Before arriving at Surrey to study for a PhD in the Department of Sociology, Dr Melissa Pepper read Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Portsmouth, followed by an MSc in Social Research Methods at London South Bank University. Melissa was keen to pursue a career in academia – which, with the support of the team at Surrey, she was able to do.
My decision to come to Surrey was based on my PhD supervisor – Professor Karen Bullock. Karen is an expert in my area of interest (citizens in policing) and was my number one choice to supervise my PhD research.
What was your impression of Surrey?
Welcoming and accessible – it has a lovely campus with friendly staff and great library and study facilities. Sitting by the lake with a coffee was always a welcome break from studies!
Passion for your subject
The role of citizen volunteers in policing and community safety is a fascinating area of study. It touches upon a range of different disciplines – criminology, sociology, psychology, human resources and organisational management, politics, economics, and philosophy. It reveals a lot about society and our relationships with the state.
My supervisors – both Karen and Professor Daniel McCarthy – were instrumental to my PhD success every step of the way. Their expertise in the field was invaluable, but also their advice and support in juggling my studies alongside a demanding job (I was a government social researcher throughout my part time PhD studies) and looking towards my academic career post-PhD.
I published a paper in a peer-reviewed journal alongside my supervisors. Karen also introduced me to researchers at a different university who are a fantastic network of like-minded scholars. Since being introduced, we have published in a peer-reviewed journal together, presented at conferences, and convened conference panels. A number of years later, we continue to work together and are currently planning another set of publications.
What did you enjoy most about your PhD?
It was my ambition for many years to embark on a PhD so actually getting to do it was probably the most exciting part! In terms of research discoveries, I think the most interesting was the unexpectedly controversial nature of the field. Citizen volunteers working together to create a safer community may initially appear to be a fairly ‘bland’ topic; however, it touches upon a number of challenging themes in terms of political economies, neoliberalism, and organisational cultures.
My PhD was a great experience from start to finish. I felt supported throughout and was able to achieve my goals alongside two excellent supervisors"
The facilities at Surrey
The library was an excellent resource. It is well stocked, has great study spaces, and an excellent programme of researcher development training and activities.
I received great support and advice from my supervisors, head of school, and via the Researcher Development Programme. This support continued as I applied for my first jobs, navigated the promotion process, and applied for my first research grants. My former supervisor, Karen, is co-investigator on two funded research projects that I am currently leading. Working alongside her has been fantastic. Her support really gave me the confidence to apply for grants and it has been amazing to tap into her extensive knowledge as part of these.
Gaining my PhD at Surrey has been instrumental in securing my current role as a lecturer in criminology at the University of Greenwich. I took up my post a month after completing my viva.
Best moment at Surrey?
Graduation was a fantastic day – it was long awaited (delayed by a year due to the pandemic) but absolutely worth the wait. Despite some restrictions still being in place, Surrey organised an incredible day which my family and I will remember forever.
Do you have any advice for students thinking about postgraduate study?
Take the leap and do it! With the guidance of your Surrey supervisors and network of support throughout the university, you can achieve your goals.