BERA Doctoral Thesis Award

Every year BERA recognises academic excellence and rigour in research by a Doctoral student. This underscores BERA’s commitment to developing capacity, advancing quality and methodological originality within the field of educational research.

Eligibility Criteria

  • The applicant should be a fully paid up member of BERA at the time of nominations.
  • The institution at which the student submitted their dissertation should have confirmed the degree awarded by 31st December 2018; i.e this award is awarded to education students who have completed their doctorate in the previous year (2018).


  • £500
  • A 1,000 word double page spread to be featured in Research Intelligence.
  • A complimentary registration at BERA Conference 2019.
  • A BERA Blog

Application Details

Application for the award should consist of

  1. A submitted nomination on the BERA website below
  2. Supporting documents
    1. An abstract of the thesis
    2. The thesis
    3. A supporting statement emailed directly to BERA  from your supervisor (600 words)
    4. A headshot we can use on the BERA website

 After submitting your application below please email these documents to PDFs will not be accepted.


Nominations will be scored by a BERA selection panel. The panel’s judgement will be framed by the following criteria:

  • Research quality, including rigour, transparency and validity
  • New area of research
  • Methodological originality
  • Significant conceptual or theoretical contribution to its field
  • (Potential) impact for policy-makers, practitioners and other research users

The deadline for applications is 5pm January 12th, 2019


2019 Award

The 2019 Winner of the BERA Doctoral Thesis Award is Yasamin Alkhansa (University of Sussex) for her thesis Selective Histories: Living and Teaching in Iran under the Islamic Republic

The abstract for her thesis is below:

“Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, growing scholarly debates have criticized the theocratic State for its authoritative imposition of a singular historical narrative in education and beyond. Pointing to the way the Islamic Republic has ideologically selected and appropriated a nation’s history to sanction particular identities, these debates have overwhelmingly focused on the power of the State at the expense of marginalizing the role of social actors such as teachers as the mediator of the curriculum.

Drawing on an extensive ethnographic research study in Tehran-Iran from 2014 to 2015, this thesis brings to light teachers’ significant yet over-looked power to resist the State’s narrative at this important juncture in the country’s history. It discusses the instructional choices and discourses of history teachers and shows how they, de-facto subvert the official history. By telling their story, this thesis then demonstrates that despite real constraints, teachers do act against the imposition of official history and trivialize the State’s theocratic authority through quiet and assuming acts of everyday resistance.

The thesis examines the tension between the official account of history that is constructed in and through Iranian school textbooks and the mediated narrative that history teachers produce in their classroom pedagogies.  It critically analyses both discourses to identify their similarities and differences, unpacking the underlying reasons that contribute to their formation. In so doing, it investigates the textbook’s representation of Iran’s past – specifically, in history textbooks at grade 11 – and deconstructs the socio-political and cultural significance of its discourse in relation to education and broader social dynamics.

Against the backdrop of this official, Islamized, narrow and exclusionary account, this thesis explores how the textbook is enacted by teachers in the classroom, examining both their educational practices as well as their lived-experience in the Islamic Republic. To capture the complexities of their pedagogies, the thesis engages in the lived-world of history teachers in Tehran and contextualises their teaching as a practice of resistance, as well as submission, to the status quo.

By focusing on the content of the textbook and identifying its narrative with State-defined Islam, this research differentiates between Islamic and Islamized narratives, unpacking both to critique dominant assumptions that view Iranian textbooks simply as Islamic. It argues that the problem in Iran is Islamization; a political project that interprets and actively reconstructs the history (and religion) in narrow and exclusionary ways, at the service of the existing and differentially organized structures of power.  

Theoretically, the thesis draws on the critical theory of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci to explore the way the three Iranian teachers in this study act against the hegemonic official narrative of history. To do that, it incorporates insights from Critical Pedagogy, as well as Middle East-focused resistance literature to develop a contextalized understanding of pedagogy as a critical practice in the Iranian context. Methodologically, it also merges Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) with Critical Engaged Ethnography and utilises a combination of methods of data collection over the course a year of field research in Tehran. The methods include semi-structural life story interviews, classroom observation followed by unstructured interviews, and textbook analysis.   

