Talent Development Awards 2023-2024 announced to support innovative research methods in SHAPE subjects

5 Apr 2024

Four people sharing ideas at a table strewn with papers

The British Academy has today announced 26 Talent Development Awards for researchers across the UK to support innovative research in the SHAPE disciplines. The scheme was designed to promote the acquisition of new skills in areas such as quantitative skills, interdisciplinarity, data science, digital humanities and languages.

Up to £10,000 is awarded to each researcher to enable collaboration and engagement activities to take place for up to 12 months.

The 2023-24 Talent Development awardees are:

Please note: Awards are arranged alphabetically by surname of the grant recipient. The institution is that given at the time of application.

Dr Brian Ball


Human and Network Sciences: Graph Computing for Humanities and Social Science Research

Northeastern University, London


This project brings humanities and social science researchers together with network scientists to build bridges between qualitative and quantitative research methods across disciplinary divides. Through the development of a novel case study, a Python coding bootcamp, and the hosting of a showcase research event, the proposed programme of investigation will produce training materials enabling humanists and social scientists to use graph computing in their work - all while beginning to articulate a philosophy of network science. Building on the PI’s prior experience with ‘computational philosophy’ (cf. Ball et al., forthcoming) simulating communities of inquiring agents to yield findings in social epistemology on the PolyGraphs project, the current project will leverage the co-I’s expertise in network science (and the recently established institute devoted to it at NU London), to make the methods employed at this intersection both explicit and publicly available, thereby enhancing the UK’s research capacity.

Dr Fiona Barclay


Addressing the gender gap in language uptake through interdisciplinary learning

University of Stirling


This project examines whether interdisciplinary learning approaches incorporating sports culture can address the significant gender gap that exists in the uptake of languages at the Senior Phase in Scottish secondary education. It does so by designing, revising and delivering interdisciplinary learning materials co-created by academics, languages teachers and PE teachers to learners of French and Italian in schools across Scotland. The outcomes of learners in six participating schools (three learning Italian and three French) will be monitored and evaluated in order to capture the impacts of the intervention on their attitudes and intentions to studying languages.

Dr Emma Bridger


Perceived Causal Relations of Determinants of Health: Adapting Network Analytic Approaches

University of Leicester


Determining views of causality is important because causal intuitions inform views about appropriate interventions. Studying causal intuitions can help understand why structural or social determinants of complex constructs such as health are often overlooked in favour of biological or lifestyle causes. Whilst qualitative approaches to lay intuitions are rarely scalable or generalisable, existing quantitative methods drastically over-simplify people’s representations of causality. Network analysis, a set of statistical techniques that enable analysis and visualisation of relational data, lends itself well to mitigate this limitation because it accords better with the notion that lay representations are viewed as networks of events. This programme will apply recent advances in network analysis to develop a new method for assessing perceived causal relations, focusing on the social determinants of health. It will develop UK academic expertise in this burgeoning area and enable a much richer understanding of perceived causal relations of health than heretofore.

Dr Boyana Buyuklieva


Connecting Disciplines using Large Language Models - A Case Study of Generating Hypothesis to Map Social (In)fertility in Modern Households

University College London


Hypothesis generation is a fundamental building block of advancing knowledge. However, to conceive valuable hypotheses, researchers today must familiarise themselves with increasingly large amounts of previous research in their limited human time. Large Language Models (LLMs) - like ChatGPT - are an application of generative artificial intelligence (AI) that can transform how we think about and add to existing knowledge. We will inform ongoing conversations on using AI for social science research by evaluating how LLMs handle cross-disciplinary questions that stitch together findings from a vast and diverse body of previous literature. Using LLMs to extract claims from qualitative and quantitative research, we will produce hypotheses on the underexplored, local contextual factors of reproduction and (in)fertility, and then validate these with domain experts. This work advances the productive use of LLMs in social science by processing vast amounts of text quickly and with accountability to transcending disciplinary boundaries.

Dr Huijing Chen


Cross learning: Combining Machine Learning/Data Science and statistical modelling to improve retail forecasting

University of Portsmouth


This proposal aims to enable me, through training courses and research meetings, to carry out research on how best to achieve cross learning between statistical forecasting and machine learning techniques, a mostly unexplored area, to improve performance of retail forecasting. This has wide ranging impact on retailers to allow them to make better planning decisions and capture business intelligence from vast amounts of data, to thrive in an increasingly competitive environment. This also has a societal impact to ensure retailers are operating in a cost-effective and sustainable way. The training courses offered by the University of Oxford will allow me to gain comprehensive understanding of machine learning and develop me as a research leader. The workshop and two-day min-conference will promote collaboration between academia and practitioners towards finding the best way to achieve cross learning.

