Dr Jennifer Cole

Personal profile

I am a biological anthropologist interested in how humans influence and adapt to changing environmental conditions, particularly in the context of the human-induced changes of the Anthropocene.

I am also:

The Northern Europe Hub Co-ordinator for the Planetary Health Alliance (https://www.planetaryhealthalliance.org)

A member of the Editorial Board of the Global Journal of Medicine and Public Health (https://gjmedph.com)

A World Health Organization Infodemic Manager

Geography Recorder for the British Science Association (https://www.britishscienceassociation.org/geography-section)

Research interests (continued)

Human health and behaviour


Evolutionary biology

Information spread

Research interests:

My research interests are human health, particularly with regard to evolutionary and population biology, including how we have adapted to live in modern environments, how modern conditions affect our health across the life course, and the risks posed to health when healthcare systems are disrupted or overwhelmed by conflict, disasters and emergencies.

I am interested in resilience at individual, community, national and international levels, particularly in response to natural hazards including serious disease outbreaks, severe weather events, CBRN attacks, flooding and climate change. From 2007-2017, I ran the Resilience and Emergency Management programme within the National Security and Resilience Department of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), a policy think tank working closely with UK government including the Cabinet Office, MoD, Home Office and Foreign Office.

My PhD was in Computer Science, and I retain an interest in how health information is sought out, shared and trusted during health emergencies, including over peer-to-peer platforms and social media, and how relevant scientific information and advice is communicated from the authorities to the affected population. During the COVID19 pandemic, I have moderated discussion forums on reddit, including r/COVID19_support, which I set up in February 2020.

Current projects:

I am currently a co-investigator on two projects jointly funded by the ESRC and the Indian Department of Biotechnology (DBT) under the Newton-Bhabha Fund, exploring how antimicrobial resistance emerges and spreads in agricultural environments, particularly through the farm-to-fork poultry food chain. My role in the projects is to lead social science work packages that will provide a stronger understanding of the behaviour, beliefs and relationships that drive the use of antibiotics, including mapping the flow of antibiotics into the food systems and the behavioural drivers of use.

Within this, I am particularly interested in the modernisation of Indian food systems, which are transitioning from smallholder farms that sell through wet markets direct to consumers, to intensive commercial systems that produce packaged foods (often refrigerated or frozen) to supermarkets. I am interested in the impact and potential impact of this transition on food safety and diet, on the livelihoods of the producers and on the spread of antibiotic resistance through farms, farming communities and food chains.

I am also Co-I on an AHRC-funded project, led by Dr Oli Mould at RHUL, to investigate the role of emergent volunteers during the COVID19 pandemic, including how they self-orgnanised, the services they provided, and how they fitted into local response frameworks. 


Educational background

My undergraduate degree is in Archaeology and Anthropology from Cambridge University (Part II Biological Anthropology). My dissertation was on sexual dimorphism in Australopithecus afarensis.

I hold a PhD from Royal Holloway, funded under a Reid Scholarship in Health, the Human Body and Behaviour, administered through the School of Biological Sciences and co-supervised by the departments of Computer Science and Geography. My PhD Thesis, entitled "The Role of Online Discussion Forums During a Public Health Emergency", explored how a peer-to-peer forum could be configured to provide high-quality, trusted information during a serious disease outbreak.

From 2013-2016 I was a Visiting Fellow at Symbiosis School of Biological Sciences, Symbiosis International University, in Pune, India, as part of an FCO-funded project to promote the safe and secure use of radiological material and radiopharmaceuticals in India's expanding nuclear medicine sector.

From 2017-2019 I was Public Health Policy Advisor to the Rockefeller Foundation Economic Council on Planetary Health at Oxford University. I worked full-time at the Oxford Martin School from September 2017-August 2018. 

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