Dr Leah Gilman

Department of Sociological Studies

Wellcome Trust Research Fellow

Co-Lead for ECRs in the Department of Sociological Studies

Dr Leah Gilman
Profile picture of Dr Leah Gilman

Full contact details

Dr Leah Gilman
Department of Sociological Studies
The Wave
2 Whitham Road
S10 2AH

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, medical sociology and digital media studies. Her work explores how people think about and enact personal relationships and reproductive practice 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.

Digital Donor Conception: Understanding Informal Donor Conception in the Digital Age

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.

ConnecteDNA: Donor Conception in the Age of Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing

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.

Curious Connections: The Impact of Sperm and Egg Donation for Donors and their Families.

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.



  • Abbott O, May V, Woodward S, Meckin R & Gilman L (2023) Masking in the Pandemic Materiality, Interaction, and Moral Practice. Palgrave Macmillan. RIS download Bibtex download
  • Nordqvist P & Gilman L (2022) Donors Curious Connections in Donor Conception. Emerald Group Publishing. RIS download Bibtex download

Journal articles


  • Adams D, Crawshaw M, Gilman L & Frith L (2023) Accessing Origins Information, Donor-Linked Families in the Digital Age (pp. 15-32). Cambridge University Press RIS download Bibtex download
  • Gilman L & Nordqvist P (2023) '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 RIS download Bibtex download
Research group

Postgraduate Supervision

Leah supervised Georgia Hibbert’s PhD (University of Manchester, ESRC funded) which explores the relational and moral aspects of social egg freezing.

Leah is interested in supervising PhD students on projects related to her research interests.

  • Wellcome Trust Early Career Award, (PI, £257,378, 2023-2027) Mediating Reproduction: Informal Donor Conception in the Digital Age.
  • British Sociological Association Regional Early Career Forum Event Fund (CI, £1000, 2023) Personal Relationships and Reproductive Technologies.
  • The Manchester ESRC Festival of Social Science (CI, £500, 2023) Creating families with gamete donor conception – everything you ever wanted to know.
  • University of Manchester School of Social Sciences Small Grant Competition (CI, £1750, 2023) Preparing for Contact: Implementing Information Sharing Policies in Sperm and Egg Donor Conception
  • 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 is a founding member of the DNA Dialogues international research network (established with colleagues at the University of Manchester and University of Oulu, Finland).

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 the SAGE (Sociology) Prize for Innovation and Excellence 2023 for her 2022 article in Sociology (see publications)

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.  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) she has created a series of online resources for this purpose which are shared on the HFEA’s (the UK’’s fertility regulator) website (scroll down to find them).

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.