Dr Lydia Cole


Synthesising research from the social science, arts and humanities to influence global peatland policy

University of St Andrews


This project will build capacity for evidence synthesis across the global peatland research community, generating a series of evidence synthesis papers and policy briefs that draw significantly from the social sciences, arts and humanities, responding directly to the needs of peatland policy teams around the world. They will make evidence-based recommendations to help protect, restore and sustainably manage peatlands, the world’s largest terrestrial carbon store upon which many millions depend for their livelihoods. To do this, we will:

  • Build on innovations identified in previous British Academy-funded research to elicit policy-relevant questions from peatland policy bodies
  • Train peatland researchers in evidence synthesis methods and writing policy briefs
  • Support researchers to produce peer-reviewed journal publications and turn these into policy briefs that can be sent back to policy customers, delivering answers to policy-relevant questions that can deliver real-world impact.

Professor Stefano De Paoli


Leveraging Large Language Models for Thematic Analysis

University of Abertay Dundee


This project delves into the innovative application of Large Language Models (LLMs) for conducting Thematic Analysis (TA), a prominent qualitative method for deriving patterns and meaning from textual data. Traditional TA involves labor-intensive manual coding. By harnessing the capabilities of LLMs with a Graphical User Interface (GUI) this study aims to enhance the capacity of social scientists to benefit from LLMs in qualitative research. The research will entail a systematisation of existing work done by the applicants on using LLMs, for automating various stages of TA, including data preparation, initial coding, and theme identification. Moreover, a proof-of-concept GUI will be created to test the possibility to use LLMs without the need for programming. Through empirical evaluation with users the GUI will be improved. The proof-of-concept will be released with an open license. Four webinars/seminars will be organised with students and researchers to demonstrate and disseminate our concept and achieve impact.

Professor Mehmet Demirbag


Analysing 19th Century Business Networks in Istanbul: Ethnic Minorities, Foreign MNEs, and Local Businesses

University of Essex


Examining the intricate relationships among ethnic minorities, foreign Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) and local businesses requires a longitudinal historical approach. This research aims to examine networking patterns and factors affecting the survival of ethnic minority businesses in comparison with non-ethnic minority businesses and MNE subsidiaries in the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, spanning the years 1881 to 1914. To achieve this, our objective is to create a longitudinal historical dataset based on businesses operating between 1881 and 1914 on both sides of the Golden Horn in Istanbul, specifically in Galata Hans (Hans in Galata and Pera) and Istanbul Hans (Hans in the historical peninsula).

Dr Sasha Engelmann


Community data weathering: piloting approaches to citizen-generated data on weather in a time of climate crisis

Royal Holloway, University of London


Increasingly abnormal weather systems and proposals to engineer ‘better weather’ demand renewed public engagement with weather. These issues are addressed in open-weather, a citizen-driven initiative focused on imaging and imagining Earth’s weather systems using DIY community tools. Co-led by cultural geographer Sasha Engelmann and open source researcher-designer Sophie Dyer, open-weather sustains a planetary network of volunteer satellite ground station operators. As the network grows and the climate crisis accelerates, Engelmann (Lead Applicant) and Dyer (Co-Applicant) propose to employ a British Academy Talent Development Award to significantly advance open-weather’s data infrastructure and archiving system; pilot new tools for digital organising and networking; and build new datasets. This will occur in three work packages, two centring on skills sharing between Engelmann and Dyer, and one featuring consultancy from satellite data specialists. The project will generate new digital resources; resources for undergraduate teaching; and scholarship in the environmental and digital humanities.

Dr Emily Finch


Promoting the World Cafe as a Method of Generating Data in Crime and Justice Research

University of Surrey


The World Café has great potential as a research method. It is based upon the dual premise that people like to talk about things that matter to them and that there is greater wisdom to be found in collective thinking. It creates a hospitable space in which participants bring their ideas, knowledge, expertise and inspiration together with a view to finding solutions to problems. It is little used as a research method in academic research so this project aims to promote awareness of the World Café method amongst researchers with an interest in crime and justice to encourage them to use it in their research in order to harness and give voice to the collective wisdom of academics, criminal justice professionals and those with lived experience of the criminal justice system in solving the main problems that exist within the criminal justice system.

Dr Sarah Gibson Yates


Creative Human-Machine Collaboration: co-creating with AI in a new film production context of care.

