UCL Department of Geography


PhD Network

The MRU PhD network aims to bring together postgraduate research students from across disciplines and UCL faculties.

It has grown out of the Refuge in a Moving World PhD-wing, and aims to provide PhD students with a forum for training, peer support, networking, knowledge exchange, reading and discussion. The network currently runs regular sessions on research training, writing skills and reading groups, where the aim is to learn from fellow PhD students at various stages of their research.

MRU PhD Network Members

Imogen Bakelmun

Imogen works on the SELMA project, a policy analysis and modelling project in Qatar, Pakistan, the UK and Norway, which aims to reveal how structural drivers impact sexual and gender-based violence and the sexual health and rights of migrants and refugees. She has a particular interest in the intersections of cultural practice and academic research and is the lead on creative pubic engagement in the Centre for Gender and Global Health. Previously, she has worked on community-based cultural initiatives across Latin America, particularly with migrants and refugees in Mexico.

Rachel Benchekroun
  • Thesis title: Mothers with insecure immigration status in an inner London neighbourhood: the role of social networks in shaping access to services, resources and a sense of belonging.
  • Supervisors: Dr Mette Berg and Dr Rachel Rosen

Rachel is currently in the final year of her PhD, and with Aydan coordinates the MRU PhD Network. She has been part of We Are Movers, a research project involving migrant women and staff and students from UCL which incorporated participatory and arts-based methods, public engagement and activism as forms of research. Rachel is a seminar leader on undergraduate and Master’s-level modules in UCL’s Department of Social Science; she also works as a researcher at the International Centre on Child Sexual Exploitation, Violence and Trafficking at the University of Bedfordshire. Previous work experience includes managing children’s centres, facilitating safeguarding training, and various community development and research roles. She has strong interests in ethnography, participatory methods, social networks, motherhood and violence prevention.

Julia Borowicz
  • Supervisors: Dr Tariq Jazeel and Dr Tatiana Thieme

Julia's research focuses on the intersection of national integration policy in Germany and the everyday lived experiences, conditions, and spaces for encounters in Berlin. She uses a mixture of analytical and empirical research methods to investigate expressions of culture and identity as they play out in diverse social practices in Neukölln, Berlin. Julia's research seeks to address two key aims: To reveal the conditions under which institutionalised spaces for encounter, created by intercultural integration policies, are most productive in the context of a broader project aimed at welcoming “others” as “New Berliners.” Secondly, to investigate how the study of everyday lived spaces – experiential, material, and representational – can contribute to policy debates around “living with difference.”

Alexandra Bulat
  • Thesis title: How does local-level contact shape attitudes towards EU migrants? A comparison of British, Romanian and Polish residents' views of two English local authorities in the context of Brexit

Alexandra Bulat is a final year PhD researcher at SSEES, UCL. Her doctoral research explores attitudes towards EU migrants in the context of Brexit, based on qualitative fieldwork during 2017-2018 with British, Romanian and Polish participants in two local authorities in England - Newham and Tendring. Alexandra is a migrants' rights campaigner and the Chair of Young Europeans and Young Europeans Citizens' Led Engagement Project Manager at the3million, the largest grassroots organisation campaigning for EU migrants' rights in the UK. Alexandra is also a volunteer with the charity Settled, providing advice to EU citizens applying for the EU Settlement Scheme. She tweets about migration and citizens' rights @alexandrabulat.

Christie Cheng
  • Thesis title (working): Demanding to Supply: Politicising Southeast Asian Labour Migration on Screen
  • Supervisors: Dr Keith B. Wagner and Professor Lee Grieveson

Christie Cheng previously worked as an Arts Manager at the National Arts Council, Singapore, collaborating with various local and international writers, publishers and stakeholders as project lead in various literary projects like the Singapore Writers Directory and the Golden Point Award, before embarking on her Masters in Cultural Studies at SOAS. She has previously been involved in migrant and refugee rights and protections as a research assistant, case worker and volunteer in both London, for SOAS Detainee Society, and the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics, Singapore. She is committed to drawing more attention to socio-political issues in Southeast Asia; her most recent piece, entitled ‘Allegories of Punishment: Tales of Crime and Precarity in Singapore’, is published on New Naratif.

