EPSRC PhD Studentship: Informal interpreters and cultural mediators in construction

University of Reading - School of the Built Environment

Project title:  Informal interpreters and cultural mediators: Improving the construction safety of multi-national workforces (EPSRC DTP Studentship 2018)

Supervisors: Dr Dylan Tutt and Dr Florence Phua

Project Overview:

Migrant workers fill the construction skills gap as part of the diverse workforce who build (and will continue to build) our cities. As national debates on immigration, skills-shortages and construction sector performance rage concurrently in the UK and Denmark, it is remarkable that the employment routes and practices of working interpreters in construction are unformalised and so little understood. This doctoral project will develop a research agenda to better understand the changing (and sometimes controversial) practices of these front-line workers, which are falling under the radar. It will develop a multidisciplinary approach to the study of communication practices in the transient and dynamic environment of construction sites.

Particular site roles, such as foreman, gangers, and supervisors, have taken on functions as informal interpreters and translators to bridge the gap between English-speaking staff and low/non-English speaking workers (Tutt et al., 2013). Yet their role can present risks in terms of the communication of critical health and safety onsite.

An adaptable, innovative ethnographic methodology will be designed to account for both the specificities of the contexts to which these informal mediatory practices relate, and the collaborative environments and interactions through which they unfold. It will include periods of intensive fieldwork in South East England and/or Copenhagen, with support by colleagues at Aarhus University. The methodological flexibility of the ethnographic process (through which theory is developed on the basis of empirical data collected), will be closely supported by the supervisory team.

The project will provide the opportunity to:

  1. Compare how communication and collaboration between different groups of construction workers in UK and/or Denmark affects occupational health and safety.
  2. Study the practices of onsite interpretation and translation (different working conditions and terms of employment; how uncertainty around post-Brexit labour markets affects dynamics and practice of these roles).
  3. Identify opportunities and barriers to intervene and improve safety performance.


  • Applicants should hold a first class or 2.1 degree and preferably a Master’s degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate subject and should be interested in applying social science approaches to construction management and engineering topics.
  • Due to restrictions on the funding this studentship is open to UK/EU students.

Funding Details:   

  • Studentships must start in September 2018 and are 3 years in duration.
  • It consists of Home/EU tuition fees and RCUK minimum stipend for 3 years plus an amount of £1,000 per year for training /conference attendance.

How to apply:

To apply for this studentship please submit an application for a PhD in Construction Management at http://www.reading.ac.uk/graduateschool/prospectivestudents/gs-how-to-apply.aspx

*Important notes*

  • 1) Please quote the reference GS18-014 in the ‘Scholarships applied for’ box which appears within the Funding Section of your on-line application.

Application Deadline:  16th April 2018

Further Enquiries:  

Please note that, where a candidate is successful in being awarded funding, this will be confirmed via a formal studentship award letter; this will be provided separately from any Offer of Admission and will be subject to standard checks for eligibility and other criteria. 

For further details please contact Postgraduate Research Administrator for the School of the Built Environment, Rupinder Bains (r.bains@reading.ac.uk).

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South East England