Anglia Ruskin University


Two potentially contradictory movements in screen production are redefining the film industry. Firstly, the impact of AI on writers raises urgent ethical questions regarding authenticity, bias, IP, industry working practices and job security. Secondly, recent concerns about actor exploitation and abuse first voiced in the #metoo movement, have given rise to industry response in the form of the role of intimacy coordinator and a broader push towards establishing a code of care in screen production. The aim of this project is to create an opportunity for knowledge and skills to be exchanged across emerging practices in AI-driven screenwriting and film practices of care. Through my programme of innovative research practice, specialist training and mentoring I will examine and critically reflect on the nature and impact of creative-human collaboration, piloting new ways of researching and new pedagogies for film and writing practice.

Dr Nathaniel Greene


Digitising Pre-Modern Material Culture: Foundations and Innovations

University of Aberdeen


This project has three primary aims: (1) to develop the digital imaging capabilities for the PIs in particular and the University of Aberdeen in general, (2) to construct an open-access database for image-based research and teaching outputs, and (3) to design an advanced level course in digital humanities as a foundation for a fully-fledged degree program. As digital access methods are becoming increasingly important for humanities research—highlighted especially by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic—the need for programs to support that research has increased in kind. New inroads that approximate personal collation of material culture objects in remote contexts are available to researchers; this project will therefore build on a unique institutional context through both internal and external collaborations to foster sustainable growth in research-driven teaching on ancient material culture of local, national, and international importance, allowing Aberdeen to become a leader in this domain.

Dr Helen Hanna


Thai language training to support citizenship education research fieldwork in schools in Thailand

University of Manchester


This application is for funding to develop my Thai language skills during 2024-25 through 140 hours of online and in-person tuition. This will support my research and scholarly collaboration on citizenship education in Thai schools in the context of suppression of student protests for democracy. My research is crucial to reforming citizenship curriculum and teaching in line with human rights principles, and to ensuring that young people’s voices as change-makers are heard. I have recently started publishing my research on Thailand in English; developing my Thai language skills will allow me to produce higher quality research that is more reflective of local cultures by reducing my dependence on English translations of educational documents and on using interpreters in interviews. Given current global concerns about the democratic deficit, supporting such work overseas is essential to the UK’s efforts in promoting the values of democracy and freedom of speech worldwide.

Dr Richard Hudson-Miles


Using Artificial Intelligence to Enhance a Social Media Ethnography of Digital Fashion Subcultures in the UK and China.

Leeds Beckett University


This project proposes to use innovative artificial intelligence software, designed in partnership with AI company Pulsar, to collect and analyse data for a digital ethnography of digital fashion users and consumers. Specifically, social media data that will highlight the specificity of these digital consumers in comparison to the mainstream. The focus is on UK and China; two leading but culturally distinct markets. All relevant social media data, including visual images, will be collected, translated, and thematically coded by specialist Pulsar software into quantitative and qualitative data. This data will empirically demonstrate key brands, influencers, audience demographics. It will highlight audience sentiment towards digital and mainstream fashion, including core values, attitudes, emotions, and subcultural politics. This innovative digital ethnography will provide unique insights for the art historical and sociological analysis of future fashion consumers, alongside new philosophical, cultural, and ethical questions for the digital humanities, and new experimental methods for ethnographers.

Dr Ersin Hussein


Critical Walking Across Cyprus: Towards an understanding of landscape, space, place, and local identity.

Swansea University

£4,490.00 - Part funded from the William Hepburn Buckler Memorial Fund

Walking is an emotive way of critically understanding landscapes and societies, whether ancient or modern, urban or rural. It has the power to prompt creative reactions and help articulate responses to complex issues. This project will use critical walking methodologies to explore Cyprus' landscape. The proposed outputs (written responses, photographs, videos, a walking vlog, and article) will be used to inspire crucial discussion around the island’s history as a colonised landscape, cultural heritage, and Cypriot identity. Cyprus remains a contested island and aspects of its cultural, social and political climate present considerable challenges to students and researchers. Furthermore, the current cost of living crisis compounds existing issues relating to accessibility, meaning that it can be difficult for many to engage directly with its landscape and material culture. Development of accessible, creative teaching resources to introduce students to the Cyprus’ history is essential and will benefit wider provision beyond the UK.

