Celebrating the best new research at the Scientific Conference 2017

Now in its fifth year, the Understanding Society Scientific Conference was the biggest yet; with over 100 presentations, three plenary speakers and award winning papers from two researchers.

The Understanding Society Scientific Conference, which took place at the University of Essex’s Business School on 11-13th July 2017, was opened with a welcome and award ceremony hosted by the Director of Understanding Society, Professor Michaela Benzeval.

This year, Understanding Society awarded two prizes; for the Young Researcher 2017 and the Prize Paper. The Understanding Society Young Researcher Prize went to Sarah Knight, a PhD Student at the University of York, for her research: Can clean air make you happy? Examining the effect of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) on life satisfaction.

Sarah’s research found a significant and negative relationship between high NO2 levels (found in car fumes) and life satisfaction. She found that exposure to polluted air can be as damaging as ‘big-hitting’ life events, such as death of a partner.

When winning the award, Sarah Knight said, “It’s a real honour and a real surprise to win the prize because there is so much great research out there that also uses the data.”

But it wasn’t just academic prestige that put Sarah’s research in the spotlight, she comments, “The research started as a working paper and then we got contacted by The Times and then suddenly it rippled across the papers – it was my first brush with the media.” Read the media coverage.

When asked why the Understanding Society data was used, Sarah commented, “Using such a big dataset and exploiting the longitudinal nature of Understanding Society adds so much weight to your findings. When discussing it with the media, it makes the research more vigorous and adds gravity to your work.”

This is the second time that Sarah has attended the Scientific Conference and she believes that it “brings everyone together who uses the data and you get the chance to meet people from completely different fields.

“There is the opportunity to go to really interesting talks and the discussions you have with people adds so much value to your research because of the ideas generated. You also get the chance to talk to the Understanding Society team who I found really helpful and full of suggestions,” she said.

New environmental research findings

The second conference prize, the Understanding Society Paper Prize, was awarded to Gregory Owen Thomas from Cardiff University for his research: The Welsh Single-Use Carrier Bag Charge and behavioural spillover.

This environmental research found that introducing the plastic bag charge in Wales did encourage bag re-use, but it had minimal effect on other environmental attitudes and behaviours.

Gregory believes that Understanding Society has several features that made it ‘ideal’ for his work. He said, “Firstly, the enormous sample size of the data allowed us to make confident estimations of how people in each country changed over time. This also made it possible to treat the introduction of the Welsh Single-Use Carrier Bag Charge as a quasi-experiment, comparing the effect in Wales against England and Scotland.

“Second, the dataset collected information on bag use before and after the Welsh bag charge, and so the longitudinal design allowed us to make a detailed analysis of individuals, delivering compelling evidence for behaviour changes over time.”

When asked about winning the award, Gregory said, “Personally, I’m shocked! There’s a wealth of interesting and practical research findings that have come from the Understanding Society dataset, and so it’s a great honour to be awarded the prize for our own work.”

This was Gregory’s first visit to the Understanding Society conference, and he’s hoping to return in the future. He comments, “There’s a broad range of disciplines featured here that makes it particularly exciting to see other perspectives on research, and how others may view our own research. There’s a lot to learn from cross-disciplinary perspectives, and new analytical techniques or theoretical models from other fields could open exciting avenues for future research projects.”

The runner-up prize was awarded to Dr Sait Bayrakdar, University of Cambridge for his research on Parents, local house prices and leaving home in Britain

Any questions?

If you have any questions about the conference, please email events@understandingsociety.ac.uk

Follow conference tweets via @usociety and #usociety17

Related links