BSA member is joint winner ESRC writing competition

BSA member Lauren White is the joint winner of a national writing competition for social science students.

The Economic and Social Research Council, in partnership with SAGE Publishing, runs an annual 'Making Sense of Society' competition for the best essay of 800 words or less.

From a shortlist of 12, the judges picked Lauren, who is based at the University of Sheffield, and Wilhelmiina Toivo, of the University of Glasgow. Each received a £1,000 prize at an awards ceremony at the Royal Society in London on 21 March.

Lauren, a PhD student at the White Rose Doctoral Training Centre in Yorkshire, impressed the judges with her winning essay on 'Living and looking for lavatories'.

The judges praised Lauren's honest and direct way of addressing one of society's last taboos: the experience of using public toilets, especially for those who have a bowel condition.

Lauren studies what it is like to live with and manage the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. In her essay, she writes: "In discussing my research, I often face a reception of pure horror, a nervous laugh or a joke, but very rarely an open, honest discussion of our own bowel habits and toilet behaviours.

"The awkwardness around the topic creates greater challenges for those living with bowel conditions, and reinforces stigma. Some may laugh at the fact I talk about poo and toilets in my academic life. There may be banter in the bowels, a joke that I need a colon in my future research papers or conference presentations. But is the difficulty of living with an unpredictable bowel in an unaccommodating society really that funny?"

Dr Alan Gillespie, Chair of the ESRC said: "The standard of writing was exceptional, with entrants using a range of styles to convey their research. Congratulations to all who made the final shortlist and in particular to our winners, who impressed the judges with their skills in communicating their research in an engaging, original, powerful and thought-provoking way."

Miranda Nunhofer, Executive Director of SAGE, said: "The value of social science research is too often overlooked or called into question, despite its significant impact on society.

"As such, the social sciences are an incredibly challenging field for voices, especially those early in their career, to be heard. Awards such as these go a long way to both underscore and recognise the longevity of the social sciences and the importance of their societal value. SAGE sends our congratulations to all those shortlisted and to our winners today."

The competition, which is now in its second year, celebrates and fosters the writing skills of the next generation of social scientists. There were nearly 300 entries which demonstrated the breadth of social science research in the UK – topics included big data, climate change, class, immigration, dementia, the economy and education. Entrants were encouraged to take off their academic hat and think of new ways to capture the interest of the public.

All those shortlisted will take part in a masterclass on how to get published, run by SAGE. Their competition entries will also be published in print and online.

• Lauren has a BA (Hons) Sociology (First Class), and MA Social Research (Distinction) at the University of Sheffield. She won the Postgraduate Prize in Sociology for Best Dissertation.