Dr Tahir Islam


Unlocking Human Potential: Quantitative Skills and the Future of Sustainable Advantage

Leeds Trinity University


Acquiring quantitative skills is paramount for researchers seeking to contribute substantially to their fields. This proposal highlights the significance of enhancing such skills through renowned online courses and conferences. These research initiatives, meticulously selected based on comprehensive research, offer a structured pathway to bolster quantitative proficiency. Mastering data analytics, Mplus, structural equation modelling, and marketing analytics through these courses empowers effective research design and data interpretation and lays the foundation for publishing in top-tier journals. Integrating these skills augments research quality and aligns with sustainable development goals, fostering informed decision-making and evidence-based solutions across various domains. This proposal underscores the pivotal role of online courses in nurturing the quantitative acumen essential for impactful research and contributing to global sustainable development endeavours. This project contributes to the theory and practice and is helpful to the stakeholders to understand the contemporary issues in social sciences.

Dr Adrian Leguina


A new paradigm of quantitative intersectional analysis using geometric data analysis

Loughborough University


This BA Talent Development Award proposes to explore the conceptual and empirical challenges of integrating multiple measures of class, gender and ethnicity into a unified quantitative intersectional analysis. Its broader objective is capacity building in advanced quantitative methodologies by creating opportunities for knowledge and skill exchange across the social sciences and by developing a new ‘geometric’ approach to quantitative intersectional analysis (GQIA). The research programme proposed here provides a space for interdisciplinary dialogue and it has the ambition of becoming a new way of studying inequalities. Over a twelve-month period, the award will facilitate a bold developmental and dissemination strategy, including the production of a significant academic article, the organisation of a two-day workshop, the production of audiovisual material targeted to students and researchers, an international research visit and the preparation of a large-scale research proposal which mobilises generated insights.

Dr Kim Nguyen


Navigating Ethical and Financial Dimensions: Unraveling Individual Investors’ Attitudes Towards ESG Investments 

University of Lincoln


We conduct a field experiment with professional investors in Indonesia to examine their preferences toward ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investments via a non-profit organisation promoting behavioural sciences. The experiment is framed with wealth benefits, environmental and social benefits, and information. The Indonesian economy is forecasted to be the seventh largest globally by 2030 while this country ranked in the top ten most polluted countries. The ESG investment preferences become crucial in a rapidly emerging country with a high level of pollution. We also introduce a treatment where investors are informed of the current environmental situation of the country before making decisions. The findings of this study provide insights to policymakers not just in Indonesia but in other similar emerging markets such as India, Bangladesh and Vietnam on nudging the ESG investment among individual investors.

Dr Navjot Sangwan


Perceived Discrimination and Rental Housing Preferences Among UK Ethnic Minorities

University of Greenwich


Recent data from the English Housing Survey reveals significant disparities in housing quality between ethnic minority and white British households, with minorities facing higher rates of unsuitable living conditions. Anecdotally, one of the driving factors behind this discrepancy is perceived discrimination, leading minorities to apply for lower-quality housing due to the belief that landlords are more likely to reject their applications for higher-quality options. This research examines disparities in housing provision, focusing on whether expectations of discrimination influence housing choices and application decisions among ethnic minorities, relative to native white British applicants, in the UK rental market. The study will involve an online experiment where participants from different ethnic backgrounds view rental listings of varying quality and rate the attainability of securing each type of housing. Findings will provide insights into how perceived discrimination impacts minority housing searches, informing policies to promote equity in rental markets.

Dr Katherine Butler Schofield


Learning to Sing the Urdu Ghazal

King's College London


The Urdu ghazal, a genre of poetry formed of 5–7 rhyming couplets, is simultaneously the highest and most richly complex form of Urdu poetry, and one of the most flexible and widely sung song genres of North India and Pakistan, from the elite classical salon to the Sufi shrine, to national street protests and Bollywood film. Its literary history from its emergence in the seventeenth century has been extensively studied, but to date, despite its centrality to South Asian music, there have been almost no studies on the ghazal as song. In this project, in preparation for my next major research project (The Singer and the Song in South Asia), I propose to learn to sing the Urdu ghazal with doyenne of the genre Vidya Rao, in order to improve my classical Urdu language skills and to really get inside how this genre works, both as poetry and as song.

Dr Ayesha Siddiqi


Spanish language training for better research

University of Cambridge


I am a postcolonial geographer who has been developing research and regularly working in South America in recent years. I have however received no formal training in the Spanish language skills, therefore while I am able to have basic conversations with my research participants in the field, I am unable to read academic texts, discuss my work at academic events or produce research outputs independently. To address this limitation, I am spending 6 months (over a sabbatical term and a summer) in  Spain in 2024. I would like to use the Talent Development Award to cover primarily tuition fees for an accredited intensive Spanish language course that will enable me to improve my language skills. This will benefit my career, skills and talent by enabling me to i) develop new research, ii) produce new research outputs, iii) develop new teaching content and iv) form new research collaborations.

