Wilhelmiina Toivo wins national writing competition


The School of Psychology’s Finnish-born PhD student Wilhelmiina Toivo has won the Economic and Social Research Council’s 2016 -17 writing competition “Making Sense of Society”, in partnership with SAGE Publishing.

Wilhelmiina, who is in the first year of her ESRC-funded post-doctorate degree, and a student of Professor Christoph Scheepers, received a £1,000 cash prize at an awards ceremony at the Royal Society. She also took part in a masterclass on “how to get published”, delivered by SAGE Publishing; her winning competition entry will be published in print and online.‌

Brought up in Helsinki, Wilhelmiina came to Glasgow in 2011 to study Psychology as an undergraduate student. Last year, she completed an MSc in Psychology and is currently six months into her PhD.

The competition, which is now in its second year, celebrates and fosters the writing skills of the next generation of social scientists.

This year students were asked to write 800 words about why their research matters, and how it helps us make sense of and understand the society in which we live.

In her winning essay, “Once more, with feeling: life as bilingual”, Wilhelmiina wrote about her experiences growing up in Scotland speaking English as a second language, and how speaking in her non-native tongue gave her a sense of liberation when it came to swearing and discussing her emotions.

This personal insight linked well to her PhD research project, which focuses on why many bilinguals report feeling less emotionally connected to their second language, a phenomenon known as the reduced emotional resonance of language.

She said: “I was really surprised to win this prize - apparently there were about 280 entries in total. During my first year of PhD I have really got into science communication and it was great to see that I have learnt something - the task was to write a popular science piece explaining how your research makes sense of the society.

Entries were judged by a panel of science communication experts. The judging panel included Martin Rosenbaum, ESRC Council member and an executive producer in the BBC Political Programmes department; Martin Ince, President of the Association of British Science Writers; Miranda Nunhofer, Executive Director at SAGE Publishing; and Tash Reith-Banks, Production Editor for the Guardian's Science desk.

Martin Rosenbaum said: “I really liked Wilhelmiina’s essay and it will stay with me, I am glad I read it. She gave a very clear explanation of the social science of speaking in a second language and it was a very engaging read.”

First published: 28 April 2017