Leicester welcomes its world-changing Future 50 researchers

The next generation of world-changing researchers was given a warm welcome by the University of Leicester this week. 

Building on the success of its £9m investment in 100 new researchers in November 2021, the University committed a further £5.5m for 50 more funded doctoral opportunities to commence this academic year. 

The latest cohort of researchers, dubbed the Future 50, attended an official welcome event on campus, on Thursday 30 November. 

The researchers work across all three of the University’s Colleges, and its five interdisciplinary Research Institutes: Digital Culture; Environmental Futures; Precision Health; Space; and Structural and Chemical Biology. 

Their research spans a huge breadth of topics. 

Shelby Navone (34) will conduct research aimed at improving inclusivity and accessibility for disabled and neurodivergent people in digital performance and culture. 

She said: “The sector, which includes museums, still has countless gaps where improvements need to be made to make them inclusive and accessible for all. The industry is fired up to make these improvements and I hope my research will help to find a way to implement some of them.” 

Shelby added: “Getting a F50 scholarship feels like all the pieces of my life are coming together. To be at the University of Leicester, in the Institute for Digital Culture, with the Museum Studies academic team supporting me, I feel like we are a powerhouse, ready to make a difference to people’s lives.”  

School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences researcher, Giorgie Goiati (26), will spend the next three-and-a-half years exploring how to create an effective real-time system to enable people with autism to interact with their own thinking through music. 

He said: “I use a headset to monitor their brainwaves, which I then run through artificial intelligence software which translates them into music. 

“Preliminary work has shown that subjects have been excited to see how their thoughts have been interpreted into music. I hope the research will help them to understand the challenges they face in life. It’s quite exciting to bring technical innovation and human impact together in this way.”  

Pictured from left: Giorgie Goiati, Shelby Navone, Sharon Freeman and Monika Akstinaite.

Sharon Freeman (51) has put her career in education on hold to investigate how to empower refugees to capitalise on their skills, while they are learning English.

She said: “When refugees arrive in the UK and spend time on ESOL English language courses, it’s like they are silenced. They are viewed purely as ‘just’ refugees, but many come with skills, professions and qualifications. It might take them five years or more to finally be able to converse comfortably in English and that’s when those skills are often put to use, so there’s a real need for them to be able to capitalise on their skills much, much earlier.”

School of Chemistry researcher, Monika Akstinaite (22), is investigating single atom catalysts that have an immensely mild effect on the environment. She hopes the work will lead to the chemical, energy and pharmaceutical industries benefiting from more sustainable and cost-effective processes.

She said: “I am the first to do a PhD in my family and I see this as an exciting opportunity. I completed my undergraduate and masters here at Leicester, which was a challenge in the first semester as, coming from Lithuania, English isn’t my first language. But I made new friends and had amazing support from the academic staff, and I can now say Leicester is an incredibly inclusive and supportive university for international students. To secure a F50 scholarship is an honour and a dream come true.”

The Future 50 scholarships are central to the University's strategy, Citizens of Change: Our Second Century, which was launched in 2021 and seeks to reinforce and expand ambitious innovation, research and enterprise in Leicester over the next decade.

Professor Richard Thomas, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise and Dean of the Doctoral College at the University of Leicester, said: “Nurturing the next generation of early career researchers is a key component of the University of Leicester’s world-leading research strategy.

“We recognise and value the huge contribution that postgraduate researchers make to our research environment, which is why we have built on our £9m investment in 2021 to bring new talent to Leicester.

“It was fantastic to see our Future 50 scholars gather for the first time at the welcome event. A particular source of pride is the diversity of the cohort: with 15 nationalities represented. The breadth of research projects they are embarking on is quite remarkable, and their work will bolster Leicester’s reputation as a research-intensive institution.”