My week as a lecturer #9…moving and returning

This week has involved moving house. Hurrah! IMG_3949.JPGI now have a room full of boxes and bookcases waiting to be unpacked. Everything from my undergrad days to PhD to many volumes of geography journals. But this is to fast forward to Tuesday.

Monday began with the essay hand-in for my course. Students began heading to the department office at about 9am. I was there to greet them – prior to our lecture session at 10am. The theme this week was gender and geography, covering aspects of gender of geography and geography of gender. A great moment was sharing this quote:

scientific knowledge “is a form of knowledge which assumes a knower who believes he can separate himself from his body, emotions, values, past and so on, so that he and his thought are autonomous, context-free and objective” (Rose 1993, p. 7).

I then asked students who agreed there were other ways of knowing and thinking geographically to stand on the small stage in the lecture room. I’d say 70 of 74 in attendance agreed that knowledge couldn’t be context-free: “I have a passion for studying geography, my emotions are part of what I do”. The 4 who disagreed, argued that whilst they acknowledged their emotions, memories, experiences – they would set all of that to one side in order to be unbiased. The debate continues…

Wednesday was all about Athena SWAN and our Gender and Fieldwork project. We were exploring student data today. It looks like we have a good balance between female/male UG students although it will be interesting to compare this with HESA data for the sector. We also talked about a mini-conference we are hosting in April to share our stories from the field.

Thursday was a real treat. I returned to my alma mater, the University of Exeter, to give the geography department seminar. I couldn’t resist a quick walk around campus and the changes since I was undergrad were incredible, in particular the Forum – combining library, teaching, shopping, exhibition spaces. IMG_3959.JPG I followed my seminar with discussions with colleagues – Saffron O’Neill, Gail Davies, David Harvey, Sam Kinsley, Ian Cook and John Wylie. Here is the container ship developed as part of Ian’s work on Lego and follow the thing. IMG_3960.JPG
Today – Friday – is all about student meetings, marking and a chat with my conservingc20 buddies Hannah Neate and Ruth Craggs. This morning I am hosting my first group dissertation meeting – we’ll be talking about how to structure the dissertation. Let’s see how creative we can be!

Right now? I’m going to grab a coffee and explore the new garden before work.

Australia, Part 1 – 6 weeks that changed me as a researcher

My office door in Reading!

My office door in Reading!

At the end of May 2014, I printed out my ticket and boarded a flight to Sydney. The furthest I’ve been is Egypt to the East and Chicago to the West. For a geographer I’ve not been particularly adventurous in my travels. My sister, on the other hand, an economist, has been all over the world. I was nervous, excited and ready! A highlight of my ESRC Future Research Leader award was an opportunity to visit Australia in order to conduct some comparative research on citizen responses to biosecurity. When I wrote the funding application I hoped this element would be funded but I hadn’t really prepared mentally for what it would mean to leave my other half at home and travel to the other side of the world. The flight was on time. I was carrying a very full briefcase and carry-on full of anything and everything that might help me get through the 23 hour flight. I learnt my lesson on the way back. Travel light. With very little hand luggage. Watch movies. Don’t contemplate work.

Packed and ready to go

Packed and ready to go

I want to get this out of the way from the beginning – I wasn’t travelling alone. My mum, retired, furthest she’d travelled was Spain – said, at the first serious mention that I was booking the flights, “I’m coming with you!” This is an element of the research process that is often written out of our accounts, but several colleagues, including the wonderful Caren Cooper [here], have discussed it here and here – travelling with family for research. It made this trip an adventure in more ways than one. To have an extra pair of hands with me meant my visits to museums and other cultural centres for background research were easier, the loneliness of the long distance researcher was mitigated and the eyes and ears that would return from days out full of tales of trees, sites I didn’t get a chance to visit, and observations of landscape, flora and fauna added to my research and trip.

Blue Mountains with my mum

Blue Mountains with my mum

Please note she paid for herself throughout this trip. In fact, she spent many days of the trip on her own – on her own research adventure.

I went to Australia following a ridiculously busy week. I’d held two tree health workshops at Reading in the week before and then in the days before I organised a social science event for researchers at Reading and on the very day of departure interviewed for my first PhD student. Getting on the plane then was a relief. We finally arrived in Sydney at 5am. And my research started almost immediately as we declared our ‘biosecureness’ at the border. We then waited an hour until sunrise before we took a taxi into the city. I didn’t want to miss my first glimpse of the Australian trees. I wasn’t disappointed. Gum trees lined the roads as we made our way to our hotel. After a quick shower, we walked through Hyde Park towards the Harbour. It was 8am on a  Sunday morning. It was peaceful apart from the squawks of birds I couldn’t yet identify. But the trees… wow.

Hyde Park, 8am

Hyde Park, 8am

Precinct of trees, Hyde Park

Precinct of trees, Hyde Park

Looking up!

Looking up!


Amazing – Sydney Harbour Bridge.

