Programme: Architecture - PhD

Year: 2020

Studying at ECA was a rich experience for Ziwen which resulted in a full scholarship for his PhD project from the China Scholarship Council as well as over ten international research awards including the University of Edinburgh's Tweedie Exploration Fellowship and The University of Edinburgh's Principal's Go Abroad Fund. 

Since graduating Ziwen has gone on to work as a lecturer at the Beijing Institute of Technology and has continued his research through the lens of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Why I chose to study Architecture - PhD

I chose to pursue a PhD research project in Architecture at ECA because of three main reasons:

  1. I had visited the city and its history, architecture and culture was very impressive.
  2. My research topic explores walking urbanism, and Edinburgh is an excellent example of a walkable city, so I was able to think about and experience ‘walking’ in my daily life.
  3. The university and the tutors are excellent. I was able to expand my knowledge, I was very well supported throughout my research and I could discuss my research interests with intelligent and inspiring scholars allowing me to explore both theoretical and pragmatic aspects of the project.
Image of Ziwen Sun
Image courtesy of Ziwen Sun

"ECA also offered multiple opportunities outside of my research project... Those various opportunities made a strong and solid foundation for my current career."

Ziwen Sun, Architecture - PhD alumnus

My time at ECA

My time at ECA was extremely intense and involved several intriguing projects.

The main project was my PhD research titled ‘Chinese Walking Urbanism: Notions, Life Stages and Vending-Walking Space in Smaller Chinese Cities’.

ECA offered excellent opportunities, and with my amazing supervisors and colleagues, I could explore my research topic more efficiently and creatively, incorporating interdisciplinary research. I realised, through this project, that to see walkable space and walking behaviours through the perspective of street vending is to see it with lateral vision, to understand how seemingly separate phenomena are connected.

Moreover, due to the good reputation and high-quality research training of ECA, I won a full scholarship for my PhD project from the China Scholarship Council, as well as over ten international research awards including an honorary mention at the Doctoral Researcher Awards, the University of Edinburgh's Tweedie Exploration Fellowship and Principals Go Abroad Fund.

ECA also offered multiple opportunities outside of my research project. I was offered an open-ended design tutor role teaching a BA Art & Design Studio, MLA Landscape Planning Studio, MSc Landscape Design for Health & Wellbeing Course and MSc Dissertations. Those various opportunities made a strong and solid foundation for my current career.

If I could start again, I would do a lot of the same things but I would also take the time to enjoy the city more and attend more of the diverse events the city has to offer.

Image from PhD project by Ziwen Sun
Image courtesy of Ziwen Sun
Image from PhD project by Ziwen Sun
Image courtesy of Ziwen Sun

My experiences since graduating 

After I graduated in March 2020, I was still tutoring MSc dissertations and working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) alongside being a member of Usher Network for Covid-19 Evidence Reviews (UNCOVER) at the University of Edinburgh. Therefore, I did not feel like I had graduated until I came back to China in August 2020. I do miss Edinburgh very much – the top-notch colleagues, active students, close friends, small cafes, cosy bars and the working environment.

My career plan was to stay in the UK for a couple of years. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, everything changed. I decided to accept the offer as an Assistant Professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT).

In my new job, I have continued to receive support from ECA and other departments at the University of Edinburgh. I settled into the job quickly due to my extensive teaching experience and high quality research over the years. I would like to thank my supervisors Dr Simon Bell, Iain Scott and my previous leader Prof Suzanne Ewing who assist me in encouraging communications between ECA and BIT and continue to support me my new job. I will endeavour to build a close relationship between the two universities, and I believe that my time at ECA will help me with that. 

In less than a year, I established a lab called Social Space & Healthy Environment (SSHE), started two new research projects, became course organisers for three courses and the Assistant Dean at the School of Design and Art (BIT). However, I think my biggest achievement is trying to fight the Covid-19 epidemic in our field by completing three research projects exploring the subject which were titled: Physical Activity and Covid-19; Compact Cities and the Covid-19 Pandemic; Use of urban Residential Community Parks for Stress Management During the Covid-19 Outbreak Period.

My advice to new and current students

Unlike other programmes a PhD project is a long period of time for which to study (perhaps over four years) and comes with a number of uncertainties and unexpected challenges. For the first year, my advice is don’t be afraid to explore new things and make contributions to science and society. For the final year, I would like to say that you are not alone, and we (your supervisors, colleagues and graduates) are all here to help you if you need it.


Are you interested in studying Architecture by Design - PhD at Edinburgh College of Art?

Related people