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Female PhD students are set Net Zero challenge

Published: 13 February 2023 at 12:28

Smoke billowing out of smokestacks

Project looks to expertise of women working in social sciences and humanities

Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) is helping some of the UK’s largest organisations meet the challenge of transitioning to Net Zero through a unique project focusing solely on the expertise of female researchers.

Funded by the UK Energy Research Centre, the Energy SHINES project is being led by ARU’s Global Sustainability Institute, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge.

Until now, the majority of research carried out to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and meet Net Zero targets, has focused on male-dominated technical disciplines. Energy SHINES will instead use the expertise of women working within social sciences and humanities, who will bring new voices and perspectives to help tackle the issues faced.

Energy SHINES is funding six women PhD researchers to undertake placements with partner organisations – the UK Government, the NHS, Yorkshire Water, Cambridgeshire County Council, and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) – which will see them work intensively on a specific energy-related challenge.

The placements will use social science and humanities expertise to explore issues ranging from how circular economy principles may impact a local authority’s waste disposal statutory duties and financial pressures, to understanding why some interventions are more successful in changing travel behaviours in certain circumstances, locations, or groups of people.

In addition to helping Energy SHINES’ partners, the project will produce reports and recommendations to assist other non-energy organisations as they target a transition to Net Zero.

Project lead Dr Zareen Bharucha, a Senior Research Fellow at ARU’s Global Sustainability Institute, said:

“Organisations in ‘non-energy’ sectors – such as building, infrastructure, water and health – have a key role to play in the transition to Net Zero. However, to achieve this, they need to deal with a number of energy-related challenges. 

“Through our activities, we will meet an increasingly urgent need to transfer insights from energy social sciences to the complex challenge of energy transitions in ‘non-energy’ organisations, particularly emphasising the insights and expertise of women who remain underrepresented in the sector.”


As part of Energy SHINES, ARU is running a policy workshop on 23 February at Homerton College, Cambridge. This event will bring together over 20 female PhD students from across the UK, who will hear from project partners and discuss solutions to problems being faced by organisations outside the energy sector.

Dr Melanie Rohse, a Senior Research Fellow at ARU’s Global Sustainability Institute, said:

“The Energy SHINES policy workshop is an exciting professional development opportunity for women doctoral researchers based at UK universities, to network and collaborate with other women working within energy social sciences and humanities. 

“During the workshop, participants will have the opportunity to hear inspiring keynote speakers addressing the importance of energy social science and humanities to transitions to Net Zero, with a specific focus on non-energy sectors.”