The Leicester Institute for Advanced Studies

Scholar spotlight

Illustration of a brain with University of Leicester buildings surrounding it.

Meet the newest members at the Institute for Advanced Study and discover their passion for interdisciplinary research.

LIAS has a distinct focus. Working across all three colleges and beyond the University, the institute supports challenge-led and curiosity-driven interdisciplinary research to develop Citizens of Change.

We place a spotlight on the wonderful work of our associate fellows, fellow alumni, and their hosts. For more information, please email

Diane Levine

In this spotlight we hear more about LIAS Associate Fellow Dr Diane Levine and Fellow Alumni Professor Linda Theron’s research on trying to understand what helps Africa(n) children and young people cope well when life is hard, including their journey to success with a newly awarded Wellcome Trust Discovery grant.

Diane Levine headshotSometimes you get to meet researchers doing inspiring work, and sometimes they turn out to be exactly as you hoped they would be. In 2018, when Dr Di Levine (School of Criminology, Sociology and Social Policy) sent an email to Professor Linda Theron (University of Pretoria) whose work on Africa(n)-aligned resilience Di had followed for some years, she wasn’t expecting a response. Imagine her delight, then, when Linda replied positively, and a dialogue began. Linda was thrilled to learn about digital methods from Di and their potential to shed new light on and champion Africa(n)-aligned resilience.

The collaboration began with a successful application to the British Academy/Newton Fund Mobility scheme (£10K). Key to the success of that application was an endorsement from the then newly-formed Leicester Institute for Advanced Studies because of the interdisciplinary nature of the collaboration. It wasn’t grand interdisciplinarity linking distant disciplinary relatives – just two relatively close cousin disciplines working together towards a mutual goal, and more importantly establishing that there were shared values on which to build.

Small pots of money followed, facilitated through internal and external research funding. First, through successful application to the University’s Research England GCRF allocation, focused on exploring links between the air quality and youth resilience in South Africa (£20K), and the extension of the collaboration into physics and epidemiology at Leicester, and to the SAMRC.

Then, just before COVID-19 hit, we were awarded £50,000 from the British Academy’s Humanities and the Social Sciences Tackling Global Challenges scheme. The purpose of this project was to explore the mental health risks faced by emerging adults in African townships. Prior resilience studies had left gaps in understanding the factors influencing resilience. We were privileged to work with 60 young adults from a South African township in producing new insights into the topic, and will be eternally grateful to the British Academy for honourably sticking to the financial commitment, even when the ODA research budget was decimated. We recently held our closing workshop for this project with sixty practitioners, young people, policy, police and civil society organisations, and look forward to the two further journal articles currently under review being published. Keep an eye out for our forthcoming graphic novel based on our findings.

We are now taking a new step in our collaboration journey. Following two co-productive workshops with young people in South Africa and Nigeria about their resilience pathways and depression, a LIAS Fellowship, Linda was successful in leading a Wellcome Trust Discovery Award application (£5M).

Here, we aim to uncover the specific blend of risks and resources predicting depression trajectories among African youth. With Africa poised to have the largest youth population, understanding is urgent, especially as 1 in 5 African youth are 'not in education, employment, or training' (NEET), heightening vulnerability to depression. Following 18-24-year-old NEET youth in Nigeria and South Africa (N=1600) for 24 months will reveal the predictors of depression. Further exploration with a subset will offer insights into resilience mechanisms, guiding tailored interventions crucial for African youth's mental health.

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  1. Selected outputs: Digital stories; Digital Storytelling in Low Resource Settings: a guide for teachers, psychologists and youth workers; African Emerging Adult Resilience: insights from a sample of township youth; Digital Storytelling with South African Youth: a critical reflection
  2. Highveld Air Pollution Priority Area in South Africa
  3. Sources of mental health: a video by Tsietsi Morobi (5.57 minutes); Sources of mental health: a video by Tsietsi Morobi (2.48 minutes); Sources of mental health: a video by Tsietsi Morobi (12.28 minutes); The inhibitors and enablers of emerging adult COVID-19 mitigation compliance in a township context; Resilience to depression among emerging adults in South Africa: insights from digital diaries (under review); NEET and resilience: The lived experiences of a sample of South African emerging adults (under review)

Kaushalya Ariyarathne

In this spotlight, we hear from fellow Kaushalya Ariyarathne, academic coordinator and lecturer at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, to find out how impactful her time at the University was and how they have progressed since.

Kaushalya Ariyarathne standing with Nishan Canagarajah.“Although I was able to spend a very short period of time in the Summer of 2023 at the Leicester Institute of Advance Studies (LIAS) due to my care responsibilities in Sri Lanka, it was a very important milestone in my professional life.

“After completing my PhD in 2021, this fellowship provided me with the opportunity to reflect on my research and its new dimensions and trajectories. My deepest gratitude goes to Professor Clare Anderson and Professor Teela Sanders for providing me the support and guidance.

“The team at LIAS, Charlotte King and Kellie Moss, and the dedicated Fellows Room also created a very warm working environment. The University of Leicester in summer is a scenic, green environment, and the diversity of the students and staff makes it even more beautiful.

“One of the most important meetings I had during my fellowship was the meeting with the Vice Chancellor Professor Nishan Canagarajah who is of Sri Lankan origin. Professor Canagarajah was humble enough to make time to meet me at very short notice. He emphasized the need to improve research collaborations between the state universities of Sri Lanka, including the University of Colombo, where I work, and the University of Leicester.

During my time at Leicester, I was also able to present my research on the topic of “Colonial Laws and Sexualities: Sri Lankan Nachchi (a category of transgender) Sex Workers Everyday Engagement with the Law.” The objective was to share some of the emerging themes of the research on Nachchi sex workers in Colombo, Sri Lanka, which I intend to choose as my post-doctoral research.

“There was a good response from the participants and Professor Teela Sanders informed me about the Palgrave Advances in Sex Work Studies, which I consider as a very good opportunity to publish my post-doctoral research.

“Currently, I am working on a proposal for this book project. With the feedback of the presentation, I have submitted an abstract to a book project titled: “Transnational Contact Zones: African and South Asian Sexualities and Genders” to be published by the University of Pretoria and the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. Currently, the chapter is in the peer review process.

“During my time here I was also able to meet with Nic Farmer, the Liberation Officer of the University of Leicester, to discuss their role in the University and student activities in state universities of Sri Lanka.

“Further I discussed with Professor Clare Anderson, the possibility of expanding her research on colonial prisons, to Sri Lanka. More importantly, LIAS allowed me to network with other fellows, while the pristine beauty of the city of Leicester made my fellowship an unforgettable experience.” 

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Jiamiao Hu

In this spotlight we hear from fellow Jiamiao Hu, associate professor from Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University, P.R. China, to find out how impactful his time at the University was and how he has progressed since.

Jiamiao Hu standing in front of a large sign“I am very honoured to be hosted as a GCRF fellow by Leicester Institute for Advanced Studies in 2019. During my three-month stay at the University of Leicester, I had the opportunity to closely collaborate with Professor Bee K Tan (College of Life Sciences) and Dr Clare Gillies (Leicester General Hospital). Our collaboration centered around a systematic review with meta-analysis, aiming to quantify the relationship between blood lipid levels and blood sugar levels for pregnant women during their pregnancies.

“The findings of our study revealed that elevated triglyceride levels may be predictive of the development of gestational diabetes. This discovery suggests that women with abnormal blood lipid levels should be attentive to their risk of developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy. The findings were published in a peer-reviewed journal eclinicalmedicine with IF=17.033.

“My visit to Leicester in the summer of 2019 greatly strengthened my collaboration with Professor Bee K Tan. In fact, Professor Bee was subsequently invited to pay a four-day visit as a special guest to my institute in China. The reciprocal visits greatly deepened our understanding towards each other’s research areas and laid a solid foundation for our follow-up collaboration.

“Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we made great effort to continue our collaboration. During the pandemic, we successfully secured a CSC funding to support a ten-month visit to University of Leicester again. Furthermore, immediately after COVID-19 travel restrictions were lifted, we were able to bring this visit to fruition.

“Currently, I am working with Professor Bee K Tan as an Honorary Visiting Fellow on research that explores the impact of high blood pressure on pregnant women. We firmly believe that our ongoing collaboration on the topic of pregnancy-related metabolic syndromes will make a valuable contribution to more comprehensive understanding towards the pregnant-related metabolic disorders. The findings may have the potential to improve antenatal care guidance and benefit women at higher risk of metabolic disorders during pregnancy.

“Reflecting on my story, I am deeply grateful for the outcomes from these collaborative projects, as they have significantly influenced my career trajectory. I have to say these achievements all began with that thrilling opportunity provided by LIAS in 2019.

“More importantly, LIAS not only provides opportunities for fellows to work with a single supervisor, but also organises numerous networking events during their stay. These events have facilitated extensive collaborations between scholars from different disciplines and universities. In summary, based on my experience, I can confidently say that LIAS acts as an enzyme, which greatly catalyses collaborations between researchers and inspiring novel ideas.

“Currently, I continue working closely with Professor Shaoling Lin as a team with 12 postgraduate students at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University. Our research interests mainly focus on innovative food technologies. Specifically, our particular areas of interest revolve around the exploration of novel metabolic-boosting foods with benefits for expectant mothers, as well as development of novel non-thermal sterilisation technology for food processing. Through the pursuit of these research activities, we hope our work will contribute to the promotion of healthier eating, optimise food preservation and consequently mitigate food wastage. We anticipate more opportunities to work with other scholars from related disciplines. We believe your expertise and insights would be invaluable in advancing our research.

“In conclusion, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to LIAS, not only for their help on my research and career development, but also for numerous opportunities for scholars they created. I wish LIAS continued success in all its endeavours.”

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Ipshita Nath

In this spotlight we hear from fellow Ipshita Nath, Post-Doctoral Fellow at Department of History (History of Medicine), University of Saskatchewan, Canada to find out more about her research and time at LIAS.

Ipshita Nath headshot“My experience as a LIAS Visiting Fellow at the University of Leicester allowed me to liaise with scholars in the fields of history, law, and clinical sciences, as well as medical practitioners (respiratory diseases) in the UK.

“This helped me plan my next research project tentatively titled, Diseased Behind Bars: Histories of Tuberculosis in Indian Prisons, Past and Present, spanning the nineteenth century to the post-COVID-19 pandemic era. This study will consider prisons as distinct medical sites for TB investigation, focusing on specialized research regarding their unique limitations and failures. This is critical given that the recent improvements in India’s TB control metrics are not reflected in prisons.

“The Lancet Public Health, in July 2023, has brought to light that prisoners in India are five times more at risk of TB as compared to the civilian population, this project would be timely and pertinent. The situation in Indian prisons is all the more glaring because while the performance in various metrics of TB control improved overall in the country (according to the TB Report of 2022), the same is not observed in prisons.

“Furthermore, TB in Indian prisons has only been given cursory attention by medical historians, which would make my study the first dedicated monograph on TB control and management measures in Indian prisons, aimed at revealing historical continuities in limitations, by mapping them alongside developments in penal reforms and public health. It will particularly highlight how TB measures translate differently in case of incarcerated populations that are an under-served section of society, in comparison to the free population, thereby revealing links between prison spaces and TB infection.

“This makes it necessary to examine prisons as a unique medical site of investigation requiring specialized research. For this study, I will create an interdisciplinary methodological approach in medical humanities by incorporating ethnographic tools to address the limitations in archival materials, thus marking an advance over the existing scholarship on TB in India.

“Furthermore, the fellowship provided me tremendous exposure and the resources to initiate and participate in a number of activities. I organized a conference: Personal Writing and Textual Practices in the British Empire, C19th-20th, One-day conference, University of Leicester, Leicester Institute for Advanced Studies (LIAS), Friday 14 April 2023.

“I gave a talk, ‘Land of Pestilence’: Death, Disease, and ‘Doctorly’ Memsahibs in Colonial India: Centre for Victorian Studies, Spring Seminar Series: CVS, University of Leicester, UK. 29 March 2023. I also chaired a panel for the University of Leicester, School of History, Politics, and International Relations (HyPIR) conference on health and diseases. Furthermore, I initiated a round-table discussion on Tuberculosis in prisons with a multidisciplinary cohort.”

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