The thesis contributes to our understanding of education as a political enterprise in Iran. While it shows through real-life examples the complexities of critical pedagogy and its inherently contradictory nature, it also documents the realities that shape the lives and labour of teachers in the country. In addition to its contribution to Iran-specific debates (and the Middle East more broadly), the significance of this thesis lays in illuminating the limitations in our existing conceptualization of social actors’ agency in authoritarian fields. By assuming universal criteria, mediums and forms, the current frameworks neglect alternative forms of power, which take place in non-democratic contexts. This paper argues that, although small and seemingly inconsequential – teachers’ instructional practices and discourses are acts of resistance; an unconventional expression and exerices of agency that the existing conceptualization falls short to recognize.”



2018 Award

The 2018 Winner of the BERA Doctoral Thesis Award is Arunthathi Mahendran (Goldsmiths’ College, University of London) for her thesis Surgeon Education, Engaging with the Immanence of Events Of Practice: An Exploration of the Ontological and Ethical Dimensions of Surgical Training and Practice.

The abstract for her thesis is below:





“This thesis contrasts the construction of medical knowledge that surgeons must acquire to practice with the kind of knowing that arises unpredictably, through actual events of surgical practice. Such knowing is demonstrated through the research process in which surgeons discuss events of practice and their strategies for coping. As such, the thesis argues that this kind of knowing is central to the onto- epistemological task of becoming a surgeon and is therefore, a crucial pedagogic dimension of such becoming.

In actual situations of practice, surgeons may be forced to respond, act and think in ways that exceed the approved teachings of surgical knowledge and technical skills. This is not to diminish or disregard the structured programmes of education and training. Instead, I advocate reconfiguring the dominant models of surgical teaching and learning to include pedagogies that are sensitive to the immanent nature of clinical relations and practice. Whilst established clinical knowledge may be said to be abstracted from actual occasions of practice, knowing that emerges through the contingencies of such occasions is grounded in the ‘thisness’ of practice. In this practical immediacy, affective experiencing is a critical precursor to clinical strategies.

The thesis draws upon theories of affect and becoming from Alfred North Whitehead, Gilles Deleuze, Brian Massumi and Gilbert Simondon. In analysing the policy documentation and training materials, the thesis draws from the theories of Michel Foucault, Judith Butler and Pierre Bourdieu. This investigation identified affective relations that form and develop within the local flows of experiencing of an event of practice. These forms of ‘thinking-feeling’ contribute to the entangled subjectivities and heterogenous obligations that can expand surgeons’ capacities of becoming. A pedagogy of the surgical event attempts to engage with a learner’s ideas and intensities of experience, triggered by the affective connections that arise when coping with the thisness of contingent events of practice. These immanent relations express how an event of practice comes to matter to a surgeon, how it attains significance.”


Highly commended

Jennifer Farrar (University of Glasgow) “I didn’t know they did books like this!” An inquiry into the literacy practices of young children and their parents using metafictive picturebooks”

Nicola Sim (University of Nottingham) “Like oil and water”? Partnerships between visual art institutions and youth organisations”


2017 Award

The 2017 Winner of the BERA Doctoral Thesis Award is Sophina Choudry (University of Manchester) for her thesis: Mathematics Capital in the Classroom and Wider Educational Field: Intersections of Ethnicity, Gender and Social Class.







The abstract for her thesis is below:

“The problem addressed by this thesis is manifold: (a) how to model the ‘found’ relationships between intersecting categorical variables and academic mathematics attainment, and how these affect policy (e.g. on ethnicity and EAL); (b) theorising these models in relation to Bourdieu’s theory of practice and capital, especially, in classrooms and peer groups; and (c) negotiating the meaning of student’s social backgrounds (i.e. interactions of ethnic, gender and social class) in school and classroom policy discourses and practices and so the relation between students’ backgrounds and relationships with mathematics in classrooms.”

Many congratulations to Sophina and keep an eye on the BERA Blog and Research Intelligence for summaries of her research.