Factors influencing the development and implementation of the UK soft drink industry levy

Research student spotlight | Gemma Bridge, PhD PR, Communications and Marketing 


Photo of Gemma Bridge

Gemma completed her PhD in autumn 2020 and since then has worked in Leeds Business School, supporting with the REF case study development. She is now working as a Research Fellow at Queen Mary University of London on the Fresh Street project – a study testing a place-based household voucher approach to increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. Gemma has a few other research foci, including health taxes, community approaches to public health improvement and health communication.

  • PhD title: An exploration of the factors influencing the development and implementation of the UK Soft Drink Industry Levy
  • Supervisors: Professor Ralph Tench and Dr Brian Jones

Tell us a bit about yourself and your path into your PhD program

Prior to moving to Leeds in 2017, I was working as a medical writer in Reading and was running and racewalking as much as I could. I was keen to get back into academia and also give more time to my training, so I decided to explore PhD options. I stumbled across a call for PhD applicants in the Business School when I was exploring possible study and / or work options. The call sought a candidate interested in exploring the role of state and commerce in the healthy eating debate, and as someone who was really interested in business, food and health, it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.

Why did you choose Leeds Beckett?

Before starting my PhD, I had only been to Leeds once, and it was for a training camp, which meant I hadn’t had the opportunity to explore. However, I had heard great things about the city and what it had to offer – as a lover of food, culture and the great outdoors, Leeds seemed like a perfect fit. Also, Leeds was and still is a hub for endurance athletes, with brilliant facilities and support to match, and that was a huge draw for me. In terms of research opportunities, Leeds Beckett was ideal for me. I loved the collaborative nature of the PhD that I applied for, as it was cross-school. 

What is your research about and what you makes you passionate about it?

My PhD explored the factors (e.g. people, events, media platforms) that influenced the development of the UK Soft Drink Industry Levy. I carried out five studies, and was interested to identify the people and organisations involved in debates and what topics were being discussed in said debates. I enjoyed doing the PhD, and continue to be interested in this topic because it changes a lot and is complicated. Moreover, there are lots of other countries across the UK and beyond that are considering similar policies, and so my research had the potential to make an impact in a range of settings. Since finishing my PhD, I have been involved with a range of research projects, including a collaborative study exploring coping strategies through Covid-19, and a two-phase online survey assessing perceptions of the UK government’s communication management of the Covid-19 pandemic. I have a diverse range of interests and so I enjoy getting involved with a range of projects. 

Gemma with tools and a bin bag whilst working on a community project

Gemma was recently appointed as the Running Mayor of Leeds as part of the RunSome campaign, and also works as Area Activator for GoodGym Leeds, a community running and volunteering group

How have you applied what you've learned from your work at Leeds Business School?

Whilst at Leeds Beckett I learnt important research skills which have been really helpful in giving me the confidence to pursue new opportunities since graduating. I have also continued to develop these skills in my current role. I also gained insights into how to effectively collaborate with other researchers and stakeholders, and this is something that was invaluable during my PhD and in my roles following it. Moreover, whilst doing my PhD I was given the opportunity to think outside the box and give things a go. This gave me the ability to innovate and be confident in considering new ideas, which has been really important in developing new research projects. 

What has been your favourite experience at Leeds Beckett? How would you reflect on your time as a postgraduate researcher at Leeds Beckett?

My time at Leeds Beckett was filled with brilliant opportunities as well as lots of challenges. I enjoyed being able to meet new people, give things a go and learn new skills. However, my time was also very busy and that meant I had to figure out how to juggle a lot of things. For any other postgraduate students who are already studying or are considering study, I would recommend that they keep an open mind, make the most of the time available to learn, read and develop, and also focus on developing relationships as well as completing their studies. 

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