IWD 2024: Spotlighting MCR women’s* research at Hertford

Image of Sylvana Vilca-Melendez in formal hall at Hertford College.

My name is Sylvana and I am a second year DPhil student at Hertford College. My academic thesis is focused on functional magnetic resonance spectroscopy (fMRS) under the expert guidance of Professor Phil Cowen, Dr. Beata Godlewska, and Dr. Betina Ip. The integration of my fMRS work with psychopharmacology is particularly exciting. I’m exploring the neurochemical changes of ketamine (esketamine), a promising new treatment for depression, aiming to shed light on its glutamatergic mechanisms. Prior to Oxford, I completed an MSc in Translational Neuroscience at Imperial College London, where I collaborated with the Centre for Psychedelic Research. Looking ahead, I envision harnessing the power of fMRS to further understand psychedelics substances. I have recently been appointed President of Oxford Psychedelic Society and I am really grateful to able to cultivate a vibrant community for discussing and debating the latest research on psychedelic science.

Image of Lara Bampfield, on a field project.

Leaving behind my trusty pickaxe and magnifying glass, my research ventures into the uncharted territory of the digital frontier. Here, I wield state-of-the-art technology to document and analyse Old Babylonian (OB) and Kassite Cylinder Seals. These seals, small cylindrical objects crafted from stone, clay, or similar materials, bear intricate engravings depicting scenes or designs. Employed in ancient Mesopotamia and neighbouring regions, they served as signatures or official marks, rolled onto clay or wax to authenticate containers, doors, or documents.

Rich in religious, mythological, and historical imagery, cylinder seals were pivotal in the administrative, legal, and commercial affairs of ancient societies. My research endeavours to bridge gaps in existing scholarship on OB and Kassite cylinder seals, leveraging digital humanities methodologies to enhance preservation and accessibility. By digitising museum collections and employing tools such as SIANE (CyAn), VIA, and the Efficient-Det Object Detector, I underscore the imperative of making these artefacts readily available for scholarly inquiry.

Methodologically, I elucidate the intricacies of data collection, encompassing both traditional and digital approaches to seal documentation. Drawing from archaeological and computational methodologies, I present a comprehensive framework for analysis, complemented by a detailed case study illustrating their practical application.

Central to my investigation is the documentation and analysis of cylinder seals. Through digital unwrappings, 3D modelling, and the development of specialised software like the “Person” Detector, I facilitate the identification and categorisation of human figures depicted on seals. A curated database ensures easy access, with a focus on data cleaning and organisation to extract vital information pertaining to iconography and inscriptions.

Furthermore, my research showcases how digital tools facilitate the search, identification, and comparison of recurring motifs and symbols, shedding light on evolving seal styles and iconographic trends across temporal horizons.

Image of Filipa Paes.

My name is Filipa, and I’m a legal philosopher at Hertford College! I’m in the second year of my DPhil and my research looks into the idea of degrees in law. With my doctorate I ask some provocative questions about our current legal frameworks, for example:

  • How can courts justify their decision-making when dealing with questions of degree, especially when the expressions their interpreting are context-sensitive or the items they are measuring are immeasurable?
  • How can we reconcile the need for some flexibility in the law (which degree expressions, such as, often used terms like ‘reasonable’, ‘substantial’, ‘proportional’, allow for) with the rule of law’s concern with certainty and predictability in the law?
  • And might grading legal resolutions provide for a more effective way of responding to and resolving issues in our community in certain legal contexts (rather than the guilty/not guilty, liable/not liable bivalence)?

The ultimate ambition of my research is to sharpen our understanding of the way in which law helps us live better together, as a community. Underlying this ambition lie deeply philosophical questions which I hope to address in my wider philosophical work: Why do we treat each other as adversaries? How can we understand each other better? Is language and the need to communicate what unites us? Is there any special value in choosing the nuanced middle over opting for bivalence?

In the last year or so, I started working towards sharing my research and philosophical insights with the general public. My newsletter, Monthly Philosophical Read, serves as a forum to prompt reflective thinking through brief analysis of topical issues. I cover a wide range of topics, such as discussion s on the way we relate to each other in our communities; questions of language, its use, and rhetoric; justice and the philosophy of a good and nuanced life; the philosophy of technology; debates on education; social criticism, and much more! The MPR is my monthly call to action; a call to pause and reflect.

I am a founding member of The Collective of Women in Legal Philosophy, an inclusive and supportive platform for the exchange of knowledge and the fostering of imaginative ideas and critical thinking in legal philosophy. I also co-convene the Oxford Jurisprudence Discussion Group, a forum of the University of Oxford for discussing original work in legal theory as well as moral and political philosophy. I’m the Social Secretary for Hertford MCR this year and have recently been elected MCR President for 2024/2025.

Image of Ziyu Deng, delivering a talk.