By 1pm on the first day, we were desperate to check-in to our hotel. Exhausted. We were up early the next day and we walked and walked and walked. And it was over the course of this day in Australia that I was confronted with a set of issues that have changed me as a researcher. The day began with a trip to the Australian National Maritime Museum. The first stop was a replica of HMB Endeavour – Captain James Cook’s ship on his first voyage, to Australia in 1769 to 1771.

"The Great Cabin is where Cook worked and dined, sharing the space with famous botanist Joseph Banks"

“The Great Cabin is where Cook worked and dined, sharing the space with famous botanist Joseph Banks”

A view from HMB Endeavour (replica) at Australian National Maritime Museum

A view from HMB Endeavour (replica) at Australian National Maritime Museum

Cabin of Botanist Joseph Banks

Cabin of Botanist Joseph Banks

"The Welcome Wall, located at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour, stands in honour of all those who have migrated to live in Australia. Registered names are permanently engraved in bronze"

“The Welcome Wall, located at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour, stands in honour of all those who have migrated to live in Australia. Registered names are permanently engraved in bronze”

I completed my PhD at Royal Holloway, under the supervision of historical geographer Felix Driver. I was therefore very attentive to the postcolonial context of Australia and the contested cultures of exploration, hidden histories and the ways in which the history of geography is implicated in these difficult and challenging pasts, presents and futures. Some might say I am making a bit too much of this, but for me, being on HMB Endeavour in the Australian National Maritime Museum made me feel very uneasy. One of my hosts in Wollongong, Chris Gibson, later suggested I read The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes. The thing is – Sydney and the bits of Australia I visited felt very familiar – the language, the mainstream culture, the shops, the food. The landscapes, flora and fauna differed, but the familiarity in many other things was striking. Ien Ang describes this:

“Australia remains predominantly populated by Anglo-Celtic people, who inhabit exnominated whiteness in this country. Its main social institutions and basic cultural orientations are identifiably Western, and as a nation it is categorised in the international order as part of ‘the West’.”

Ang, an Asian in Australia, goes on to describe a situation in a supermarket where she accidentally bumps into a middle-aged white woman. The woman begins to verbally attack Ang, “why don’t you go back to your own country!” Ang places this example:

“in the larger context of Australian cultural history, the racism expressed here is not just ordinary prejudice. There is a measure of spite in her insistence with which this white woman proclaims Australia as her ‘home’ while emphatically denying me the right to do the same. It shocked me, because I thought this kind of thing was possible in Europe, not in a settler society such as Australia. In declaring herself to be a native threatened by alien immigrants, she displays an historical amnesia of (British) colonialism which actively erases the history of Aboriginal dispossession of the land. In other words, in her claim that Asians don’t belong in this country, she simultaneously reproduces, in a single appropriative gesture, the exclusion of Aboriginal people.”

From: Ang, I. (2003). I’m a feminist but…‘Other’ women and post national feminism. In Feminist postcolonial theory: A reader, 190-206.

I’ve spent over 10 years researching enthusiasm in a largely middle-class, retired, white, male environment. Enthusiasm is a topic regarded by many as ‘boring’, luxurious and frivolous. This trip to Australia was different. And so began 6 weeks – related in part to what Ang describes as ‘historical amnesia’ – that have had an emotional impact upon me that I have only felt able to write about 7 months later. I’m not alone in these feelings, but this emotional response to being in Australia was, for me, unimaginable prior to the trip. For a while I couldn’t stop thinking about it and noticing how it was changing the questions I wanted to ask about ‘enthusiasm’. I wish I hadn’t left it so long to begin my adventure.  To be continued…(part 1 of 5).

My week as a lecturer #8…essays, trees, telephones

Monday I started with the 9am lecture. This time earth-writing and referencing masterclass. The referencing winners? Bribed with Celebrations. IMG_3892.JPGLunch? There is a guy in our department who microwaves the most delicious smelling packed lunch most days. Here was Monday’s selection – salmon, rice and veg. IMG_3893.JPG Tuesday I worked from home. Me, coffee, tea, and a lot of reading. I managed to read quite a few papers by geographers on biosecurity and anthropologists on para-ethnography. This was in preparation for Wednesday. I went up to London to the OPAL HQ to interview colleagues about their tree health citizen science survey. IMG_3894.JPG Trees are never far away in the Director’s office! Whilst the 3 hour interview was a real highlight of my research for this week, the thing that really made me smile was finally getting over to the Science Museum and their new Information Age gallery, from their website…:

More than 200 years of innovation in communication and information technologies are celebrated in Information Age: Six Networks That Changed Our World, our biggest and most ambitious gallery to date.

Information Age is divided into six zones, each representing a different information and communication technology network: The Cable, The Telephone Exchange, Broadcast, The Constellation, The Cell and The Web.

The gallery explores the important events which shaped the development of these networks, from the dramatic stories behind the growth of the worldwide telegraph network in the 19th century, to the influence of mobile phones on our lives today.

Re-live remarkable moments in history, told through the eyes of those who invented, operated or were affected by the new wave of technology, from the first BBC radio broadcast in 1922 to the dawn of digital TV.

