Crossing the line: Finishing my PhD (part 1)

Across three blogs, Will Shankley reviews how his PhD (which, in part, used 2011 Census data) went. In this first part, he looks at the challenge he faced. In future blog posts, he will examine impact and what the future of this area of research could be.


At the beginning of March, I finally crossed the finish line and passed my PhD viva. The finish line has felt, at times, to be a moving target – an impossible goal; one that I didn’t think I would ever reach. After finishing, I was asked to write a blog post reflecting on my PhD project and how it spoke to the impact agenda. One of the reasons that I had won a UK Data Service Fellowship had been my use of data and work with local community groups who support and empower central and Eastern European migrants.


My first blog post (when I was appointed a UK Data Service Impact Fellow) described how a lot of my previous work had been frontline facing – dealing with people every day who had embarked on a migration and I wanted to bring this direct impact into my PhD project. Having previously worked with asylum seekers and refugees in Greater London and overseas, the rich and complex tapestry of accounts that my service users described revealed how complex different types of migration are. For example, my asylum applicants had overcome a great deal of adversity to reach the UK only to be confronted with unexpected challenges such as difficulties navigating the UK asylum system.

It was this complexity that I wanted to be evident in my own research even though the group that I focus on is Polish post-accession EU migrants and the backdrop to their migration to Britain substantially different.

However, the challenge was how to design a study that speaks to the impact agenda and uses data in different fashions to undertake impact activities. To highlight how I have engaged with impact, it is important first to outline my PhD project (which as every PhD student knows often doesn’t reveal itself in its entirety until the final few months).

My PhD project looks specifically at Polish post-accession EU migrants who migrated to Britain since 2004 when the EU system expanded and added ten countries to its membership from Central and Eastern Europe.

EU countries after the 2004 expansion. New member countries are in yellow.

EU countries after the 2004 expansion. New member countries, including Poland, are in yellow.

Júlio Reis – derivative work: Kolja21, CC BY-SA 2.5, converted from svg format


The previous research on the topic describes how their settlement patterns had troubled some of our knowledge of immigrant settlement geographies because Polish migrants relocated to rural, seaside and market towns as well as the inner-city urban areas that are usually viewed as the sites of immigrant settlement.

However, there was a lack of research that provided a clear examination of where the migrants were moving next or what factors were driving their residential decisions.

This was the research gap my project aimed to address and to compliment this I used the relatively new methodological approach of ‘facet methodology’ to overcome the seemingly intractable divide between quantitative and qualitative approaches and to reveal different facets of Polish people’s internal migration.

Additionally, given my previous frontline work, I wanted to include a person-centred approach that considered the migrants as people with complex lives.

will shankley

About the author

We’d like to congratulate William Shankley, UK Data Service Data Impact Fellow who has recently completed his Sociology PhD at The University of Manchester.

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