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Profiles from our prosperity & resilience research theme – University of Reading

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  • Research that makes a difference

    Finding answers to pressing social problems at home and abroad

Profiles from our prosperity & resilience research theme

Hear from our postgraduate researchers whose work comes under our Prosperity & Resilience research theme.

Lisa Schopohl

ICMA Centre

Title of PhD: Essays on Pension Funds and Responsible Investment

Briefly describe your area of research Photo of Lisa Schopohl

The last decades have seen a shift in the ownership structure of financial markets. In particular, pension funds have become a major market force. The latter experience a constant struggle to meet their beneficiaries' interests and demands, regarding both the financial and non-financial performance of their investments. Especially environmental, social and ethical factors have been gaining importance for pension funds.

In my research, I empirically analyse whether pension funds can balance both the financial and ethical demands of their beneficiaries, and I investigate potential drivers of pension funds' preferences for socially responsible investment.

Why did you select Reading?

The ICMA Centre has a great reputation in the academic community for its excellence in research on applied finance. Working on empirical issues in finance, the access to the numerous databases provided by the ICMA Centre and the University is also invaluable to my research. In addition, studying at Reading offers me the opportunity to engage with leading experts on all research areas that are relevant for my PhD, including socially responsible investment, pension funds and empirical finance and econometrics. Finally, Reading provides great support for its PhD students including generous funding towards attending conferences and workshops, which is extremely helpful as a young scholar.

What do you enjoy about studying at Reading?

Reading is a very special place to study for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I work best from my office at the University, and my department provides great facilities and support, which quickly made me feel part of the University community. In addition, I greatly enjoy attending the variety of research seminars and events offered by the University, as well as more informal opportunities for discussions with other researchers, which really helped in guiding my development as a researcher. And last, but definitely not least, I love Reading's beautiful green campus.

What has been your biggest challenge since starting your research?

The biggest challenge of my PhD has been accepting that the PhD, and academic research in general, is not a continuous upward development (or at least does not feel like it), but is rather characterised by constant ups and downs. Sometimes you do not feel you have made a lot of progress for a while, whereas during other times you feel like you achieve several milestones in a very short period. The secret is to enjoy the "ups" and push through the other times, knowing that even small steps or "apparent" dead ends all contribute to the final result.

What advice would you give a new postgraduate researcher?

It is important to know your area of research, but it is equally important to keep an open mind regarding related fields. Being open-minded and following other research areas opens up new perspectives, helps you to think more critically about your own research and might even inspire you regarding new research directions. Attend research seminars of your department and your University, visit conferences organised by other universities and engage with fellow PhD students and senior academics about their research.

Where do you want to be in five years' time?

My dream was always to become a scholar, teach students about topics that I am passionate about and conduct research that makes an impact. This is why I feel particularly lucky and grateful that I have been offered a lectureship position in my current department. Not only does this allow me to expand my current research interests but, due to the great facilities at the ICMA Centre, I am also able to explore new research questions that I always wanted to address. In addition, I hope that I will contribute to the collaborative and supportive research environment that I have been fortunate to experience during my PhD.

Neha Hui

Department of Economics

Title of PhD: Essays on Labour Market and Well-being Constraints facing Sex Workers

Briefly describe your area of research

My research investigates labour market and well-being constraints for women who work as sex workers. The thesis engages with Nash Bargaining models to theoretically understand economic outcomes under conditions of asymmetric bargaining power. This asymmetry in bargaining power is due to the stigma and legal framework faced by sex workers that strongly limit alternative career options. Using primary data collected from India through interviews with 247 sex workers, I look at how the bargaining power (i.e. the capacity for negotiation) affects labour market outcomes (such as retained earning, hours worked, labour contract) and well-being outcomes (such as decision-making, mobility, vulnerability to abuse).

Why did you select Reading?

I selected the University of Reading because I was keen to work with my present supervisors. Dr Marina della Guista is a leading scholar in the area of economics of sex work and Professor Uma Kambhampati is well established as an authoritative researcher in empirical development economics.

I was also attracted to the research focus of the Department of Economics and the interdisciplinary collaborative research of academics here, and believed my research interest fitted very well in this department.

What do you enjoy about studying at Reading?

I have had great opportunities to interact with world-class academics, both from the University and outside, from whom I have learned an incredible amount. The university helped me set my foot on solid grounds in the academic world, through opportunities for collaborative research and the chance to teach in undergraduate and postgraduate modules. I also have had excellent exposure to interesting research from around the world, and my department has given me flexibility to build my own research interests and skills. We also have a great international student community and I have made great friends from around the world.

