Dr Grace Spencer

Ruskin Fellow

Faculty:Faculty of Health, Medicine and Social Care

School:School of Allied Health and Social Care

Location: Cambridge

Research Supervision:Yes

Grace Spencer is a registered nurse with a background in public health and health promotion.

[email protected]


Grace has worked as a health practitioner and researcher in a number of countries including Brazil, South Africa, Tanzania, Canada, UK and Australia. Her research focuses on young people's health and their health-related practices with reference to concepts of risk, agency and empowerment theory in health promotion. She has a particular interest in youth transitions, migration and social change.  Grace is widely recognised for her expertise in qualitative research methods and ethics with children and young people.

Research interests

  • Health promotion and education
  • Children and young people
  • Sociology of health
  • Transition, migration and social change
  • Qualitative research

Areas of research supervision

  • Young people’s health and wellbeing
  • Health promotion
  • Sociology of health
  • Emerging adulthood
  • Qualitative research


Grace teaches across a range of health and social care programmes related to health promotion, sociology of health, children and young people’s rights and wellbeing, and research methods.


  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Health Promotion, Institute of Education, University of London
  • Master of Research (MRes) in Educational and Social Research Methods, Institute of Education, University of London.
  • Master of Public Health (MPH), King’s College London.
  • BSc Nursing Studies (Honours), University of Edinburgh
  • PGCHE, University of Nottingham.

Memberships, editorial boards

  • Registered Nurse (Adult), Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)
  • NMC Recorded Teacher
  • Executive Board, Public Health Association of Australia (NSW Branch)
  • Higher Education Academy (HEA) Fellow
  • Editor Cogent OA Social Sciences
  • Member of the International Union of Health Promotion and Education

Research grants, consultancy, knowledge exchange

  • Spencer, G. (PI), Thompson, J., Kwankye, S. & Dankyi, E. (current).  Promoting sustainable livelihoods: unpacking possibilities for empowerment with young migrants in Ghana.  Funded by the British Academy Youth Futures Programme (£191,518.85).
  • Spencer, G. (PI) & Thompson, J. (current). The health experiences of migrant children in Ghana – identifying priorities for community-based health promotion.  Funded by the GCRF, Research England (£36,258.75).
  • Spencer, G. (PI) & Thompson J. (current).  Engaging young migrants and their families in enhancing quality care in the management of long term conditions.  Funded by the General Nursing Council Trust (£26,662.)
  • Spencer, G. (PI) & Wilson, C. (2019). Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of university students with long-term conditions.  Funded by the FHEMS Research and Enterprise Investment Programme (REF) Competitive Round 2018/9 (£1,995).
  • The experiences of university students living with a chronic health condition. Britton Craigie Scholarship, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney in collaboration with the University of Hertfordshire (2018).
  • Hidden voices: exploring the health experiences of children who migrate.  World Universities Network (WUN) Flexible Initiatives Fund in collaboration with the University of Sheffield (2017).
  • Identifying research impact in the field of sociology. Funded by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences DVCR Compact ERA Support scheme FOR1608, University of Sydney (2017).
  • Early Careers Conference Travel Award, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney (2015).
  • Levelling the Playing Field: The Sydney Playground Project (SPP).  Funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) (2014-2017).
  • What we think about what adults think” Children and young people’s views on ethics review of clinical research with children. Funded by Nuffield Council on Bioethics.  In collaboration with the University of Sussex, Institute of Education and Nuffield Council on Bioethics (2014).
  • Health-related needs of Family Intervention Projects. London:  Funded by the Department of Health. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.
  • Empowerment, gender and young people’s sexual health: Establishing an intervention research agenda.  Meetings, Planning & Dissemination grant:  Funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research, Canada in Collaboration with the Youth Sexual Health Team, School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada (2011).
  • Young people and alcohol: meanings, practices and contexts. London: Funded by Department of Children, Schools & Families (DCSF). Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London (2009).

