Funding from Luton Flying Start and NHS Blood & Transplant sees PhD students graduate from University

Mon 07 December, 2020
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Two University of Bedfordshire PhD students graduated from the Institute for Health Research in November, paying thanks to their supervisors and the funding programmes that helped them achieve their goals.

Louisa Donald and Catrin Penn-Jones’ studies were separately co-funded by Luton Flying Start and NHS Blood & Transplant. They celebrated completing their respective PhDs in childhood development and organ donation at the University’s November graduation, which was held online due to current Coronavirus restrictions.

The Institute for Health Research (IHR), based at the University’s Putteridge Bury campus, takes pride in its links with local and national health and social care institutions. The sponsorship of these two students came about through long-term ties with their respective funders which were advertised nationally in the form of PhD ‘Studentships’. The IHR has been a member of the Luton Flying Start’s Partnership Board since its inception, while the Institute has worked with NHS Blood & Transplant for over 10 years.

Luton Flying StartA local organisation, Luton Flying Start is a strategic partnership between Luton Council, the Early Years Alliance and NHS Luton Clinical Commissioning Group. It seeks to provide the best outcomes for children and their families from pregnancy to their fifth birthday, as a foundation to a healthy future. They chose to fund Louisa as a PhD student because her project looked to generate new research evidence to help inform the organisation’s future services in relation to enhancing the role of fathers in a child’s development.

NHS Blood & TransplantMeanwhile, NHS Blood & Transplant holds a long-standing relationship with the University and Professor Gurch Randhawa in particular, who helps to promote organ donation conversations amongst a range of faith and ethnic communities. This national organisation chose to fund Catrin’s PhD journey because her research relating to the potential role of GP practices in organ donor registration would influence policy and practice within the NHS.

Professor Gurch Randhawa, Director of the Institute for Health Research and co-supervisor of both students, said:

Louisa and Catrin are great examples of how the Institute’s partnership approach ensures our staff and post-graduate student research is influencing policy and practice.

“Both students were praised for their excellent PhD applications which they applied to via nationally advertised Studentships, which helped them stand out to the interview panels.

“Louisa and Catrin have been a pleasure to teach and work with, and I want to personally congratulate both graduates on their accomplishments.”


Louisa DonaldWorking as a Research Assistant, Louisa Donald explored the role of fathers in childhood development. The beneficiary of three years of funding, she believes the financial support was invaluable for succeeding and progressing in the way she did. She said:

“I feel tremendously relieved to have completed my PhD. It was an incredibly rewarding experience that has strengthened me as a person and researcher and I am proud of myself for making it this far.

“I couldn't have done the PhD without the three years of funding I received, and I am pleased to have gained a place within the Institute for Health Research on a competitive basis.

“Being funded by Luton Flying Start certainly allowed me to focus solely on my PhD for those crucial three years, however, having to fund myself for the additional two years (Nov 2018-May 2020) allowed me to build my skills and return to work as an associate lecturer and researcher - leading me to where I am now.

“I had a good relationship with my supervisors – Professor Gurch Randhawa, Dr Shuby Puthussery and Dr Rosemary Davidson – and I remain friends with them today, I also met some lovely fellow students who I am still in touch with.”

Louisa now plans to build her research portfolio through publication and experience as a lecturer in the School of Psychology, whilst working as a visiting lecturer and research assistant. She hopes to gain a permanent position either at the University or at another institution following her virtual graduation.

On the virtual ceremony, she said:

The online graduation was an interesting experience and I can see that it took a lot of planning and effort to organise. I think it was thoughtful of the University to want to celebrate their graduating students during these unprecedented times and acknowledge their achievements, for which I am thankful.


Catrin Penn-JonesCatrin Penn-Jones, who has already secured a job as a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the University of Cambridge following PhD research into GP practices and organ donor registration, said:

Completing my PhD at the University of Bedfordshire is the biggest achievement of my life – to see all of my hard work pay off is fantastic.

I’d really like to thank the University and NHS Blood and Transplant for funding me, without it I would not have been able to undertake a PhD. To be selected for a competitive studentship is something I am immensely proud of.

I would also like to thank Zeeshan Asghar for his advice and support throughout my whole PhD and Alia Rashid for her brilliant expertise in designing the training for GP practices on organ donation. My supervisors Dr Chris Papadopoulos and Professor Gurch Randhawa have encouraged me throughout, everybody at the GP practice that worked with me were incredibly supportive and, of course, the biggest thanks goes to my family, friends and my wonderful husband Charlie.

The graduation ceremony last week was very special for me. It was lovely to feel the magnitude of my achievement and a sense of close on this chapter of my life – I even rented the robes and took pictures in my garden.

The University hopes to reschedule in-person graduation ceremonies for early 2021, as soon as the government advises medium to large-scale events can re-commence. Further information can be found online and social media highlights from the ceremonies can be found on the University’s Facebook and Instagram feeds.

For more information on study and research opportunities with the University of Bedfordshire at the Institute for Health Research, visit: www.beds.ac.uk/ihr/

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