My name is Ziyu Deng, and I am a first-year DPhil at the Oxford Internet Institute. My DPhil research focuses on the communication mechanisms of online misogyny, and for the Herford IWR blogpost, I would like to share my recent paper accepted at the 2024 conference of British Sociology Association.

The paper, “They don’t mean to hurt: Female gamers’ reluctance to recognize and confront sexism in gaming”, addresses female gamers’ perception and reaction to the rampant sexism in gaming. Building on previous studies’ findings of women’s quitting and gender-masking behaviors as self-protection mechanisms in the hostile environment of gaming, my research further points out that female gamers often shift to only playing with male gamers they know in real-life, as a risk management strategy for potential exposure to harassment and verbal abuse. However, although real-life male acquaintances are not likely to express hostile sexism to them, female gamers who choose to retreat to private circles found that in such juxtaposition between the virtual gaming world and real-world social relationships, it becomes even more difficult to confront sexism on spot, because of its often benevolent appearance and the social cost of damaging personal relationships with the sexist offender, who can be their friends, romantic partners, family members and work colleagues. Therefore, female gamers’ retreat to private circles of gaming and reluctance to challenge sexism in these circles, while on one hand, protects them from escalated confrontation with male gamers, also further solidifies existing gender hierarchy in gaming.

Image of Nell Miles in a botanical setting.

My name is Nell and I’m a master’s student investigating the ecological outcomes of an English policy called ‘Biodiversity Net Gain’. Put simply, Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) mandates that new developments – including housing, industrial warehouses, offices, and such – deliver a 10% gain in biodiversity compared to what the site was like before development happened. I research the type of habitats delivered under this policy and how functional they might be for England’s wildlife. The work touches on ecology, some economics, some policy and governance – all the good stuff!

I completed the undergraduate Biology course here at Oxford and moved straight onto my master’s. At Hertford, I was the Environment and Ethics Representative for a few years and still work with college to try to reduce our own biodiversity footprint – I have to practice what I preach! I’m also the Women*’s Officer for the LGBTQ+ Society and work with Nature Positive Universities, an awesome UNEP programme that helps universities create positive impacts for nature.

I love my research because of how closely I work on the interface between science and decision-making. Biodiversity Net Gain is considered one of the world’s most ambitious biodiversity policies, and by identifying potential gaps, my research group help policymakers strengthen the policy and ensure it contributes to nature recovery in England. The idea of compensating for biodiversity losses is becoming increasingly popular across the world stage, so my work may end up having much broader applicability to countries that are considering adopting similar policies. It’s such an exciting time to be working in my research area, and I’m so pleased that I get to work with amazing women* helping make positive change in the world.

Image of Katia Jones, in Japan.

Hello! My name is Katia, and I am an MSc student in Japanese Studies. I completed my undergraduate studies at Osaka University, where I became drawn to sociological and gender studies perspectives that seek to uncover the everyday lived experiences of women in contemporary Japan. Through my research, I aim to acknowledge and elevate the voices of Japanese women who face complex constraints and challenges in their personal life projects. From exploring the religious journeys of Japanese female converts to Islam, to understanding how Japanese female students develop a feminist identity at university, I have tended to adopt qualitative methodologies (such as in-depth interviewing) in my work. Recently, I have focused on Japanese female university students’ experience of feminism, gender inequality, and student activism. For my master’s dissertation (which in fact, is very fitting with this year’s theme for International Women’s Day! #InspireInclusion!) I am focusing specifically on Japanese female STEM students’ everyday encounters with gender inequality. Despite the government’s recent higher education investments towards STEM subjects, female students have long been, and still are, highly underrepresented in the field. My investigation will hopefully highlight the importance of improving the delivery and environment of existing STEM courses so that more women feel seen and heard in the field, especially at the university level. 

Image of Mariana Rodriguez-Barreno.

My name is Mariana, and I am a first-year DPhil student in Modern Languages. I completed my undergraduate studies in Hispanic Literature at Pontificia Universidad Católica in Peru, followed by a Master’s in Art History and curatorial practice at the same university.

My thesis centers on various cultural projects in Latin America led by women. I delve into the work of the Bustamante sisters in Peru and their cultural venue, the Peña Pancho Fierro, to discuss how Indigenismo was appropriated as an intimate practice within the discourse of modern artistic production in the twentieth century. Additionally, I analyze the work of the North American writer Ruth Stephan, examining her connections to the aforementioned Peña Pancho Fierro and her editorial contributions to the magazine The Tiger’s Eye. This editorial project had a profound impact on American postwar artists, influencing their interest in rejuvenating modern art by drawing inspiration from the art of ancient cultures.

The most exciting thing about my work is exploring unpublished archives, their integration into the historical narrative, and the revelation of paradigmatic biographies and female intelligences that left a lasting impact in their respective times.