Selected recent publications

Grady-Dominguez, P., Ihrig, K., Lane, S., Aberle, J., Beetham, K., Ragen, J., Spencer, G., Sterman, J., Tranter, P., Wyver, S., Bundy, A., 2020. Reframing Risk: Working with Caregivers of Children with Disabilities to Promote Risk-Taking in Play. International Review of Research in Developmental Disabilities, 59, pp. 1-45. doi: 10.1016/bs.irrdd.2020.09.001

Spencer, G., Fairbrother, H., Thompson, J. 2020. Privileges of power – authenticity, representation and the ‘problem’ of children’s voices in qualitative health research. International Journal of Qualitative Research. doi: 10.1177/1609406920958597

Spencer, G., Smith, M., Hoare, K., Fouche, C., Thompson, J. 2020. Health experiences of child migrants in the Western Pacific. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand. doi: 10.1080/03036758.2020.1776739

Spencer, G., Lewis, S., Reid, M., 2019. The agentic Self and uncontrollable body: young people’s management of chronic illness at university. Health,. doi: 10.1177/1363459319889088

Beetham, K., Sterman, J., Bundy, A., Wyver, S., Ragen, J., Engelen, L., Spencer, G., Villeneuve, M., Tranter, P., Naughton, G., 2019. Lower parent tolerance of risk in play for children with disability than typically-developing children. International Journal of Play, 8(2), pp. 174-185. doi: 10.1080/21594937.2019.1643980 

Sternam, J., Villeneuve, M., Spencer, G., Wyver, S., Beetham, K., Naughton, G., Tranter, P., Ragen, J., Bundy, A., 2019. Creating play opportunities on the school playground: Educator experiences of the Sydney Playground Project. Occupational Therapy Journal of Australia, 67(1), pp. 62-73. doi: 10.1111/1440-1630.12624

Thompson, J., Fairbrother, H., Curtis, P., Spencer, G., Smith, M., Hoare K., Fouche, C., 2019. Promoting the health of children and young people who migrate: reflections from four regional reviews. Global Health Promotion. doi: 10.1177/1757975919888452

Spencer, G., Corbin, H. & Miedema, E., 2018. Framing health – opportunities and challenges for health promotion: a critical frame analysis of the Sustainable Development goals. Health Promotion International, 34(4), pp. 847-858. doi: 10.1093/heapro/day036

Spencer, G., Thompson, J., Smith, M., Fairbrother, H., Hoare K., Fouche, C., Curtis, P., 2018. Understanding the health-related experiences of children who migrate. Health Education Journal. doi: 10.1177/0017896918786767

Spencer, G., Lewis, S., Reid, M., 2017. Living with a chronic health condition at university – students’ (ill) health narratives and negotiations of health. Health Education Journal. doi: 10.1177/0017896917738120

Spencer, G., Bundy, A., Wyver, S., Villeneuve, M., Tranter, P., Beetham, K., Ragen, J., Naughton, G., 2016. Uncertainty in the school playground: shifting rationalities and teachers’ sense-making in the management of risks for children with disabilities. Health, Risk and Society, 18(5-6), pp. 301-317. doi: 10.1080/13698575.2016.1238447.

Bundy, A., Wyver, S., Beetham, K., Ragen, J., Naughton, G., Tranter, P., Norman, R., Villeneuve, M., Spencer, G., Honey, A., Simpson, J., Baur, L., Sternam, J., 2015. The Sydney Playground Project – levelling the playing field: a cluster trial of a primary school-based intervention aiming to promote manageable risk-taking in children with disability. BMC Public Health, 15, p. 1125.

Boddy, J., Statham, J., Warwick, I., Hollingworth, K., Spencer, G., 2015. What kind of trouble? Meeting the health needs of ‘troubled families’ through intensive family support. Social Policy and Society, 15(2), pp. 275-288. doi: 10.1017/S1474746415000494

Spencer, G., 2015. Special Issue: Ethics and Health Promotion. Troubling moments in health promotion. Unpacking the ethics of empowerment. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 26(3), pp. 205-209.

Spencer, G., 2015. Schoolyard ethics: getting close, blending in, keeping distance. In Tolich, M. (ed.), 2014. Qualitative Ethics in Practice (Left Coast Press: Walnut Creek, CA).