Professor Robert Truswell


Understanding grammar change: Digital resources and evolutionary modelling

University of Edinburgh


Grammar change is affected by many interacting factors, from how we learn and use languages to their social functions. Learning about how grammar changes can help us understand all these factors. The raw materials in studying grammar change are corpora: collections of texts annotated with grammatical information. By building models and combining them with corpus data, we can uncover the underlying causes of historical changes. However, current corpora are limited in what they can reveal: some are too small, some are poorly annotated, and English is overrepresented. Central challenges are how to build better corpus resources, and how to better use the resources we have. We will hold an interdisciplinary workshop to address this challenge, bringing together experts in cutting-edge techniques (grammatical theory, natural language processing, mathematical modelling) from linguistics, physics, and cognitive science, to share ideas, develop best practices, and identify scope for developing better resources and new models.

Professor Harvey Whitehouse


When Despots Become Deadly: The psychological foundations of institutionalised extremism in autocratic states

University of Oxford


The aim of our project is to establish an evidence-based psycholinguistic framework that can assess the risk that despotic leaders of autocratic states will resort to violent forms of repression domestically or hawkish foreign policies when the use of violence in these contexts carries high risk to self and group. The project will use a mixed methods approach, coupling qualitative text analysis with quantitative natural language processing (NLP) analysis to address the following questions: What makes some heads of states resort to violent means against their own population or other countries despite heavy costs that would deter most other political strategists? Could the risk of wars and seemingly irrational (e.g., high risk or costly) acts of aggression, resulting in genocides and other atrocities, be predicted based on the socio-psychological drivers that leaders unintentionally reveal via their speeches?

Dr Qian Xu


Promoting Cross-Disciplinary Knowledge Exchange in Office Building Energy Management

University of Lincoln


Office buildings contribute significantly to the U.K.'s greenhouse gas emissions, making them critical targets for energy reduction to meet the ‘Net Zero’ goal by 2050. Interventions influencing occupant energy behaviors show great potential in reducing building energy consumption. Due to the complexity of shared space in office buildings, the development of behavior-based energy-saving interventions relies on multi-disciplinary collaboration, which is currently lacking in academia and industry. This proposed project aims to provide a comprehensive platform for experts from diverse fields to collaborate and innovate in behavioral-based energy-efficient strategies in office buildings. Several key initiatives are planned, including interdisciplinary workshops for knowledge exchange, training in advanced data analytics in behavioral science, and an interactive website for resource dissemination. This multi-disciplinary project not only provides a holistic view of the research problem through interdisciplinary knowledge exchange but also offers a more engaging and cost-effective way to share post-event information and educational materials.

Dr Jakub Zbrzezny


The Bible in (actually) Spoken Arabic. Palestinian Genesis.

University of Aberdeen


It is only recently with the advent of the digital age that Spoken Arabic dialects have started to be widely employed in writing, especially in electronic social media. In this context, we are witnessing the emergence of experimental dialect translations of the Bible. Regrettably, these are largely undocumented, which prevents their use in academic research. This project will produce the first fully documented translation of the Book of Genesis into one of the Palestinian rural dialects as a case study. These entirely new data will be suitable for rigorous analysis in the context of Practical Theology and Biblical Studies. By learning how contemporary local Palestinians understand the biblical text by expressing it in their own daily language we will not only gain new socio-anthropological insights into the functioning of ancient narratives in their modern geographical setting, but we may also discover hitherto unexplored interpretations exemplifying indigenous exegesis.

Dr Jing Zhang


Data Analytics in Research on Investment Efficiency of Clean Technology in UK Start-ups

University of Nottingham


Start-ups have become the drivers of commercialising high-quality disruptive clean technology (CT) but many find it difficult to attract sufficient investment to take their novel CTs to market. Evidence on the investment efficiency of commercialising CT is limited due to a lack of data and measurement of the optimal investment level. Developments in big data and artificial intelligence offer solutions to these problems. Using a dataset of UK CT start-ups, this project explores whether investment inefficiency exists and identifies the factors influencing investment efficiency. The research findings will have significant implications for businesses and policymakers when making decisions about investment and intervention. Data analytics skills, including big data manipulation and machine learning, are needed to achieve these goals, considering the advantages of collecting and analysing vast datasets compared with traditional statistical approaches. Support is sought from the British Academy to acquire and enhance my data analytics skills.

The awards listed are those for the 2023-24 Talent Development Awards. Previous award announcements can be found on the Talent Development Awards past awards page.

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