Dr Leah Gilman
Department of Sociological Studies
Wellcome Trust Research Fellow
Full contact details
Department of Sociological Studies
2 Whitham Road
Leah Gilman joined the Department of Sociological Studies in 2023 as a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow and leads the Digital Donor Conception study. Prior to this she worked as a postdoctoral researcher on two ESRC funded projects at the University of Liverpool and the University of Manchester and as a Research Assistant whilst completing her PhD at The University of Edinburgh. Leah also worked as a primary school teacher before embarking on an academic career.
- Research interests
Leah’s research bridges the sociology of personal life, reproduction and digital media studies. Her work explores how people think about and enact personal relationships in the context of technological, regulatory or cultural change and/or in the context of social/material challenges. She has particular expertise in relation to donor conception and assisted reproduction and works closely with both professional and personal stakeholders in this field.
UK regulators frame licensed clinical treatment as the legitimate and safe way to enact donor conception and discourage sperm donation outside of medical institutions. And yet, growing numbers of people are building families this way, through digitally-mediated informal donor conception, facilitated via online platforms and social media groups.
Leah’s Wellcome Trust-funded Digital Donor Conception study will investigate perceptions and practices of DMIDC and thus the relationship between digital media cultures and reproductive norms and practices. Findings from the project will help break the current ‘stalemate’ between policies which advise ‘just say no’ and the social reality of a rapidly growing reproductive practice.
Leah worked as a Research Fellow, and continues to collaborate with this interdisciplinary team, on this ESRC-funded study which explores the social, ethical and legal implications of direct-to-consumer genetic testing (e.g. 23andme, AncestryDNA) in relation to donors conception.
Leah worked as a Research Associate on this ESRC-funded research study which used a sociology of personal life lens to examine the experiences of egg and sperm donors, as well as their family members, who donate in the context of increased openness around donor conception.
- Direct-to-consumer genetic testing and the changing landscape of gamete donor conception: key issues for practitioners and stakeholders. Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 103421-103421.
- The ‘Selfish Element’: How Sperm and Egg Donors Construct Plausibly Moral Accounts of the Decision to Donate. Sociology, 56(2), 227-243.
- Tracing pathways of relatedness: how identity-release gamete donors negotiate biological (non-)parenthood. Families, Relationships and Societies, 9(2), 235-251.
- Organizing Openness: How UK Policy Defines the Significance of Information and Information Sharing about Gamete Donation. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, 32(3), 316-333.
- Toxic money or paid altruism: the meaning of payments for identity-release gamete donors. Sociology of Health & Illness, 40(4), 702-717.
- Implantable Smart Technologies (IST): Defining the ‘Sting’ in Data and Device. Health Care Analysis, 24(3), 210-227.
- New risks inadequately managed: the case of smart implants and medical device regulation. Law, Innovation and Technology, 7(2), 231-252.
- A Sense of Connectedness in Reproductive Donation. Contrasting Policy With Donor and Donor Kin Lived Experience. Journal of Family Issues.
- The case for reframing known donation. Human Fertility, 1-8.
- Accessing Origins Information, Donor-Linked Families in the Digital Age (pp. 15-32). Cambridge University Press
- 'It's All on Their Terms': Donors Navigating Relationships with Recipient Families in an Age of Openness In Kelly F, Dempsey D & Bryt A (Ed.), Donor-Linked Families in the Digital Age Relatedness and Regulation Cambridge University Press
- Research group
Leah is currently supervising Georgia Hibbert’s PhD (University of Manchester, ESRC funded) which explores the relational and moral aspects of social egg freezing.
- Wellcome Trust Early Career Award, (PI, £257,378, 2023-2027) Mediating Reproduction: Informal Donor Conception in the Digital Age.
- ESRC Impact Acceleration Award, (CI, £2990, 2022-2023) Preparing for Contact: Implementing Information Sharing Policies in Sperm and Egg (Gamete) Donor Conception.
- University of Manchester School of Social Sciences Research and Impact Grant (PI, £1950 in 2019), The Donor Stories Project.
- ESRC 1+3 Studentship 2011-2016 (extended for maternity leave and Scottish Government internship)
- Professional activities and memberships
Leah is co-convener of the BSA Families and Relationships study group.
Leah regularly undertakes peer review for academic journals (e.g. Families, Relationships and Societies, Sociological Review, Human Fertility, Social Problems, Sociology, Sociological Research Online) and publishers of academic books.
Winner of University of Manchester Sociology Public Engagement Prize 2021 (staff category)
- Partnerships, engagement and impact
Leah is CI on the Preparing for Contact impact project, funded by an ESRC IAA grant. The aim of the project is to prepare past sperm and egg donors for possible contact from their recipient families. She is working with colleagues in a number of other organisations (British Fertility Society, British Infertility Counselling Association, Manchester Fertility, Donor Conceived Register, Donor Conception Network, NHS and others) to design resources and a website for this purpose.
Leah led the Donor Stories project (funded by the University of Manchester). This is an innovative initiative which uses sociological fiction in counselling sessions with sperm and egg donors. Leah commissioned Becky Tipper, a published fiction author and academic, to produce short stories inspired by research findings from the Curious Connections project and her PhD. These have been published in two booklets alongside information about the research they are inspired by. The first which focusses on the experiences of ‘egg-share’ donors and the second explores known egg donation. The booklets are available to download here (egg share donation) and here (known egg donation). The first collection of stories has also been published with the Sociological Review and the Journal of Fertility Counselling.
As part of her work on the Curious Connections project (University of Manchester), Leah has helped to develop various resources which aim to support people impacted by donors conception. All the resources can be found on the project website, including short films, leaflets and recorded webinars. There are also resources aimed at policy makers, including a blog and a policy briefing.
As part of her work on the ConnecteDNA study, Leah has (co-)authored several publications aimed at policymakers and stakeholder communities, including a Bionews article and an article in The Conversation.