We chat to doctoral candidate Gabriella Kountourides as her film, produced as part of a collaboration between BBC Ideas and the Social Sciences Division at University of Oxford, reaches a quarter of a million views
In the film you tell us five things we probably don't know about periods, what would be the 6th thing?
Variation is normal! Throughout our lives, menstrual cycles rarely stay the same. As teenagers, there is a lot of variation in cycle length, ranging from 21 to 45 days. As adults, cycles settle into a more stable pattern, typically falling within the 24 to 38-day range. But the story doesn't end there; social, environmental, and physical factors all play a pivotal role in shaping our menstrual rhythms. Diet, exercise routine, and even the rigors of jetlag can impact cycles! Stress, smoking, and shift work are just a few examples of factors that can influence cycles to be longer, shorter, or more days of bleeding.
And another thing?
In the past, misconceptions about menstrual blood led to enduring taboos that persist across cultures. Some taboos in the UK suggested that making bread during a period would stop it from rising!
In 1920, Dr. Schick introduced the term 'menotoxin' after observing that flowers wilted quicker when held by menstruating nurses... This has been firmly disproved, and there is nothing dirty or dangerous about period blood. It's just blood.
How does it feel knowing over a quarter of a million people have engaged with your DPhil research?
Honestly it feels incredible. Academia can sometimes feel like a solitary job, with limited ways we can share our research with a broader audience. I've attempted to bridge that gap through a few podcasts and blogs, but the impact doesn't compare to this! It's an amazing feeling to know how many people have engaged with my research! What is even more rewarding is getting emails and questions from members of the public! It is really great to know that what I'm working on resonates with so many.
How did your ideas for the film evolve over the process of making it?
I had so many different ideas at the start and worked with the BBC and social sciences team to really hone in on what was important and what an audience might find interesting. The hardest work for me was at the start, to narrow it all down into a focused concept. Once we settled on the direction, the actual filming was a lot of fun! What I found particularly rewarding was entrusting my ideas to the production team. I wouldn't consider myself especially creative, so it was great to watch how the team embraced the narrative and crafted stunning visuals and graphics that brought the project to a whole new level.
What was the biggest thing you learned during the process?
I think just how genuinely interested people are in my research. In the world of academia, it's quite common to get hyper-focused on your work, and while I've always had a passion for what I do, it was truly refreshing to see the genuine excitement and enthusiasm from everyone involved – from the social sciences team to the BBC team and the production crew. And, of course, the viewers who engaged with the project echoed this sentiment, which was incredible.
You end the film talking about how exciting it is that there is so much research there is to be done – can you tell us a bit more about what you’re doing to help that research along?
So I'm finishing my PhD, and my focus is on premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and understanding why individuals experience it to varying degrees. I've been running lab-based and survey research for this, and I'm hoping to publish my work soon, so stay tuned!
You can see all four films produced as part of this series on BBC Ideas.