Tell us a bit about yourself. What are you researching? What School are you based in? What did you study prior to your PhD?
My name is Rachel Arkell and I am currently a SeNSS funded socio-legal PhD candidate at Kent Law School. Broadly speaking, my project explores the communication of risk with regards to medication use during pregnancy. More specifically, I am exploring the compatibility of certain medication distribution systems with legal standards of informed consent. I’ll be doing this through using the case study of sodium valproate (a medication primarily used in the treatment for epilepsy and bipolar disorder), which is currently regulated by a pregnancy prevention programme due to the risks it poses to a developing foetus. My study involves interviewing consultant neurologists, who are tasked with navigating the pregnancy prevention programmes, and ensuring patient consent.
Prior to starting this project, I completed my LLB (in European Legal Studies), LLM (in Medical Law and Ethics), and MA (in Methods of Social Research) - all at the University of Kent.
How do you spend your spare time when you are not studying?
Currently I’m working part time as a research assistant with the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). Within this role, I am able to pursue allied research projects to my PhD – mainly looking at the social and policy regulation of behaviour during pregnancy.
Most recently, I have formed a research project with one of my PhD supervisors – Professor Ellie Lee (SSPSSR) – examining the policies, guidance and healthcare practices around alcohol and pregnancy. As part of this work, I founded the Alcohol and Pregnancy Research Network, inviting academics and policy makers working in this area.
Why did you choose to do a PhD at Kent?
In all honesty, the academic staff led me to the
decision to stay at Kent for the next stage of my academic career. I have long
admired the work of both my supervisors and working with them throughout my PhD
is incredibly exciting.
How did you hear about the studentship opportunities?
I heard about this studentship opportunity while completing my LLM. My (future) supervisor spoke to me about a pre-proposed project she was planning and encouraged me to apply. My PhD is a collaborative studentship, funded by SeNSS – meaning my supervisors had already developed and defined a research project, while still maintaining the space for me to ‘make it my own.’ This studentship also provides the benefit of working with a collaborative, external partner, who are typically from government, related industries, or third sector organisations. The collaborative partner for my project is BPAS, with whom I’d already established a good relationship with through my role as a research assistant.
What are you particularly enjoying about your experience at Kent so far?
I’m enjoying meeting colleagues who share the same research interests and goals I have. I’ve been able to share and discuss ideas in a supportive and collaborative environment.
What support/opportunities do you receive as a research student from the University and doctoral training partnership?
The biggest opportunity SeNSS has given me comes from providing 1+3 studentship funding, where students are able to undertake an additional master’s degree before starting their PhD project. For me, this meant completing an MA in Methods of Social Research. The degree provided me with in-depth methods training (both qualitative and quantitative) that I need to complete my PhD research.
How does postgraduate study differ from undergraduate study?
I’d say the biggest difference between undergraduate and postgraduate is the opportunity to pursue in depth research in areas that really interest you. You have a lot more freedom to cater modules towards your research interests – and the larger word limits mean you can really get stuck in!
What benefits have you gained from your research community?
The largest benefit of belonging to research communities is the opportunity for collaboration. In my experience, this hasn’t been limited to my own academic institution. I’ve been encouraged to form relationships with academics across the country, and the support I’ve been given has pushed me to form research networks, make plans to co-author articles, and organise research seminars together.
How will your PhD support your future career aspirations?
I’d really like to continue a career in research, whether this is in academia or for a third sector organization. The PhD supports this aspiration by giving me the opportunity to foster my research skills and connect with individuals and organisations who share my research interests.
What are you planning to do next?
I’m planning to continue work in research – though I haven’t quite figured out what that will look like yet!
Any advice for those thinking about applying for a PhD studentship at Kent?
Start planning your application early! The deadline will undoubtedly sneak up on you. Also reach out to potential supervisors with plenty of time; with any luck, they’ll be able to give you invaluable advice on your research proposal.