working in the same fields.
“It has also been good for collaboration as I’ve spoken to people from Leeds and Sheffield who are working on similar models and there were some good opportunities to potentially be able to work together to solve problems.”
The next seminar in the series is being held at Newcastle University on the 6th of November and will focus on food fraud, digital technologies and packaging, with talks from leading academics from Newcastle University. The event also features a webinar option for students unable to attend. For more information and to register CLICK HERE.
The series will continue in 2019 with a seminar at The University of Manchester on the 15th of February, focused on agri-tech and robotics.