UK native named Student of the Year

Portrait of Carla Louise Hughes. She is standing outside smiling in front of an autumn coloured tree.

Finding opportunities in trying times 

Carla moved from her home in England to Oslo in August 2020, shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic peaked in Norway. She had previously studied abroad in Australia during her undergraduate work at the University of Worcester and was looking for another opportunity to live outside the UK.

Although there were many places Carla could have chosen to continue her academic training, she says "OsloMet was like a light in my head, it kept shining brighter than the others". After arriving as a master's student in International Social Welfare and Health Policy, she quickly connected with PANSOC and Sven-Erik Mamelund who helped launch her research into suicide rates during the 1918 flu pandemic.  

Carla, a self-described introvert who experiences "JOMO: the Joy of Missing Out", says that one of the ways she has coped with being alone for holidays and birthdays this year is by saying "yes" to new experiences. This newfound extroversion extends beyond making study friends and giving academic talks to Norwegian cultural activities like hiking into the forests around Oslo. 

Studying at a new centre 

PANSOC is one of OsloMet's five new Centres of Research Excellence. Working in this centre includes perks like a new sunlit office space and access to webinars and presentations with a global reach. These weekly seminars have been a highlight of Carla's experience this year. "Every week we talk with people from all over. I get experts commenting on my research proposal: 'have you considered this…' or 'what if you try that…'. Everyone is so supportive". With this help she has been able to craft her research plan and make the connections she needs to succeed in research. 

I owe everything I've done this year to OsloMet and PANSOC. It's the most opportunity I've found at any university. – Carla Louise Hughes
Carla Louise Hughes smiling with a diploma and a bouquet of flowers in front of a OsloMet building.

Analysing the past 

With the support of PANSOC and international experts, Carla has designed a research study that will be the first of its kind in the field. "There is lots of research on suicide and pandemics globally, but nothing specific to Norway". Carla says the thing that makes Norway so interesting for this research is that, unlike many other European countries, Norway was neutral during World War I so the data will reflect the pandemic and not be influenced by the war. This will help her find clear answers within the data.  

Fortunately, Norway has excellent historical health data going back to this time period, mostly from church records.  However, Carla says using these records come with some caveats that require her social sciences skills: "There is a question about whether the church or a family would record a death as a suicide since there was a lot of shame around suicide at the time, so the records are probably an undercount." Still, she expects to be able to make important inferences from her analysis of the data and will discuss the social aspect in her presentations. 

Influencing the future 

Carla sees similar trends in the current Covid-19 pandemic and the 1918 Flu. She hopes her research can be a starting point for other researchers on this topic and offer suggestions for dealing with this and future pandemics. "A good way to look at what will happen is to look at what already happened, she notes."  One specific question she is investigating is whether increasing the number of local physicians and closer contact between physicians and patients may lower suicide rates. She hopes this research can guide future pandemic planning. 

Carla expects to complete this research for her master's degree next summer and plans to pursue a PhD. In the next few months, she will be presenting her work at public talks and conferences across Norway and online. The hard work and ability to thrive during the pandemic which helped her win Student of the Year will serve her well as she strives to make lasting impact on her field. 

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