Spencer, G., Doull, M., 2015. Examining concepts of power and agency in research with young people. Journal of Youth Studies, 18(7), pp. 900-913.

Spencer, G., 2014. Young people and health: Towards a conceptual framework for understanding empowerment. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness & Medicine, 18(1), pp. 3-22.

Spencer, G., Doull, M., Shoveller, J. A., 2014. Examining the concept of choice in sexual health interventions for young people. Youth & Society, 46(6), pp. 756-778.

Spencer, G., 2013. Special Issue: Vulnerability and Risk: Children and Older People in Contemporary Society: ‘The ‘healthy’ Self and ‘risky’ young Other: Young people’s interpretations of health and health-risks. Health, Risk & Society, 15(5) pp. 449-462.

Spencer, G., 2013. Young people’s perspectives on health: Empowerment or risk? Health Education, 113(2), pp. 115-131.

Spencer, G., 2013. Empowerment, Health Promotion and Young People: A Critical Approach (Routledge: Abingdon}.

Recent presentations and conferences

Spencer, G., Lewis, S. & Reid, M., 2018. Trading health – young people’s responses to, and experiences of, (ill) health at university. British Sociological Association (BSA) Medical Sociology Annual Conference, Glasgow Caledonian University, UK. Sept. 2018.

Spencer, G., Lewis, S. & Reid, M., 2016. ‘I didn’t think I needed to tell anyone’ – silent negotiations of health amongst university students with a chronic health condition. Youth, Health and Practical Justice Conference, Sydney, Australia. Dec. 2016.

Spencer, G., Corbin, H. & Miedema, E., 2016. Sustainable Development Goals as health promotion? Interrogating the newly adopted SDGs for the presence of key health promotion values. International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE), Curitiba, Brazil. May 2016.

Spencer, G., Ragen J, Beetham K, Bundy A, & Villeneuve M., 2015. The influence of the social environment on children’s play at school. Asia Pacific Occupation Therapy Congress. Rotorua, New Zealand. Sept. 2015.

Spencer, G., 2015. Young people and health promotion: reframing public health priorities? Population Health Congress, Hobart, Australia. Sept. 2015.

Spencer, G., 2014. Empowerment and health? Exploring the complexities and contradictions for health and education. Invited public lecture for the IS Academie Education and development and University of Amsterdam. Nov. 2014.  

Spencer, G., 2014. Exploring the ‘everyday’: Situated ethics & ethnography in health research with young people. Centre for the Study of Childhood & Youth, University of Sheffield 5th International Conference Researching Children’s Everyday Lives: Socio-Cultural Contexts, July 2014.

Spencer, G., 2014. Situated ethics in participatory research with young people. Paper for the ESRC Research Methods Festival, University of Oxford, July 2014.

Symposium: Convenor:  Spencer, G. (University of Nottingham), 2013. Contributors: Grabowski, D. (Steno Health Promotion Centre, Denmark, Wistoft, K. (University of Greenland) & Miedema, E. (University of Amsterdam). Building partnerships with children and young people: the importance of authenticity to health promotion.  International Union for Health Promotion & Education: Best Investments in Health Conference, Thailand, August 2013.

Spencer, G., 2013. ‘Adults are so hypocritical’: Authenticity and respect in health promotion with young people. International Union for Health Promotion & Education: Best Investments in Health Conference, Thailand, August 2013.

Spencer, G., 2013. ‘Young and dumb’:  Young people’s perspectives on health.  Third ID-Net Conference on Childhood, University of Oxford, July 2013.

Spencer, G., 2012. Being judged and misunderstood:  The impact of public perceptions on young people’s health and well-being – implications for empowerment. Children, Young People &Adults: Extending the Conversation, International Childhood &Youth Research Network, University of Central Lancashire, September 2012.

Spencer, G., 2012. Examining similarity and difference: Young people’s constructions of the ‘healthy’ self’ and ‘risky’ young Other – implications for young people’s health and empowerment.  Celebrating Childhood Diversity; Centre for the Study of Childhood & Youth, University of York, July 2012.