Radio 4’s Today programme presenter John Humphrys has developed a formidable reputation as an interviewer. While many would have quaked at the thought of being questioned live on national radio by someone whose name has become a byword for combative interviewing, PhD student Rachel Thwaites took it in her stride.
During her last year at York, Rachel, who studied with the University’s Centre for Women’s Studies, became used to intense media scrutiny of her research. As well as Radio 4, she was interviewed by The Times, The Telegraph, BBC Radio Scotland and numerous other media.
Rachel, who is originally from Edinburgh, says: “My PhD thesis was on Women, Marriage, and Selfhood: How Names Impact upon Gendered Identity and the media interest in my project came out of the blue. Facebook had commissioned a study on what women were doing with their last names and the media were looking for someone to comment on that.
“I could of course bring the context of my study to the Facebook results. I hadn’t thought about the fact my project could be interesting to the media at that point, so to start getting so much attention so suddenly was quite a surprise!
“Around six months later I got another wave of interest in my project because France was passing an equalities bill which included a section about names. As France has a different practice to the UK, the media were interested in getting comment on this difference and what the situation was like in the UK at the present time.
“I was asked to speak on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. This was a fantastic opportunity to speak about my research and to engage in discussion around names on a national platform. I was nervous of course, but couldn’t pass up such a great chance. It brought a lot more attention to my research and sparked some further media debate, which was great.”
Rachel joined York after completing an undergraduate degree in History and Gender Studies at the University of Aberdeen. She says: “Women’s Studies is a small and supportive department where I met lots of great like-minded people and was able to spend three years focusing on research that I was interested in and enjoyed carrying out.
“I tried to make the most of my time there and get involved with what was going on in the department, as well as making links with people working in other departments. I gained teaching experience and took part in the Preparing Future Academics programme to become an accredited member of the Higher Education Academy. I was part of the Women’s Committee and had a great time campaigning on and off campus.”
Rachel is now working as a Research Fellow at the Health Services Management Centre, School of Social Policy, at the University of Birmingham looking at emergency admissions of elderly people to hospital and what can be done to prevent these.
Rachel received a PhD in Women’s Studies on 18 July.