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Dr Jessica Gagnon


Jessica Gagnon


Dr Jessica Gagnon is a sociologist of higher education. She is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Education and Sociology at the University of Portsmouth, where she leads the University of Portsmouth Higher Education Forum, an inter-disciplinary hub for the development, implementation and promotion of world-leading research in the field. She has a track record of securing research funding and publishes widely around inequalities in higher education. She currently leads the Office for Students (formerly HEFCE) funded Changing Mindsets project and she is a researcher on several other funded projects.

Dr Gagnon has a PhD in Education and an MSc in Social Research Methods from the University of Sussex, an MA in Higher Education from Santa Clara University, and a BA in English and Journalism from Framingham State University. She is a first-generation student from a working-class, single mother family. Dr Gagnon has worked in higher education in the US and UK for more than 15 years. In addition to her research, she has taught at the undergraduate, postgraduate, and doctoral levels.

Research Interests

Dr Gagnon’s PhD research was focused on the university experiences of the daughters of single mothers in the United Kingdom.  Her research has been featured in The Times Higher Education: and Her PhD thesis can be accessed online: 

Dr Gagnon’s M.A. research was a longitudinal case study focused on the vocational discernment process and persistence of first-generation premedical students in the United States. In addition to her own research, she has over a decade of experience serving as an academic researcher for mixed methods and qualitative projects focused on higher education.

Areas of interest

  • Higher education
  • Widening participation
  • Student experiences
  • Underrepresented students
  • First-generation students
  • Teaching and learning
  • Critical, creative, and innovative pedagogies
  • Identities and intersectionality
  • Gender studies
  • Families and kinship
  • Social justice, inequalities and social exclusion
  • Political and social protest and activism
  • Language, discourse, and power
  • Qualitative and mixed research methods

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