What has been your biggest challenge since starting your research?

My learning curve during my PhD has been very steep, but I enjoyed every moment of it. My fieldwork in the red-light areas of Kolkata and Delhi, India, had challenging moments, which I was able to overcome with guidance from supervisors. The single biggest challenge after starting my research has been the realisation that the academic market is a dauntingly competitive place. The requirements of the market are ever changing, and researchers need to be constantly aware of what is necessary to make a mark in the minds of possible recruiters.

What advice would you give a new postgraduate researcher?

One has to be strategic, understand the ever-increasing job market demands and prepare themselves for it right from the beginning. It is essential to publish, to attend conferences and to network.

However, we are all here for our thirst for knowledge and should make sure that this thirst doesn't get stifled. We make the best out of this incredible opportunity to engage and contribute to the scholarly tradition of research.

Finally, this is a quite a long period of time and life doesn't stop elsewhere for us. It is very important to maintain a healthy work–life balance in this period.

Where do you want to be in five years' time?

In five years' time, I hope to be well established as a lecturer. I enjoy my research and believe I am good teacher. I hope to be involved in solid post-doctoral research projects and contribute in research in my area of work. I also hope to have developed my teaching skills and have the opportunity to convene my own teaching modules.

Oluyemisi Bolade-Ogunfodun

Leadership, Organisations and Behaviour

Title of PhD: Ethical Dimensions of Organisational Culture: A Case Study of Reconstructed Workgroups in a Context of Mergers and Acquisitions

Briefly describe your area of research Photo of Yemisi Bolade-Ogunfodun

My research adopts an anthropological (Geertz, 1973) approach to studying culture in a diverse organisational context of a merger and acquisition. It uncovers the ethical dimensions that arise from touch points and tensions in organisational culture post-merger. Workgroup culture is ethnographically studied using a new approach of fictive kinship (Schneider, 1984), which allows for identification of cohesive workgroups – safe spaces for expressing, negotiating and reinforcing meaning systems. The ethical dimension has received less attention and is expected to extend the theoretical understanding of organisational culture beyond existing typologies, thereby providing insight into underlying dynamics of cultural integration in organisations.

Why did you select Reading?

The decision to come to Reading was not a difficult one. I had former classmates during my undergraduate programme who proceeded to Henley Business School to undertake Masters programmes and they gave strong recommendations. I decided to see for myself at the next available open day and was drawn by the warmth of students and staff. I also enjoyed the welcoming look and feel of the campus, which was close to where I lived. From that point, my journey through the University of Reading began, as I enrolled on a Masters programme and subsequently a PhD. Looking back, it has been an enjoyable experience of learning and friendships.

What do you enjoy about studying at Reading?

The support system that the University offers is excellent. There are formal systems in place such as approachable teaching and non-teaching staff, modern facilities, open spaces, technology and abundant research material to work with.

There are also informal systems which are student-led or naturally evolving social networks and these combined make the learning experience a really enjoyable one. As a tutor to students, I have enjoyed many opportunities to express my natural strengths in relationship building, mentoring, empathy and attention to detail. Teaching, interacting, giving feedback and learning have all been beautifully intertwined.

What has been your biggest challenge since starting your research?

My biggest challenge has been continuing to maintain the optimal work–life balance as the PhD journey takes its twists and turns. In the early days of the PhD, it was a flurry of activities, moving parts and some measure of uncertainty, which could sometimes be hard to get a grip on. However, as I learned how to make strategic choices and with the support of my supervisors, it became easier to navigate and indeed look forward to the pathways I was creating for myself.

What advice would you give a new postgraduate researcher?

The PhD is a busy time, so LIVE.

Learn – Systematically expose yourself to information, broadly then gradually funnel down.

Integrate – Pull your ideas together into a coherent whole. Critically analyse and see how one idea relates to the other.

Vent – Talk a lot, not just articulating your thoughts to yourself but speak with your colleagues and discuss your ideas. See if they come across clearly and make sense. This process will help to fine-tune the ideas or improve the way you articulate them.

Explore – Explore new thoughts and ideas, and write them down. These are seeds for future research and papers.

Where do you want to be in five years' time?

In five years' time, I would want to be firmly engaged in a vibrant academic community as a researcher and lecturer. My experience at Reading as a PhD student has allowed me to learn much about my research area among many others, and importantly, has given me in-depth insight into how continuous and interdisciplinary research is important for organisational and societal development. At Reading, I have received formal and informal training from excellent researchers and role models on the core values of academia and this I believe has contributed to preparing me for a future academic role.

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