PhD student, Francis Poitier.

Francis Poitier

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background. 

I am from an inner city community called Bain & Grants Town in The Bahamas. It is a place where a sense of community emanates from everyone you talk to – from those you meet walking down the street to those who give whatever little they have to support you. I carry this sense of community with me as the first of my family to pursue a higher education degree.  

I first studied abroad in Canada at Pearson United World College, before obtaining a bachelor’s degree at the University of Richmond in Virginia, USA. In 2016, I obtained my master’s degree from the University of Leeds at the Nuffield Centre for International Health and Development in the School of Medicine. 

What motivated you to undertake a PhD and why did you choose the University of Leeds? 

I had worked in the health sector for several years, including through conducting research in low and middle-income countries and small island states. I also lived in these contexts, which helped me to understand some of the complexities facing these settings. I realised that PhD study would provide the opportunity to examine these complexities in depth while also adding my voice to academia as a small islander. It was important to me that I was able to propose my own study that focused on small island states, such as The Bahamas. 

The University of Leeds stood out to me as it allowed me to propose and pursue my own topic. I also had a dynamic supervision team from the School of Medicine and the School of Politics, which allowed me to pursue my topic using a multidisciplinary approach.  

Please tell us about your research topic and what makes you passionate about this area of study. 

My research focuses on exploring health in small island states by using obesity in The Bahamas as a case study. I’m using an intersectionality approach to examine the complexity of health in these settings by underscoring that it is not individual behaviour alone that contributes to health status, but also issues such as globalisation, colonialism, political economy, food systems and more. I am driven by using research to understand complex and persistent health issues. It also helped that the research took place in my country!  

How would you describe the research environment and community in the school and in the university generally?  

The research environment is quite dynamic! There is always a lot going on – whether that is seminars where others present their work, training opportunities or research meetings. These sessions are useful in hearing about the latest research happening in the field and also contributing your own knowledge and skills to broader discussions in scholarship.   

I am part of many research groups, including: 

Post graduate researchers in the School of Medicine run their own Discussion Community sessions (known as PhD DISCOs) where they propose their own topics and training needs for discussions. These were recognised by the University for positively contributing to the research culture by promoting a supportive and collegiate environment 

I am also part of The Researchers in Development PhD Network (RiDNet), which works across several faculties of multiple disciplines for researchers who work in low- and middle-income countries. They host brown bag discussion sessions over lunch which are useful for hearing about research challenges and opportunities in these settings. 

What would you say about the learning, training and research facilities in the School and at the University? 

One of the greatest and perhaps underrated parts of the University is… the library! The library services are excellent. You have great access to not only many research journals and books – including electronic books – but they also hold many sessions that help to develop academic skills. The library team also respond to enquiries quite quickly and they have answered many questions of mine related to referencing styles, journal access, archived material and more. Alongside this, there is a PGR-only space available in the library which is fantastic for being in a setting with other researchers. 

Do you take part in any activities outside of your study?  

I am a volunteer at Healthwatch Leeds. It is a civil society organisation which centres the voices of local people to influence health and social care in Leeds. My work with them often involves talking to patients in clinics and care homes to listen to their experiences and relay that information back to decision-makers and service providers to influence change. A standout moment for me was being in workshops with the Director of Public Health in Leeds City Council examining NHS policies related to migrant communities. 

I am a member of UBI Lab Food. This is a citizen-led group interested in whether a basic income can positively impact nutritional health outcomes. This group works across many universities in the UK and have hosted many events with internationally renowned leaders in the field of food systems and nutrition.  

I am also a member of the Leeds Afro-Caribbean and Global Health societies. 

What are your plans once you have completed your PhD? 

I plan on continuing with research and teaching. It is great that the University has training sessions during the programme to train PGRs to teach. I did not think of a career in teaching before those sessions and now I realise just how much I love it. 

What do you think of Leeds as a city? 

I am just an island boy (as I tell me friends!), but I realise just how much I love living in Leeds. It has all the features of a big city – the nightlife, diversity, culture, the art, etc. while not being as expensive as other places. I love that I can walk to many places or use public transport and not have to worry about having a car. 

What would you say to someone considering a research degree in the School? 

It is important to know why you want to do research. Doing a PhD is challenging and returning to this reason is a great source of motivation to carry on. I will say, however, that you will find a lot of support from other PGRs, your supervisors, teachers and the administrative staff. The administrative staff are particularly fantastic when you have any enquiries as they can signpost you to other support services if you need them. They are also just a wonderful group of people!   

Are there any other highlights of your PhD experience so far that you would like to tell us about? 

My most recent publication is in the Frontiers Journal of Public Health. I have also written several blog posts, including this one in BMJ Health Services. I am proud to have won the Research Culture award for PhD DISCOs for providing a supportive and collegiate environment too.