Caroline Jo Lilley - PhD Journey

Caroline Jo Lilley in front of Bartolome House
Caroline Jo Lilley
PhD Student
School of Law
Caroline Lilley tells us her story about why she became a student here at the University of Sheffield, her research interests and gives some top tips for those thinking about doing a PhD at the School of Law.
Caroline Jo Lilley sitting on a bench outside Bartolome House

My name is Caroline Jo Lilley, I am 24 years old, and I am currently in the first year of my PhD. I was born and raised in Sheffield – I have lived here my entire life. This is my first year studying at the University of Sheffield, but I have personal roots within the University. Both my mum and my nan worked for the library services whilst I was growing up, so I have been in and around campus throughout my childhood. I can vividly remember losing my brother on the paternoster lifts in the Arts tower when I was younger – I haven’t been back in since!

Whilst I am not the first generation in my family to attend a university, I am the first to continue postgraduate study. I have an undergraduate and master’s degree in psychology, with a particular focus on forensic and criminal psychology. Throughout my academic journey, I have developed a strong interest in the individual differences between people, particularly within important decision-making processes. My research interests lie within the differences between jurors: how are opposing conclusions drawn when individuals are presented with the same information? I was first inspired to investigate these differences when watching a documentary about the OJ Simpson case. The idea of selecting a jury of certain backgrounds, beliefs, and life experiences to manipulate a preferred verdict outcome seemed unjust and against everything the criminal justice system stood for. Since, I have dedicated my academic career to understanding the actions and behaviours of individuals within the criminal justice system, particularly jurors and how they are influenced in their overall verdict decisions. I have focused my research on exploring juror decision-making within crimes of sexual violence. My previous research has investigated the attitudes and characteristics of jurors when deciding verdicts in cases of intimate partner rape. I am keen to continue my research within this area as it is something I have grown to be really passionate about. 

I have had the opportunity throughout my academic career to conduct some independent research in this area and that has inspired me to continue with the challenge of a PhD. I chose to undertake my PhD within the School of Law due to its incredible reputation and prestige. I believe that undertaking a project within the school of law will help direct the research to a more policy and practice-orientated direction that will enable the research to be taken more seriously in real-world legal environments rather than just academic situations. The School of Law community is unparalleled in its support and guidance from both staff and fellow students. You are immediately welcomed into a network of academics that are willing to help you in any way that they can. As a first-year student and someone new to the university, I was apprehensive about the challenges of starting a new project and having to develop new relationships however after a couple of days within the department I was immediately put to ease. I have since taken on the role of PGR rep so that I can assist other PGRs and help new starters in the same way that I was. 

Outside of the University, I have had the opportunity to work as a research assistant for the None in Three project. This is a research hub dedicated to understanding and preventing gender-based sexual violence. As a research assistant, I was able to take part in outreach programmes for young adults and teenagers in schools to help prevent sexual violent relationships. Working on this project inspired me to continue my study and perhaps envision a career as a researcher. I have also had the opportunity to present my previous research to the Crown Prosecution Service during a review of the use of juries in rape cases. This enabled me to see the real-world applications of my research within the criminal justice system. Whilst the majority of ideas discussed during this review were theoretical at the time, it was important to be able to see the practicality of such academic research. 

My advice for anyone thinking about post-graduate study is to put yourself out there! Don’t be shy to network and reach out to as many people as you can. If you are thinking about applying, search staff directories for people who share your research interests and drop them an email. Before I applied to the University of Sheffield I reached out to as many people as I could who shared similar research interests. Everyone was super helpful and friendly, and some even put me in contact with other postgraduates who were willing to help with my applications. Any advice you can get from anyone is helpful advice, especially during the anxiety of applying. Also read read read! You can never read too many papers or books. Surround yourself with knowledge even if it isn’t directly related to your area. Reading other people’s work will not only help expand your knowledge but can also help you develop your academic writing skills. 

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