As the 2018/2019 year draws to a close and we prepare for some much anticipated annual leave, we look back at our second full academic year as a research Centre and look forward to things to come.
The year got off to a great start as we welcomed two new members – Dr Esmee Hanna, VC2020 Lecturer, and Dr Amanda Wilson, Lecturer, who together broaden our research portfolio on men, in/fertility and reproductive decision making. During this time we also sadly said farewell to Dr Katie Coveney as she took up a post as Lecturer at Loughborough University though we are delighted she has remained an associate member of the Centre. We were also thrilled to see Dr Christina Weis move in to the role of Research Fellow for the EDNA project, and to welcome back Jess Turner after her maternity leave with baby Zara. Centre member Dr Douglas Gray has taken over responsibilities for research ethics in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, which includes chairing the Faculty Ethics Committee. This year were lucky to have PhD student Sasha Loyal working as a frontrunner and part-time Research Assistant within the centre. Dr Zaheera Essat’s position as Lecturer was also deservedly made permanent.
It has been an excellent year for our PhD students with not one but two completions: congratulations to Dr Wendy Norton and to Dr Paris Connolly for successfully defending their theses on gay men and surrogacy and female genital cutting respectively – we couldn’t be more proud! Congratulations also to Dr Christina Weis and Dr Wendy Norton who were awarded the Health and Life Sciences Doctoral College Thesis Prize for 2018 and 2019 respectively. Zara Hooley has been busy analysing data for her doctoral study of the social networks of lesbian parents, and is the final stages of writing up. Sasha Loyal and Caroline Law have set up a monthly CRR postgraduate writing group (complementing our existing staff writing group) to facilitate peer support throughout the writing process. In late 2018 we bid a temporary farewell to PhD student Victoria Crowdell who went on maternity leave and has since been busy looking after baby Otto. We also saw Sumaira Rashid travel to Pakistan in early 2019 to conduct fieldwork for her doctoral study into the social, cultural and biomedical construction of menopause in Punjab, Pakistan. We look forward to welcoming Victoria and Sumaira back next year.
We were delighted to welcome Dr Sayani Mitra, Prof Helen Allen and Dr Sezin Topcu to the Centre as part of our visiting scholar scheme. Our seminar series has gone from strength to strength and this year we welcomed external speakers Dr Sayani Mitra, Prof Ilana Löwy , Dr Pam Lowe and Dr Sezin Topcu – thank you to all our speakers for providing such stimulating food for thought and discussion. Alongside our seminars, it has been a particularly successful year for CRR events. In February we were thrilled to host the Professorial inaugural lecture of the Centre Director, Professor Nicky Hudson. Nicky’s lecture entitled ‘Did Margaret Atwood get it right? Reflecting on the social, economic and technological transformation of human reproduction’ provided a reflection on the current reproductive landscape, as well as recent developments and possible future directions for this rapidly developing field.
February also saw the British Sociological Association’s Human Reproduction Study Group event ‘Critically mapping cross-border reproduction’, take place, organised by convenors Dr Kylie Baldwin and Dr Cathy Herbrand and others, with Professor Diana Marre as plenary speaker. This event was followed by the Human Reproduction Study Group annual conference in June, at which Professor Marcia Inhorn provided the plenary address. June was a busy month for Dr Kylie Baldwin, who alongside Zeynep Gürtin and Johanna Kostenza led the excellent two-day ‘International Expert Symposium: Comparative and transnational perspectives on technologies of fertility preservation and extension’ funded by the Foundation for Sociology of Health and Illness. In January Kriss Fearon and Dr Christina Weis hosted a vagina cupcake sale to raise funds for the Feminist Library in London and, to quote Dr Esmee Hanna, ‘provided public information on anatomy through the medium of cupcakes’.
Following the success of our 2017/18 writing retreat, this year ten Centre members ventured to rural Nottinghamshire where they received a warm welcome (and a tremendous amount of delicious food!) for our two-day writing retreat. Members used the day programme to produce journal articles and thesis chapters and welcomed the opportunity to spend time as a group in the evenings – even winning the local pub quiz!
April 2019 saw the first ever De Montfort University Faculty of Health and Life Sciences Research Oscars awards ceremony. We were thrilled to see the Centre so well represented: Dr Wendy Norton, Dr Amanda Wilson, Dr Esmee Hanna, Dr Helene Mitchell, Sasha Loyal and Caroline Law were all finalists across a range of categories; while the award for Inspirational Researcher went to Professor Nicky Hudson.
In May 2019, the EDNA team, ably assisted by Sasha Loyal, collaborated with the SEED (Sperm, Egg and Embryo Donation) Trust, formerly NGDT, produced eight short films on the experience of egg donation. Based on the accounts of six egg providers, these short films address questions women may have prior embarking on the process. Initial findings from the project were also presented at the Human Reproduction Study Group Annual Conference and the 35th Annual Meeting of ESHRE in Vienna in June.
In midwifery news, The National Maternity and Perinatal Audit, on which Dr Tina Harris works as Senior Clinical Lead (Midwifery), has received a contract extension for two years from the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership. Emeritus Professor Lorraine Culley and colleagues recently completed their NIHR research and report examining factors influencing the utlisation of freestanding and alongside midwifery units. Bernie Gregory has been working on an exciting new project developing a new scenario-based interactive educational tool to support teaching and learning for students. This sees the creation of a virtual community, using a wide range of case studies and scenarios, designed to aid discussion of the professional, legal and ethical dilemmas facing nursing and midwifery students in practice.
Following the Social Studies of Reproduction stream of the International Sociological Association’s conference on Social Science Methodology back in 2016, we were delighted to launch a special issue of Methodological Innovations entitled ‘Reproduction research: From complexity to methodological innovation’, expertly edited by Professor Nicky Hudson, Dr Kylie Baldwin, Dr Cathy Herbrand, associate member Dr Nolwenn Buhler and former member Dr Irenee Daly. Dr Christina Weis, Caroline Law and Kriss Fearon all saw their first publications arising from their doctoral studies published here.
Dr Kylie Baldwin’s work on egg freezing has continued to receive a high public profile and media interest with Kylie appearing on Sky News, BBC News 24 and BBC Radio Four’s ‘World at One’ sharing details of her research. Alongside this, Kylie has been integral in the campaign to extend the 10-year storage limit on egg freezing. This May Dr Cathy Herbrand was appointed to the Belgian Advisory Committee on Bioethics for a new mandate (2019-2023) which is something she is pursuing alongside leading the Athena Swan self-assessment for the School of Applied Social Sciences. Professor Nicky Hudson and Dr Petra Nordqvist (series co-editors) have developed a book series: Emerald Studies in Reproduction, Culture and Society. One of the first books from this series, a monograph by Dr Kylie Baldwin, titled ‘Egg Freezing Fertility and Reproductive Choice’ is being published open access this September.
As we head in to next year we bid two of our members, Dr Kylie Baldwin and Caroline Law, a temporary farewell as they go on maternity leave, but look forward to new opportunities for new members to join the Centre. We are currently planning our 2019/20 seminar series, and have several confirmed speakers including Dr Yuliya Hilevych, Dr Charlotte Jones, Dr Felicity Boardman and Professor Damien Riggs. We look forward to catching up with everyone in the new academic year.
Have a great summer!
The Centre for Reproduction Research