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Professor Helen Sampson

Professor Helen Sampson

Director, SIRC

School of Social Sciences

Available for postgraduate supervision


Helen has studied the shipping industry and seafarers since 1999. Her research and publications in this area have focussed on: work; skills and training; regulation; corporate social responsibility; gender; transnationalism; structured social space; health and wellbeing; ship-shore interaction and the use of mandatory equipment.

Helen has also contributed to debates on research methods and has published articles and chapters on: researcher risk; Delphi groups; pilot studies; real life vignettes; and accessing elites. She is interested in the emerging area of Human-Animal Studies (HAS) and has undertaken research on horse welfare in Wales and power relationships between horses and their keepers.

 In 2014 she won the British Sociological Association/BBC prize for Ethnography for her book International Seafarers and Transnationalism in the Twenty-First Century.


Helen’s unusual background has provided a strong foundation for her work with international policy makers, regulators, employers, charities, trade unions, and seafarers in her role as Director of the Seafarers International Research Centre.

Helen was born in Malaysia and grew up in Singapore. She moved permanently to the UK in 1977.

In 1985, having attained a degree in Sociology from the University of Durham, she passed the civil service entrance examination and joined the Department of Employment (DoE) as a management trainee. For just over three years, she worked with employers, charities, the general public, and in specific roles with people living with disabilities and experiencing long-term unemployment. In 1988, disenchanted with changes at the DoE, she joined more than a thousand graduates in applying for an experimental programme which had been introduced at Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). The programme would pay for twelve people to be trained at the Bell School to teach English as a Foreign Language and to be posted as volunteer teachers to China. Unfortunately, just prior to her departure, a clamp down on pro-democracy demonstrations caused VSO to temporarily pull out of China. Helen therefore accepted a paid job in Finland teaching English to workers in factories and businesses in Lahti.

On her return to the UK, she enrolled for a PGCE (secondary and further education) and subsequently taught Sociology (A and Open College level), Criminology (Open College level) and Women’s Studies (undergraduate level) for three years at Wigan and Leigh College of Further and Higher Education. Having begun a part-time PhD at Salford, she left the college in 1994 to become an independent researcher for a commercial research company. In 1995, she established a private limited company conducting employment and education research for Training and Enterprise Councils, Local Authorities, and Government Departments. It was in this capacity that she was approached by the Director of SIRC in early 1999 for assistance with an ESRC-funded study involving fieldwork on board a refrigerated cargo ship. At that time SIRC was located in the Maritime Studies department and Helen was recruited permanently to the staff there in September 1999. She was made Deputy Director in 2002 and SIRC Director in 2003.





















Helen teaches for the Doctoral Academy on researcher risk

Helen has undertaken research in the following areas:

  • Work and employment
  • The governance of globalised industries
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Vocational education and training
  • Globalisation
  • Migration, transnationalism, and social space
  • Gender and employment
  • Gender and education
  • Trust, corruption, and related issues in ship-shore relationships
  • Human interactions with shipboard mandatory equipment
  • Human relationships with other animals

Current research projects include:

  • ESRC-funded study of faith in multi-ethnic contexts
  • Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)-funded study of the mental wellbeing of seafarers

Currrent impact projects include:

  • Lloyd's Register Foundation-funded programme to translate research into action in the international shipping industry


I am happy to work wiith PhD students with an interest in:

  • Human relationships with other animals
  • The sociology of work
  • Transnationalism/migration
  • Ethnography
  • The maritime industry
  • Globalisation.