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PubhD Sheffield - Event #15 - International Women's Day Special

Wednesday 7th March 2018

In a celebration of International Women’s Day 2018 (albeit a day early), we hoped to share the research of female academics from a variety of disciplines, during this special event. We invited four ladies to come and talk about their work; all four of them are inspiring, female early career researchers who research topics that could influence or provide valuable insight into women’s lives in the future!

Our first speaker was Daniela Lazaro Pacheco, a PhD student who works within the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield. However, Daniela doesn’t work with materials in the ‘traditional’ sense, as she actually studies breast cancer tissues! Currently, if you are suspected of having breast cancer, you visit your GP who may send you for a mammogram scan, among other tests. Then, if they find something odd, they will also ask for a biopsy – a sample of your breast tissue – which is extracted using a fine needle and ultrasound (a guide for the clinician to the suspected area). This sample then gets shipped off to pathologist, who runs tests on the sample to check for the presence of cancerous cells. However, this can take as long as a month in the UK – who currently have a very efficient health service – so imagine how long this could take in countries who are less fortunate! Daniela explained that a cancer cell can bind different foods and hormones, each of which will bind unique receptors on the cells. Different cancer types may have different combinations or amounts of these receptors. Hormone therapy is often used to block the binding of hormones to cancer cells to stop them growing, but sometimes cancer cells don’t show any of these common receptors, and can grow rapidly and aggressively with even the harshest of chemotherapy treatments. Through her research, Daniela is hoping to improve diagnostic methods, to detect cancer earlier, and help provide better treatments. Currently, she is using vibrational spectroscopy to look at breast cancer tissue from Nigerian patients. This spectroscopy method vibrates the sample and makes all the carbohydrates, proteins, nucleic acids and sugars in her sample ‘dance’ to give a signal. Daniela explained this as similar to the way we might dance – when music is played, she may crack out some salsa moves, whilst another person dances hip-hop. A similar thing happens in her samples, as each different molecule has a unique signal. She can then use statistical analysis to compare healthy tissues with cancerous tissues, and to identify any markers for cancer. She explained that this analysis method takes her just 2.5 minutes per sample, which could obviously revolutionise the way we diagnose cancers of many different types in the future.

Our second speaker was Tracey Worth, a PhD student based within the Sheffield Business School at Sheffield Hallam University. Tracey first introduced us to her pineapple – an item, which she hoped to explain, demonstrates excellence in logistics! This pineapple had travelled 16,000 miles from Costa Rica, via road, sea, air and rail, yet she brought it for just £1 in her local shop. She asked us to imagine if we wanted to send a similar size package to Costa Rica, how much would that cost us? Much more than just a pound right?! So how can this pineapple still be so cheap? Tracey works within Express Delivery, and has a special interest in Express Logistics – things such as home delivery. In this sector, the consumer dictates and has all the choices provided for them: What should I buy? When should I get it delivered? Where should it be delivered? Also, increasing amounts of retailers are now offering free delivery; in fact, some retailers provide this as a prominent selling point of their business. But delivery and logistics do have a cost, so are these businesses and their logistics models really sustainable? Some brands are now starting to realise this, and are considering the economic and environmental burdens of express delivery – even the Royal Mail said it is ‘exploding’. There is now an estimated 3.8 billion online shoppers, all demanding their own requirements, so how will businesses cope with the logistics of delivery in the future? Tracey is hoping to understand and model this exponential pressure on the system during her PhD, to identify emerging retail demands and how this might impact logistical frameworks.

Our third speaker was Grace Elliot, a third year medical student who is taking a year out from her degree, to undertake a BMedSci research project within the department of Medical Humanities at the University of Sheffield. She is looking into the history of post-natal depression (PND) in 20th century mothers. She first explained that the term ‘post-natal depression’ didn’t really become widely used until the 1970s, and during Victorian times the term ‘puerperal insanity’ was preferred, so she has had to consider different terms for this condition when searching historic records. Her research period spans 1910-2010 and can be considered to fall within two timelines – one for patient narratives, and one for academic studies. She has already found that the academic papers heavily influence the way patients spoke about their conditions, even though both sides often didn’t fully understand the terms used at the time! She is finding that four common themes have emerged as to the cause of PND. First off, some records state this condition as a genetic problem that can be inherited, whilst an alternate theory describes it purely as a result of experiences and problems in life after birth. Recent records have also blamed the over prescription of antidepressants, such as Prozac, for the trends in PND, whilst others have outright blamed hormonal changes in the female body. Grace highlighted that this last idea has had a major influence on patient narratives, with many new mothers describing their depression as a result of their hormones – despite academic literature now describing otherwise! She also explained that patient narratives were rarely noted until the 1970s, when women were allowed to be more open about their lives. This started with magazine agony aunt-style entries, but gradually paved the way for authors, such as Brooke Shields, to produce more modern literature and open up discussions in this area with the medical world.

Our final speaker of the night was Hollyann Mellor, a current MRes student in English Literature at Sheffield Hallam University. She is interested in the roles and representation of women in literature during the turn of the sixteenth century. During this time, playwrights and writers, such as William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser, were challenging early modern gender norms by presenting mischievous and daring female characters within thier works. This had became an increasingly controversial topic during the turn of the century, given the fact that Queen Elizabeth I had failed to secure an heir to the English throne. Such female characters were envisioned to mock her status as a female monarch, unable to fulfil her main duty as a woman in this era: childbearing. Hollyann’s research examines literary examples of cross-dressing women in Shakespearean plays, with particular reference to how they transgress or challenge political and social boundaries. She introduced us to four characters she finds particularly interesting: Viola, who impersonates her own brother in Twelfth Night; Rosalind, who takes on a male alter ego to avoid persecution and to school her love interest about courtship and marriage in As You Like It; Portia, who disguises herself as a lawyer and tests her husband’s fidelity in The Merchant of Venice; and Julia, a cross-dressing woman who also meddles with her own love interest, whilst acting as a male companion to him, in The Two Gentlemen in Verona. Hollyann discussed how in each of these cases the cross-dressing is portrayed as comedic, because Elizabethan women had no right to transgress the physical and social boundaries in reailty in the way that these cross-dressing figures did. By researching these fictional figures, amongst others by writers like Edmund Spenser, Hollyann hopes to understand more about the limitations of transgressing traditional roles for women during the sixteenth century.

Once again, we could like to say a massive thank you to our inspiring female speakers for this event, and to invite you all to celebrate the diversity of research that female academics are conducting right here in Sheffield. We will be back on 4th April for our next event, and we hope to see you then!

Devon + Emily x

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