Animal Welfare student gains PhD

June 2021

Image for press release - Writtle University College PhD student, Sarah Jowett
(NOTE: This is an archived press release.)

Writtle University College (WUC) PhD student, Sarah Jowett, has successfully defended her PhD thesis. Sarah had been working as a secondary school maths teacher before deciding to return to education and pursue her passion for Animal Welfare.

She said: "WUC inspired me with the excellent location, facilities, and the animal science research being conducted by the outstanding academic staff."

"My PhD investigated the social roles in a breeding sow herd at Sturgeons Farm by using a social network analysis approach. The sows were exposed to an unstable environment in which individuals were frequently added and removed from the herd. The study examined the stability and formation of social roles in positive and negative behavioural networks, additionally assessing the relationship between social roles, and reproductive performance."

Sarah's thesis is titled: 'Novel measures to investigate the social structure and reproductive performance in a dynamic sow herd using social network analysis' and is based on a research study on the pig unit at WUC's Sturgeons Farm.

Her work has already gained recognition within the Animal Science community. Sarah presented her research during the 2019 ASAB Easter Conference and, in early 2020, reached the finals of the prestigious STEM for Britain competition. This annual event aims to raise the profile of Britain's early-stage researchers. Sarah was the only Animal Scientist to be selected to appear within the Biological and Biomedical Sciences section and presented her work at Portcullis House in Westminster.

Sarah made major contributions during her time at Writtle, acting as the postgraduate representative, teaching on the MSc Animal Welfare and Conservation programme and providing support for undergraduate behaviour dissertations. She also participated in the Writtle Research Symposium and liaising with industry members at the Pig Farmer Discussion Group.

Principal Lecturer in Animal Behaviour and Welfare, Dr. Jonathan Amory, said: "Sarah was an ideal doctoral candidate and I was delighted to oversee her excellent thesis. She recently published the first of several papers and I look forward to seeing her ongoing contributions within the field of animal welfare."

"I am grateful to Dr Simon Turner SRUC for acting as the external examiner for Sarah's viva, to Dr Angela Murphy-Thomas for once again being a fantastic internal examiner and to James Cattell, WUC's pig unit manager, for being such great support for this project."

For more information on Postgraduate Research at Writtle University College, visit