Susanna Corona
  • Thesis Title: Understanding perceptions of migration transit and identity (trans)formation of unaccompanied migrant minors in Mexico.
  • Supervisors: Dr Delanjathan Devakumar and Dr Rochelle Burgess

Susanna is a medical doctor who graduated from the University of Milan in 2018. Her main interests are in how social adversities and/or conditions affect children in the short and long term, especially in migration contexts. Following this interest, she has written her final degree thesis on age assessment in unaccompanied minors under the supervision of Professor Cristina Cattaneo of the Institute of Legal Medicine of Milan. After graduating, thanks to the help of Professor Paolo Vineis from Imperial, she has an experience in Turin at the IIGM (Italian Institute for Genomic Medicine), collaborating in the analysis of a birth cohort part of the Lifepath project, regarding the long-term impact that different conditions during pregnancy can have for the child. Subsequently, she obtained an Italian medical license and started her PhD in the Institute for Global Health, UCL, with an independent project funded by the Mexican government in fees and personal expenses. Her project regards the ethnographic exploration of the concepts of identity and resilience in a population of unaccompanied migrant minors who are in or have experienced transit through Mexico.

Carlos Gómez del Tronco
  • Thesis Title (working): The mainstreaming of Islamophobia in Czech political discourse, 2010-2020: strategies, ideologies and processes
  • Supervisors: Professor Anne White and Professor Richard Mole

Carlos is a PhD candidate at the University College London School of Slavonic and East European Studies (UCL SSEES) as well as a Marie Curie Fellow in the FATIGUE programme (a network of young researchers studying the rise of illiberalism and populism in post-communist Europe). Carlos's PhD examines the discursive changes that took place in Czech political discourse about ‘Muslims’, mostly, as a result of events happening in 2015. In addition, as part of this project, a diverse sample of Czech citizens will be interviewed to share their outlook on both politicians’ discourse, as well as their own ideas about the accommodation of Muslims within Czech society. Carlos holds an MA in International Relations from Metropolitan University Prague and has previously written about the consequences of EU support to Libyan coastguards after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. Twitter: @gomezdeltronco

Aydan Greatrick
  • Thesis Title (working): Identities in Conflict: Queer-Led Humanitarian Responses to LGBT Refugees
  • Supervisors: Professor Richard Mole and Professor Ann Varley

Aydan is a PhD candidate at University College London (UCL), and a Project Coordinator with the Migration Research Unit, UCL Department of Geography. Aydan’s PhD research explores on responses to queer refugees from Syria in Lebanon and Germany, with a focus on the transnational dimensions of queer identity, activism and organising and how this interacts with local-level contexts responding to displacement. Prior to his PhD, Aydan worked with the Centre for Transnational Development and Collaboration for two years, a research and advocacy organisation specialising in gender and sexuality in the Middle East and Europe. He holds an MSc in Global Migration from UCL and a BA in History from the University of Cambridge. Twitter: @AydanEG.

Rebecca Hayes-Laughton
  • Thesis Title: Women crossing borders: activist bodies, performance and social change.
  • Supervisors: Dr Kat Low and Dr Gareth White

When refugee, migrant and asylum-seeking women cross geographical borders and enter the UK they are also negotiating political, legal and cultural boundaries. Their bodies in the national space, as they reject discriminatory labelling and fight for their human rights, can be seen as an act of protest and transgression.  The women’s lived experience embodied knowledge and activist narratives are like de Certeau’s “story” that “cuts across” what the official map “cuts up”. Rebecca's research explores performance practices that foreground these stories and experiences and interrogates if and how this provides visibility for and representation of refugee women on their own terms as they campaign for social change.

Jin Li
  • Thesis Title: Childhood, Parenting and Transnationalism: International Migrant Children and their families in China.
  • For more information on Jin's research, visit her research profile.
Nenna Orie Chuku
  • Thesis Title: Circular Migration in the African Diaspora: Understanding Information Usages and Needs in Return Migration.

Through oral histories, participatory mapping, and visualisations, Nenna's research explores return migration in the African diaspora. By working with the Sierra Leonean diaspora in the UK, her research seeks to understand the information resources, information systems and information environments developed and used within the community. Nenna's (current) guiding question is: How do the information experiences of return migration in the African diaspora, challenge the conceptual framework and deployment of Eurocentric information systems used to understand human movement? This study addresses the themes of immigration surveillance, nationality and citizenship, homing and nostalgia, development agendas, administrative data collection and colonialism.

