Dr Sarah Cooper


I have recently joined POLIS as a research fellow and my primary role is to coordinate and support research activities on the UKRI-GCRF Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub. 

Prior to this I worked as a research fellow at Cranfield University for two years on two research projects. This followed an extended time away from academic life .

My PhD was undertaken at the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development at the University of Reading between 2008-2012, of which I then spent a year in the business school at the University of Surrey as a ‘Lecturer in Sustainability in Business’ where I taught undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Further academic achievements include gaining: an MSc ‘International Natural Resource Development’ (University of Wales: Bangor), and a BSc (Hons) Applied Biology (Liverpool John Moores University).

I have also spent 9 months working as voluntary research officer for a small NGO in Himachal Pradesh, India. 


  • I support research activities on the UKRI-GCRF Water Security and Development Hub
  • I also support research for UKRI-GCRF Scaling up: Rethinking the Off-Grid City

Research interests

My interests broadly encompass the complex dynamics and relationships which shape individuals and societies interaction with the natural world. 

My current position involves the coordination and supporting of four collaboratory countries: Colombia, Ethiopia, India and Malaysia. Each country has a unique set of water governance challenges to inductively explore issues of power, intersectionality and justice. Conclusions and lessons learnt from these challenges will be scaled out to inform the broader narratives of water security on a global scale.  

Other research I have undertaken in the water security sphere is exploring emotional wellbeing of pastoralists in the water scarce region of the Afar in Ethiopia, with the intention of testing the viability of using emotion as an indicator tool to monitor water security.

I have also undertaken research on institutional aspects of sanitation across a rural to urban transect of Hyderabad in India. The project more broadly mapped the transition of ecosystem services, sanitation services and knowledge, behaviour and values related to sanitation to inform future planning and governance of sanitation within the city.

My PhD focused on livelihood innovation and learning and how this contributed to the adaptive capacity of rural small-holder farmers in Uganda in the face of climate risk. The analysis also documented vulnerability and mapped out the social and institutional linkages which were supporting farmers. The research was significant in demonstrating how the complex, abstract concepts of resilience and adaptive governance functioned in a real-life, developing context.

Other research experience entails the mapping of agrobiodiversity and traditional farming techniques in Himachal Pradesh, India during my time as a research officer and the classifying of vegetation and governance of livestock forage in protected and unprotected areas of the Bega-Sheka Watershed in Tigray, Ethiopia for my MSc thesis.  

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://essl.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PHD International Development: Livelihoods, (2008-2012), University of Reading
  • MSc International Natural Resource Development (2005-2006), University of Wales: Bangor.
  • BSc (Hons) Applied Biology (1997-2000), Liverpool John Moores University