I'm a medical anthropologist and lecturer at the Open University. I am a Fellow the Royal Anthropological Institute and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA). Beginning Autumn 2019, I am the Qualifications Lead for Health and Social Care at the Open University.
My specialist area in research and teaching is death and dying, with an emphasis on end-of-life care. I use my anthropological skills to disrupt the normative concepts in end-of-life care by foregrounding people’s everyday experiences and the structural and discursive elements that shape how care is provided. I am currently involved in several projects about palliative and end-of-life care. I supervise doctoral students in this field, as well as in medical anthropology and sociology more generally.
I hold a PhD from the University of Cambridge (2014). My NIHR CLAHRC-funded doctoral research ethnographically examined English end-of-life care from policy, to practice, to everyday experiences focusing on choice and advance care planning. Findings from my doctoral research have been used in academic publications, policy consultations about end-of-life care, degree-level teaching materials, and open-access education.
Previously I was a research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where I held the Mildred Blaxter postdoctoral fellowship from the Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness. I have also worked at the University of Cambridge within the Cambridge Palliative and End of Life Care Group.
I play an active role in the American Anthropological Association's Dying and Bereavement special interest group, which is part of the Society for Medical Anthropology. From 2013 until 2019, I was Membership Secretary and Council Member for the Association for the Study of Death and Society. I am a former co-convener of the British Sociological Association Social Aspects of Death, Dying and Bereavement (DDB) study group.
My research sits broadly within medical anthropology and medical sociology, drawing primarily on ethnographic methods. Through these lenses, I address normative concepts within end-of-life care to understand the complexity of care delivery and experiences. To this end, I focus on policy, organisational approaches, and personal experiences of living with life-limiting conditions and end-of-life care. By focusing on normative concepts in end-of-life care – such as choice – I juxtapose these elements to examine how end-of-life care is changing and how these concepts shape the way death and dying is experienced. My research is part of an emerging body of work that attends to relationality and care. It contributes to a wider policy and practice shift in advance care planning and end-of-life care from standardised approaches to ones that acknowledge the relational aspects of care and future decision-making.
My two current main research projects examine palliative and end-of-life care, working closely with clinical collaborators. I am a Co-Investigator on an ESRC-funded project, Forms of Care, working with Prof Simon Cohn and Dr Annelieke Driessen at LSHTM. Here we are critically seeking to understand what not intervening looks like and how we can appreciate such ‘non-actions’ as care. My other project, working with Prof Richard Holti, is the InGap Study - describing how geriatric medicine and palliative care work together to provide care for older patients.
I use my experience of conducting research on end-of-life care to build research capacity around death and dying more generally. For instance, I created and facilitated a workshop about social science research on end-of-life care. This has resulted in several publications and spin-off events, as well as a dedicated virtual group to foster collaborations and share research opportunities and outputs. My interest in the links between epistemology, methodology, and personal experiences of conducting research in death studies has led me to editing several publications about research methodology, including a co-edited book Researching Death, Dying and Bereavement. I also regularly mentor doctoral students and early-career researchers, and I have capacity to supervise more doctoral students at the Open University - contact me if interested in our latest studentships or about future projects.
I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and use my knowledge in teaching to inform the learning design and day-to-day execution of Open University modules in health and social care. As Qualifications Lead within my department I have oversight over all the modules we offer and the degree pathways available to our students. Within our department, I have personally taught on Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 modules and contribute to doctoral training and supervision.
Drawing on my research expertise, I significantly contributed to the making of K220 (Death, Dying and Bereavement), particularly the block on end-of-life care and learning guides on ethics. This module is distinctive in supportively engaging students in wide range of issues about death and dying. Importantly, K220 is suitable for those who want an awareness about end-of-life care as well as outlining the skills and knowledge for health and social care professionals about providing end-of-life care. My research has also been used to inform activities in several Level 3 modules around research methods. In my teaching, my primary concern is to foster critical thinking and reflection using social theory and empirical examples.
Previously at other institutions, I have taught medical anthropology, medical sociology, and social research methods at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. I have also been involved in the education of undergraduate and postgraduate medical students.
In my work, I am committed to using insights from the social sciences to inform our understanding of death and dying, with a primary focus on end-of-life care. To do this, I have created outputs to reach and engage with different audiences, ranging from blog posts, to animations, and online interactives, as well as sitting on the steering groups of other research and public engagement projects. I am available to consult and for media appearances related to death and dying.
For example, working with colleagues across academic and palliative care, I have written several short pieces that reflect on current end-of-life care practice. For example, we have written about the use of language and palliative care, and the state of end-of-life care in the UK. All of these illustrate a commitment to engage with how end-of-life care is currently done and what considering social science perspectives may do to improve this field.
Since joining the Open University, I have produced several open-access media resources drawing on my research and expertise in the field. These include: video recordings of a death and dying seminar series, covering topics from dying trajectories to pet death; an animation about death rituals around the world; a short video about my research and language in end-of-life care; and a drama with related interactive about advance care planning using the example of a same-sex couple. These resources are available for others to use in their teaching.
I have worked with Prof Scott Murray and his team to develop teaching and group-discussion guides to be used alongside videos about dying trajectories. These can be used to prompt reflective engagement with the core concepts covered in the videos and enable people to consider their own preferences and assumptions around dying.
I currently sit on the steering group for the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) 2020 exhibition about doctors and death. I have previously facilitated public-facing events about death and dying, including death cafes, seminar series, knowledge exchange events, and conferences.
In my capacity as a researcher, I maintain several external collaborations with other academics and healthcare professionals. Current collaborations include: