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Out of the 8 European Research Council Starting Grants secured by the University of Oxford in 2015-2016, 5 were awarded to Early Career Researchers (ECRs) in the Social Sciences Division.

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These results add to the already outstanding performance by ECRs based in the division who, this year, secured 5 Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowships, 4 British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowships and 7 ESRC Future Research Leaders awards (more information).

Professor Roger Goodman, Head of the Social Sciences Division, said: “We are thrilled that five ERC Starting Grants have been secured by early career researchers based in the Division. Besides being very prestigious, the ERC awards represent a fantastic opportunity for early career academics to continue their path towards independent research. At the same time, the awards constitute a major asset for the Departments, and the Division, as these early career researchers will without doubt produce ground-breaking research throughout the next five years.

Below, the new ERC award holders explain how they will benefit from this funding opportunity:

Dr Cathryn Costello, Refugee Studies Centre
“So far, my research has focused on refugees and migrants in the EU, but I wanted to broaden my approach, geographically and methodologically. This grant will allow me to do this by: 1) re-examining refugee protection through a lens of mobility and migration, and 2) bringing scholarship on refugee law into conversation with the practices of the refugee regime, in particular to subject the latter to legal scrutiny. 

Dr Michael Dee, School of Archaeology
“My project centres on the discovery that in the past the Earth was struck by several intense bursts of radiation from space. Furthermore, archives of wood exist in which the age of each tree-ring is exactly known, and growing plants retain the radiocarbon concentration from the year in which they grew. Thus, we know exactly when the bursts of radiation occurred. My project focuses on the development of a new dating method relying on these facts. This method should make it possible to date, for the first time, several of the world's most important early civilisations to the exact year.”

 Katerina Douka, School of Archaeology
“When studying human evolution and prehistoric archaeology, one of the major difficulties stems from the dearth of fossils of extant (early Homo sapiens) and extinct human species: millions of fragmented bones can be discovered in an excavation but there is not currently a fast, cheap and reliable approach to separate human bones from those of animals. My project addresses this issue through a novel combination of peptides fingerprinting, ancient DNA, radiocarbon dating and stable isotope analyses to identify new human fossils from sites across Asia dating from ~100-200 thousand years ago. One of the main goals is finding new remains of the Denisovans: an extinct human species discovered in Siberia in 2010 on the basis of ancient DNA retrieved from a finger bone.”

Dr Nicole Stremlau, Centre for Socio-legal studies
“In my ERC-funded research, I will explore how social media are transforming the ways in which people leave conflict but are also able to reconnect with conflict from a distance. My work, which includes significant and extended fieldwork, will focus on some of Africa’s most conflict-affected regions and offers unprecedented opportunities to assess the impact of current and new policies for the diffusion of the Internet to the most remote areas of the globe. The project will analyse online dimensions of violent conflicts and the use of social media by refugees fleeing conflict, as well as those seeking to return to participate in conflict.”

Silvia Valenzuela Lamas, School of Archaeology
“My research seeks to understand the impact of political systems on mobility and animal husbandry production. Therefore, I characterise animal husbandry in the past, I look for changes through time, and I correlate the results with the socio-economic system of the area and time of study. My ERC-StG project is the result of this long-term research. By combining zooarchaeology, GIS analysis, isotopic chemistry and ancient DNA, we will be able to know if any changes in animal (and human) mobility occurred in the Western Mediterranean between the Late Bronze Age and Late Antiquity, and whether this is the key to explain the changes observed on husbandry production.” (Silvia is taking her ERC award to Sheffield University, where she has been offered a full-time permanent post).

The Social Sciences Division is committed to supporting early career researchers to become the next generation of research leaders. To support prospective candidates with their funding applications, we offer briefings on the funders’ landscape; workshops focusing on how to write strong research proposals; feedback on funding applications and individual advice on specific funding schemes; mock interviews and peer-review for research projects.