Meet the two new interim IAS Co-Directors

Sep 29, 2023 | IAS News, Meet the team, Transformations (Issue 10)

Meet the two new Interim IAS Co-Directors

Dr Rille Raaper, IAS Co-Director, Social Sciences and Health

Dr Rille Raaper, IAS Co-Director, Social Sciences and Health

Dr Rille Raaper BA, MA, Ph.D., PgCAP, FHEA joins the IAS as a Co-Director (Social Sciences and Health) for the academic year 2023/2024. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree (Cum Laude) in Adult Education from Tallinn University (Estonia) in 2009; a Master’s degree (Cum Laude) in Adult Education from Tallinn University (Estonia) in 2011 and a PhD in Education (ESRC Scholar) from the School of Education (University of Glasgow) in 2016. Shortly after, she joined Durham University as a lecturer with specialism in sociology of higher education. Rille is currently Associate Professor and the Deputy Director of Research in the Durham’s School of Education. Here she talks about her research, interdisciplinary practices, and involvement with the IAS.

‘My research relates to sociological explorations of higher education. I am interested in how universities operate and organise their work in competitive higher education markets, and the particular implications market forces have on current and future students. I tend to adopt interdisciplinary lenses, where sociological, political and philosophical theories meet the field of education, and help to answer complex questions related to governance, power hierarchies and identities. My teaching is closely related to my research, and I have been privileged to develop and teach modules that focus on social inequalities and policy frameworks in higher education. These modules attract students across departments, making my classrooms and teaching practices ultimately interdisciplinary. It is wonderful to see how students with different disciplinary lenses, e.g. from sociology, psychology, geography or even theology or arts, view the field of higher education and contributions they make to our understandings of university life. I work with diverse groups of undergraduate and postgraduate students and together we explore the contemporary state of our universities and imagine better futures for ourselves and future students. Above all, it is the students who inspire me and keep me excited about my work.

The core questions that often frame my research are: what does it mean to be a student today? How do market forces shape the student identity and political citizenship? I am deeply passionate about the issues that many students face today, including but not limited to the rising costs of higher education, consumer rights and complaints, student mental health. To deal with any of these topics successfully requires an interdisciplinary approach where the politics of higher education overlap with the social life of university. I borrow theories from political science, sociology and philosophy to build layers of understanding regards the forces that shape student identity and experience. In my experience, the field of education is ultimately interdisciplinary, and even if I lean towards sociological questions and linguistic explorations, to answer these questions requires engagement with a wide range of disciplinary lenses and theories.

My recent book ‘Student Identity and Political Agency: Activism, Representation and Consumer Rights’ (Routledge, 2023) is an example of years’ worth of interdisciplinary thinking. Examining the intersections of education, sociology and politics, the book provides a unique account of the contemporary student identity and experience. I argue that the market forces that brutally shape the students are also what trigger, enable and disable certain forms of agency. My current projects build on this, exploring students in a variety of new and altered settings: student influencers on social media platforms such as TikTok (IAS major project 2022-23) and students as complaint-makers in consumerist higher education.

Finally, I am proud to be part of many active research networks at Durham University and beyond. I am a member of the Higher and Further Education research cluster at the School of Education, and the Higher Education and Social Inequalities research group at the Department of Sociology. I am also a founding member of the First-Generation Scholars Network at the School of Education. I further contribute to the university work through my membership of Durham County Council and Durham University Research Engagement Steering Group. Since 2019, I am an Editor of the journal Critical Studies in Education, promoting ground-breaking, interdisciplinary and critical research in the global field of education.

I am excited to join the IAS and look forward to many thought-provoking and inspiring research conversations. I also look forward to meeting colleagues and students from all career stages and backgrounds who want to learn more about the IAS and get involved in our activities.’

Dr Margarita Staykova, IAS Co-Director, Science

Dr Margarita Staykova, IAS Co-Director, Science

Margarita Staykova joins the IAS as a Co-director of Science from 1 October 2023. She is currently Associate Professor in the Department of Physics, having previously frequently hopped between departments and disciplines. Margarita had an MSc in Molecular Biology from Sofia University, Bulgaria but realised early on that a physical perspective on biology interests her more. This led her to do a MSc in Biophysics from Humboldt University, Berlin, followed by a PhD in Biophysics. She then worked as a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Germany, and joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Princeton University, where she developed micro-engineering approaches to manipulate and explore biological matter.

‘In my group in Durham, we build synthetic cells to understand the physical principles governing biological cells. Specifically, I investigate the properties of the cellular membranes- how they sustain and respond to forces, transmit mechanical and electric signals, contribute to the integrity and morphological shape transformations of cells. Some of our projects focus on fundamental scientific explorations. In others, we use our systems and findings to inform industrial formulations. I am frequently collaborating with Science and Technology Studies scholars in exploring what shapes scientific agendas, what is the relation between scientific discoveries and societal values, and how do we engage in responsible research and innovation. A large component of what constitutes responsible science for me, is the curiosity to interact and learn from other academic disciplines and stakeholders.

I take a real pleasure in the opportunity to join the IAS, and to contribute to its further development, and engage with its wider community. My first contact with the IAS was in 2019 when I led the IAS project Material Imagination, together with Professor Tiago Moreira (Sociology). The project combined laboratory experiments on biohybrid materials (materials made of living cells and artificial scaffolds), ethnographic laboratory studies and stakeholder engagement, exploring methods of fiction and speculative design. The interdisciplinary footing of the project, enabled by the IAS support, significantly broadened its initial scope and ambitions. We were able to engage with our innovations beyond the excitement of our laboratory findings, examine them from evolutionary and ecological perspectives and propose new narratives for the field of engineered living materials, in a joint work with the Royal Society. This year I also had tthe pleasure to lead another project Opportunities in Pollution with Dr Kimberley Jamie (Sociology) that saw a large collaboration between colleagues from all faculties on matters of pollution and tested new methodological approaches to interdisciplinarity. Both projects have enormously enriched my scientific aspirations and networks, and I am passionate to offer similar opportunities to other colleagues.

My activities in the IAS over the next one year will be focused on community building. The IAS is a home to a large network of international fellows and colleagues from across Durham, who have been associated with various IAS projects over the years. Together with expanding and building on the strengths of this community, we are passionate to create more opportunities for early career researchers to help them build their interdisciplinary ideas and leadership.

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