Dr Victoria Henshaw

Dr Victoria Henshaw’s fascinating research is into a subject that most of us experience on a daily basis, yet until she began her PhD, there was a huge gap in her field. With her PhD findings and subsequent research securing the publication of her first book ‘Urban Smellscapes: Understanding and Designing City Smell Environments’, a positive media response to her blog and now the supervision of her own doctoral students, Victoria is certainly a very busy lady. But as we shall see, this is nothing new.

Victoria grew up in South Yorkshire, a short distance away from Salford, where she still lives with her partner and three sons. Hers was a family of surveyors rather than academics, but this background does seem to have had some influence on the route her academic journey would take. After attending her local comprehensive school, followed by art school, Victoria went on to complete her undergraduate degree in 1994 from Leeds Metropolitan University in Services Management with a specialism in Design. Time spent gaining valuable industry experience, as well as further study followed; “I worked for local authorities and the government, both as an employee and a consultant for over thirteen years before starting my PhD. During this time I worked primarily in regeneration, development and town centre management and studied for all of my postgraduate qualifications, including a Master’s Degree in Urban Regeneration, at evening school.”
Regeneration and development is one thing, but the link to smell, which is such an innovative approach, how did that come about? Was there a ‘Eureka moment’? “When I started my PhD, I was very lucky in that my supervisors provided me the room to explore the literatures in the field and to focus in upon an area of particular interest to me.  My lead supervisor was Professor Trevor Cox in the Acoustics Research Centre who also supervised a number of students specialising in urban soundscape experience and design. Learning more about their work made me appreciate the important role of the senses in city design. Reflecting back upon my own experiences of managing and designing cities, I realised that smell was something that I had never thought about in my work and so I started to read about it. The more I read, the more I came to appreciate the huge gap of knowledge in this field, and my interest snowballed from there.”
In addition to the support from her supervisory team and the stimulation gained from working with her peers, Victoria credits the atmosphere at the University of Salford as being one of the reasons she decided to study here in the first place “when I came for the interview, it just felt like it was a place that I would enjoy working, which ultimately proved to be correct!”. There was also the benefit of EPSRC bursaries for research into the field of the management and design of 24 hour cities, which was perfect for Victoria, given her past experience.
Overall Victoria is keen to stress how much she loved undertaking a PhD and would definitely recommend the experience to others; however her studies were not entirely without problems “What I did find a challenge was the change in culture and after having worked in management positions in local authorities for many years, the adjustment to not being in charge anymore!”. She also found the conventional approach to full-time study a little stifling, which led her to take a gutsy decision; “I had always been used to balancing a whole range of different priorities which was both challenging but also a rich source of ideas and inspirations for me. The full-time focus of the PhD, although great for all kind of reasons, did start to drive me crazy towards the end so during my final year whilst writing-up I took the decision to forfeit the bursary and go back to work, and managed to secure a position as a Research Associate at the University of Sheffield.  This isn’t an approach I would recommend for most including not to my own PhD students as it required extreme focus and meant I spent every night and weekend for over a year working on my PhD, but for me it worked.”
After successfully completing her PhD on schedule Victoria knew that she wanted to continue to work in academia however, she also realised that it would be beneficial to continue her research and develop her publishing profile before securing a lecturer’s position. It was while working as a Research Associate at the University of Manchester that her book ‘Urban Smellscapes’ was contracted to the publishers Routledge, and Victoria also “built my local network by securing a small amount of funding to work with other academics in the area in delivering an exploratory project on Smell and the City. This led to the development of my blog on this topic which since its launch in March 2012 has now gained almost 23,000 hits from more than 100 countries and has helped me in establishing my name in this field of research. The blog has been particularly useful in getting the word out to non-academic audiences and as a result I have gained coverage in a wide range of international media outlets including The Independent, Wired Magazine and BBC Radio 4 here in the UK.” Such media recognition is obviously valuable to Victoria’s career, but it is an area she would like to refine, as she explains “in the future I would hope that this becomes more focussed and specialist, taking up less of my time than it does currently, but reaching a more targeted audience.”
Dr Henshaw’s current position is at the University of Sheffield where she lectures in the Department of Town and Regional Planning, and is also the programme director for the Master’s course in Urban Design and Planning. The attainment of a PhD was crucial to her acquiring this role especially as she now has doctoral students of her own to supervise, but it was also important for other reasons, as she says “The PhD was also key in building my own research reputation and networks, which I now utilise in developing new project ideas and proposals for the UK and European research councils”. As to the future, Victoria has very definite goals “In the short term, my plans are to survive my first year in post as a lecturer whilst continuing to balance this with the demands of my research, which is easier said than done sometimes! In the longer terms, I hope to secure external funding support to work with external organisations and professional specialists to apply theories of smell design to practical case studies. I also hope to edit a new proposed book highlighting practical examples and decisions required in incorporating smell considerations into spatial design practices.” Given the impact that her research could have on all of those who live in cities, it will be most interesting to see how it develops… 

It is with great sadness that we add a post script to this story which was written in the summer of 2014; Dr Victoria Henshaw passed away on 13th October 2014. Her success story will remain here as a tribute to her, and her research. The PGR team are grateful to Victoria for the time she gave us in compiling this article and the fantastic advice she shared with our current students.