Andrea Saavedra
  • Thesis Title (working): The construction of migrant 'otherness' through everyday negotiations and media discourses in a Chilean school
  • Supervisors: Dr Mette Berg and Dr Rachel Rosen

Andrea Cortés Saavedra is a Chilean PhD student in Social Science at the Institute of Education at UCL. She is a journalist, and she holds a BA in Social Communication, a Postgraduate Diploma in Philosophy, Communication e Identities and an MA in Social Sciences Stream Sociology of Modernization from Universidad de Chile. She has worked as a postgraduate teacher in courses on communication, identity, methodologies of social research and migration. She has also participated as a research assistant in projects on Latin American migration in Chile; media and indigenous people and social memory. Regarding her professional experience, Andrea has worked as a journalist in universities and research centres in Chile. In addition, she was in charge of the coordination of the MA in Political Communication at Universidad de Chile. Her doctoral research focuses on the social positions of migrant children in Chilean schools. She also studies the media coverage and media discourses on migration and childhood in the context of migratory transformations in Chile.

​​​​Natalie Sedacca
  • Thesis Title: Challenging the Legal Exclusion of Domestic Workers: A Labour Rights as Human Rights Approach

Natalie joined the UCL Faculty of Laws in September 2017. Her research focuses on the intersection between labour rights and human rights in relation to domestic workers. It is supported by the London Arts and Humanities Partnership and a Faculty of Laws Research Scholarship. Natalie is a Teaching Fellow on the Tort LLB course at UCL and is running a special seminar course on actions against the police and public authorities in the academic year 2019-20. In addition, Natalie is a Teaching Fellow at Queen Mary University of London where she is convening and lecturing the LLB course ‘Labour Law: Individual Protections, Human Rights and Workplace Justice.’ Natalie is on the editorial board for the UCL Journal of Law & Jurisprudence (having been joint academic editor during 2017-18) and is the Editorial Assistant for the Labour Law blog established by Professor Mantouvalou and others. She is also on the Executive Committee of Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights.

Natalie holds a BA / MA (Cantab) from Cambridge in Archaeology & Anthropology and an LLM in Transnational Law from King's College London. Prior to starting her PhD, Natalie spent nine years in legal practice (two years in training and seven years as a qualified solicitor) specialising in claims against the police and public authorities.

Hannah Sender
  • Thesis Title: Growing up in a town shaped by displacement: young people, their spatial practices and their futures in Bar Elias, Lebanon
  • Supervisors: Professor Haim Yacobi and Dr Christopher Harker

Hannah's PhD research is a place-based study in Bar Elias, Lebanon, Bar Elias is a town in the Beqaa Valley that has changed since the arrival of tens of thousands of displaced people from Syria following the outbreak of civil war in 2011. Young people living in and around Bar Elias are becoming adults in a time and space characterised by urban change and movement across international and local borders. Whether or not they have been physically displaced, young people’s everyday lives are affected by the socio-spatial conditions of displacement that are unique to Bar Elias. Young people engage in spatial practices, which allow them to get by in, navigate and change these socio-spatial conditions, as they attempt to define themselves and their own futures. 

Victoria Tecca
  • Thesis Title (working): The Work of Violence and its Affects in Dankix
  • Supervisors: Professor Ruth Mandel and Dr Shireen Walton

Victoria Tecca is a PhD candidate in anthropology at UCL. Her research focuses on a makeshift tent settlement in France called Dankix, from which Kurdish migrants attempt to cross into the United Kingdom. She examines the relationship between structural and interpersonal violence, the politics of mobility, and the role of affect and humour in times of 'crisis'.

Sigrid Weber
  • Thesis Title: Controlling a Moving World: the Spread of Civilian Targeting in Displacement Crises

Sigrid Weber is a PhD student at the Department of Political Science at University College London. She holds an MSc in Security Studies from UCL and a BA in Politics and Public Administration from the University of Konstanz, Germany. Sigrid’s PhD research focuses on the question of how population movements and displacement during civil wars affect the overall conflict dynamics and how armed actors respond with violence to local forced migration. Beyond this research in the area of conflict studies, Sigrid has also done a survey experiment on the generosity of war-affected individuals to host internally displaced people in Syria. More generally, she is interested in explaining and predicting forced migration patterns using quantitative methods and secondly in understanding the impact of property rights and war destruction on the return movements of forced migrants. Twitter: @swebera.

Get involved

If you are interested in joining the MRU PhD network please email the network coordinators Rachel Benchekroun (rachel.benchekroun.16@ucl.ac.uk) or Aydan Greatrick (aydan.greatrick.15@ucl.ac.uk).