My research is about communities - What people do collectively to achieve positive changes

PhD Spotlight | Gerlinde Pilkington


I’m Gerlinde Pilkington, a second year PhD student with the Centre for Health Promotion Research at Leeds Beckett University. My research interests focus on how asset-based community development can impact community wellbeing.

  • PhD title: 'A participatory action research approach to explore the context and impacts of asset-based community development (ABCD) pathfinder initiatives'

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

I came to academia late; my first career was in the hospitality industry, running pubs. I fell into health services research by accident during my undergraduate History degree with the Open University when by chance I did a week of work experience for a research group and never quite left. I worked as a contract researcher in health services research and public health, conducting systematic reviews on a wide range of topics from older people with cancer, community engagement and respite care for young adults with life-limiting conditions. Always working and studying at the same time, I did a part-time MA in research methods and I realised I enjoyed researching community wellbeing more than the other topics, and I also decided that I wanted to step away from the desk-based research and engage with people more. After lots of thinking I eventually concluded that I should study full-time for a PhD in a subject I enjoyed, using different methods, and that was the beginning of my PhD adventure!

Why did you choose Leeds Beckett?

The main reason I chose Leeds Beckett as the place to study for a PhD was the people – I had worked with my supervisors a few years ago as part of a large research project conducted by a consortium of academic institutions. I really enjoyed working with the team, I learnt a lot and expanded my research knowledge and skills. I was interested in the research projects they were involved in more widely, and when I spotted an opportunity to do a PhD with the Centre for Health Promotion Research, I applied immediately!

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

My research is about communities; I am really interested in what people do collectively to achieve positive changes and how people can be a driving force for making good things happen. I had come across asset-based community development from colleagues in public health research and I loved hearing the uplifting and empowering stories they told me of communities making the most of what they already had (people, skills and local spaces) to benefit their neighbours. What might seem such a small act can have a massive impact, and I want to know more about how asset-based community development can work optimally for different communities in different contexts.

How have you applied what you’ve learned from your work at the School of Health

Although I’ve been involved in conducting research before and considered myself a confident researcher, this is the first time a project has really been ‘mine’ and at the beginning I questioned my capabilities, skills and understanding. I have supervisors who are trusting and supportive, and I’ve learnt to trust my own abilities more, particularly when I’ve been building relationships with key stakeholders. I know there are things I can do well, and I know I can ask for help and support especially with things I am less experienced in.

How would you reflect on your time as a postgraduate researcher at Leeds Beckett?

It’s hard for many of us to reflect positively on the past 18 months as we have lived through a global pandemic, but being a PhD student at the Centre for Health Promotion Research means I have an invaluable network of supportive colleagues to turn to when I need help or advice. I’ve really appreciated being included in social events too, everyone is so welcoming and that has really helped me to settle in and feel part of a team. I have good connections with other students across the School who meet regularly to offer informal support – doing a PhD is a big transition and having people to talk to who are going through the same thing really helps.