UWTSD Lampeter students wins Inaugural BIAA Masters Dissertation Prize


An MA Ancient Religions student from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David has won The British Institute at Ankara’s Inaugural Masters Dissertation Prize.

UWTSD Lampeter students wins Inaugural BIAA Masters Dissertation Prize

The British Institute at Ankara supports, enables and encourages research in Turkey and the Black Sea region in a wide range of fields including archaeology, ancient and modern history, heritage management, social sciences and contemporary issues in public policy and political sciences.

UWTSD Student Cathy Graham was chosen as the winner for her dissertation: “Plaster as a vital material: The agency of plaster in the curation of the Çatalhöyük skull.”

The dissertation focuses on the Neolithic period, where there was a widespread tradition for some skulls to be covered in plaster. One of them was found in Turkey, nestled in the arms of a skeleton. As soon as she found out about this, Cathy was captivated.

“I wanted to know what made this skull so special that it should be treated differently. And that led me to wonder about the role plaster played in transforming an ordinary skull into something extraordinary. Although I didn’t know the term when I began, this is an approach called Vibrant Materialism which explores the agency of the material as well as the agency of the human creator, i.e., the properties of the plaster allow or limit the actions of the artist as an equal – it’s not just the artist imposing their ideas on the material. My dissertation explored the symbolism of the plaster, which was the most up-to-date high-tech material of the day.”

Cathy decided to apply for the competition, after a friend from the university told her about it. After submitting her work she forgot about it until she received an email to notify her that she had won. She said:

“I honestly couldn’t believe it. I thought it was just the notification to thank me for my entry and let me know that someone had won, so I had to read it at least twice! I honestly can’t think of a time when I have been so proud. I must have shouted out because everyone in the house came running to see what was going on.”

As part of her prize, Cathy won £500 plus a three-year membership of the BIAA.  She adds:

“I have been able to put it on an application to substantiate my rationale for a travel grant to go to Jordan and Jerusalem in September. The BIAA have also said that they hope I will go to Turkey to explore the sites in Ankara, which would be amazing.”

Cathy joined UWTSD as a student in 2017, after discovering the Ancient Religions Master’s course at Lampeter.  As a mature student, she felt that the University,

“was really welcoming and very open to people like me who had been out of formal education for a while, and the prospectus showed a happy and friendly atmosphere.”

Cathy decided to study for her Master’s part-time, and she enjoyed the course and how it developed her as an individual.

“I learned how to write in an academic style, though I still think the point of an essay should be clear communication with the readership rather than an attempt at one-upmanship in the use of arcane language. I began to develop my work habits too. I think being a mature student is probably an advantage when it comes to organisational skills though it is still very difficult to balance the needs of a family with one’s personal goals.

 “The family were very supportive, especially when I began writing up my dissertation, and I learned how to allocate certain times for different tasks.”

Professor Louise Steel, Cathy’s supervisor and Programme Director of the MA Ancient Religions is very proud of Cathy’s achievement.

“It has been a pleasure teaching Cathy over the last four years, and now that she is embarking on her PhD here in Lampeter - winning this award has been a wonderful and well-deserved feather in her cap. To come out on top in such a prestigious contest, is an achievement both she and UWTSD can quite rightly be very proud of.”

Further Information

Lowri Thomas, Principal Communications and PR Officer

07449 998476