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ESRC announces winners of national writing competition: Better Lives

April 5, 2019

The ESRC, in partnership with SAGE Publishing, has announced the winners of its third student writing competition 'Better Lives' where ESRC-funded PhD students were asked to explain how their research has an impact on improving the lives of people. Two winners were picked from 12 finalists with 117 applicants entering the competition in total.

The winners were: Ian Ross, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, with his article Better Lives with better toilets and Rosie Cowan, Queen’s University Belfast with her article Notes on a G-string.

Rosie Cowan’s article outlines her research’s attempt to improve the treatment of rape complainants by the criminal justice system through the use of mock juries to investigate attitudes to rape in Northern Ireland. The article draws its name from women’s bloodstained underwear being brandished in courts to infer intention and in a manner where it can feel like the victim is the one on trial.

Ian Ross’s article explores his research into improving the lives of 1.4 billion people who use a toilet that does not meet World Health Organisation standards for ‘basic’ toilets. Ian’s research is based on developing a measure of sanitation-related quality of life that can be used to compare investment options when money is spent by governments. The research is part of the MapSan Trial supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Miranda Nunhofer, Vice President, Editorial Journals SAGE Publishing said: “As both a publisher of the social sciences and a vocal advocator, dedicated to working with the academic community to champion the value of the social science disciplines, SAGE Publishing is delighted be supporting the ESRC’s writing competition– awards which both highlight creative thinking from emerging voices and underscore the important value that social science research holds.”

Entrants were encouraged to use their imagination to write 800 words that would capture the interest of the public, engage people with their research and demonstrate their writing and communication skills.

Professor Shamit Saggar, Director, The University of Western Australia Public Policy Institute, and a judge for the competition said: "The judging panel of the 2019 Better Lives competition examined many excellent examples of work that showed the very best of ESRC-supported doctoral research that was both intellectually strong and highly focused on tackling real-world practical social problems. The finalists amply demonstrated that social science matters in shaping evidence-led solutions. Investment in doctoral research is therefore vital and reflects the seriousness in our ambitions as a society to drive prosperity and social cohesion."

The competition celebrates and fosters the writing skills of the next generation of social scientists, while engaging the public with the incredible breadth and depth of social science research taking place throughout the UK.

Professor Jennifer Rubin, Executive Chair of ESRC said: “The winners’ entries are a celebration of the work and writing of researchers who have told their stories in a compelling and engaging way. Writing about research in language that connects with the general public is a vital skill for all researchers to develop today, and we saw much evidence of it in this competition. There were important findings on sensitive issues and experiences; and the writers employed a range of writing styles to discuss their research, humanising and personalising it in the process.”

The winning essay writers will be awarded £1,000 each. The prize-winning articles will be published in print and online and all shortlisted candidates will get the opportunity to attend a writing masterclass on how to get published, run by SAGE.


The full list of finalists were:

  • Elyse Couch, King's College London, I will not forget you building a better world for people living with dementia
  • Lauren O'Connell, University of Essex, Naming Anorexia Nervosa: Being Diagnosed and Becoming a Diagnosis
  • Rosa von Gleichen, University of Oxford, Who cares? How and why employers support working parents
  • Alessandro Massazza, UCL, Can’t Get You Out of My Head: The Burden of Memory in Trauma Survivors
  • Rosie Cowan, Queens University Belfast, Notes on a G-String
  • Chloe Place, University of Sussex, The Illusion of Eternal Independence: Exploring Alternative Approaches to Ageing
  • Abby Dunn, University of Sussex, Opening a can of worms: Helping parents with mental health difficulties
  • Bobby Beaumont, University of Birmingham, Playtime in the Camps
  • Ian Ross, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Allocating resources more efficiently by understanding how toilets improve people’s quality of life
  • Celia Robbins, University of Exeter, Tilting at windmills in a climate-changed world
  • Holly Chalcraft, Durham University, Belonging to the land? Migration, relationships and our possibilities for better lives
  • Niall McLoughlin, University of Bath, How psychology can help communities cope in a changing climate


The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. For more information visit

The ESRC is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective.

UK Research and Innovation is a new body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas.

Sara Miller McCune founded SAGE Publishing in 1965 to support the dissemination of usable knowledge and educate a global community. SAGE is a leading international provider of innovative, high-quality content publishing more than 1000 journals and over 800 new books each year, spanning a wide range of subject areas. Our growing selection of library products includes archives, data, case studies and video. SAGE remains majority owned by our founder and after her lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures the company’s continued independence. Principal offices are located in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC and Melbourne.

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