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Helen Sampson

Professor Helen Sampson

Director, SIRC

School of Social Sciences

+44 29208 74475
52 Park Place, Room 52 Park Place SIRC, Cathays, Cardiff, CF10 3AT
Available for postgraduate supervision


I have studied the shipping industry and seafarers since 1999. My research and publications 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.

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

I have an interest in photography and film and have produced several short films relating to the work and lives of seafarers. I write in a variety of formats and have authored many reports for industry audiences, short articles for newspapers and magazines, peer reviewed journal articles, and books. In 2014, I was very happy to win the BBC/British Sociological Association ethnography award for International Seafarers and Transnationalism in the Twenty-First Century. This book has been translated into Portuguese and in 2018 it was published by UNICAMP Press in Brazil.

I have undertaken a number of advisory roles for governmental and non-gvernmental bodies including as a specialist advisor to the UK government’s ‘Transport Committee’, as a member of the ‘European Commission's Task Force on Maritime Employment and Competitiveness’, and as an advisor to the Sailors' Society. 

I am currently serving as a Commissioner on the Maritime UK/ Department for Transport, UK Maritime Skills Commission,

























Book sections





I have 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
  • Lloyd's Register Foundation-funded review of evidence in decision making

Currrent impact projects include:

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


I have contributed to Masters level teaching in the School of Social Sciences as well teaching for the Doctoral Academy on researcher risk


I have a relatively unusual background which has fortuituosly provided me with a strong foundation for my work with international policy makers, regulators, employers, charities, trade unions, and seafarers in my role as Director of the Seafarers International Research Centre.

I was born in Malaysia and grew up in Singapore which has given me a strong connection with the region where most seafarers in the cargo sector come from. It is also an area where the shipping industry is thriving.

I spent 14 years working outside universities before comng to Cardiff in 1999. In 1985, I completed a degree in Sociology at the University of Durham and passed the civil service entrance examination for management trainees. I joined the Department of Employment (DoE) in 1986 and for just over three years, worked with employers, charities, the general public, and in specific roles with people living with disabilities and experiencing long-term unemployment. There were many positive things about this experience including access to first class management training. However, in 1988, I found myself disenchanted with changes at the DoE and joined more than one 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. I was delighted to pass the exhaustive tests and interviews and with VSOs financial backing I attended the school and gained an RSA certificate in teaching english as a foreign language. Unfortunatley, just as our cohort was ready to depart, a clamp down on pro-democracy demonstrations caused VSO to temporarily pull out of China. VSO released us from our obligations and left us to decide on whether we would return to work elsewhere or wait for the situation in China to be resolved. In this context, I accepted a paid job in Finland teaching English to workers in factories and businesses in Lahti.

I enjoyed teaching, and on my return to the UK, I enrolled for a PGCE (secondary and further education). My first job involved teaching Sociology (A and Open College level), Criminology (Open College level) and Women’s Studies (undergraduate level)  at Wigan and Leigh College of Further and Higher Education. I was also interested in research and while teaching I decided to embark on a part-time PhD. In 1994, I became an independent researcher for a commercial company and  in 1995 I established a private limited company conducting research for Training and Enterprise Councils, Local Authorities, and Government Departments. It was in this capacity, that I 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 I was recruited permanently to the staff there in September 1999. I became Deputy Director in 2002 and SIRC Director in 2003.


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.