Discover how wireless technology enabled lives to be saved and news of the Titanic disaster to be spread to the world within hours of the event, and hear the personal stories of the operators who worked on the Enfield Telephone Exchange, the last manual exchange which marked the end of an era in communication history.

I didn’t have much time so dashed straight to the Exchange section. The Enfield switchboard looked amazing with a transparent photo of women working in the Exhange framing the display. You could put on a head set and plug in a call to hear the oral histories of the hello girls. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. A small criticism – I wanted to see a picture of those women now. But that’s minor. Loved it! IMG_3900.JPGIMG_3896.JPGIMG_3899.JPGIMG_3898.JPGIMG_3910.JPG I also caught up with Alison Hess my buddy and co-author on our object-love paper in cultural geographies. Here she is with 2LO – the BBC transmitter that was the focus of her PhD.

IMG_3914.JPG I also bumped into an old PhD friend – Pegasus – a favourite of the Computer Conservation Society.

Thursday – I spent the day with colleagues from the arts and humanities as we discussed and debated the University’s new strategy theme around heritage, creativity and values. Great conservation about “bad” enthusiasm with our Dean.

Friday – it’s raining. I’ve got 10 student meetings. Can you tell that an essay is due in on Monday?!

AAG 2015 in Chicago.

My session on citizen science, VGI and enthusiasm is go. Here’s a preview…

Beyond motivation? Understanding enthusiasm in citizen science and volunteered geographic information
Hilary Geoghegan and Muki Haklay

Hilary Geoghegan, Citizen and Scientist Enthusiasm for Tree Health Surveillance in the UK

Britta Ricker, Look what I can do! Offering data visualization in citizen science applications for increased motivation to participate

Angelique Hjarding, Empowering Communities Through Citizen Science

Brittany Davis, Motivated to Kill: Lionfish Derbies, Scuba Divers, and Citizen Science

Cheryl Gilge, The rhetorical flourish of citizen participation (or, the formation of cultural fascism?)

In recent years, citizen science has gained recognition as a new frontier for knowledge creation and geographic understanding. Citizen science can be defined as the participation of non-professional scientists in scientific knowledge production (Bonney et al. 2009; Silvertown 2009), and can be seen as part of both a long tradition of amateur, volunteer and enthusiast participation in science and a wider phenomenon of new collaborative forms of knowledge creation facilitated by information and communication technology, as well as societal changes. For geographers and other professional researchers, the inclusion of many more participants in the process of scientific knowledge production is opening up new places and experiences that could not be captured before due to limits in time, financial resources and geographical coverage.

Understanding what motivates participation in citizen science and volunteered geographic information (VGI) activities is regarded by many practitioners and policymakers as the pathway to increased participation. Sometimes, it seems that this is a search for a magic lever to achieve this. However, in this session we move beyond narrow discussion on motivation, to explore what else matters in the context of citizen science and VGI participation.

This session seeks to explore and debate current research and practice moving beyond motivation, to consider the associated enthusiasm, materials and meanings of participating in citizen science and VGI.

My week as a lecturer #7…photos

It’s been enhancement week at the University of Reading. No timetabled lectures but plenty of career-related events, field classes and dissertation presentations. Here are a few snaps…

1. Athena SWAN certificate spotted in Head of School’s office
2. Historical Geography Research Group Practising Historical Geography Conference
3. Nice to see geography common rooms across the land have very similar chairs :-)IMG_3873-0.JPG
4. Swiss chocolate – perfect accompaniment to a PowerPoint free Sunday!IMG_3861.JPG
5. Plans for a North America/ Australia visit in 2015. AAG and Citizen Science Conference #excitingIMG_2327.JPG

My week as a lecturer #6 – campus, home, online

It was chilly in the Dome on Saturday for our open day. The opportunity to talk to current and prospective students and parents with lots of questions is inspiring. A popular question is BSc or BA – which is best? My favourite question to ask: what excites you about geography?
IMG_3811.JPGThis week started with my lecture at 9am on Monday. We spent the first hour discussing theories of scale. Using case studies created by the students – including ebola, Central Park, computers, chocolate – to reveal the interconnectedness of scale. 5 groups gave 1 minute presentations on the global, national, local, community, personal. Brilliant work. Following 2 dissertation meetings I headed down to the Museum of English Rural Life to hear a seminar by my chum Dr Innes Keighren from the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway. His paper was on: ‘Travels in a publisher’s archive: John Murray and nineteenth-century travel publishing’. IMG_3819-0.JPG Following Dr Keighren’s talk we spent some time in the Reading room to view a pop-up exhibition using items from the University’s special collections. A great way to illustrate a talk.

I managed to work from home one day this week. A time to catch-up with tree health and my ideas about human and non-human enthusiasm. My research has focused on the tree disease Chalara dieback of ash. After all my study started 4 days before…
IMG_3735.PNG I spent most of the day learning about the life cycle of the fungi. I also organised several interviews with participants. I needed a cheese and tomato toastie to fuel thinking! IMG_3821.JPG To add to the non-human thinking, next door’s cat joined me. Pushing me off my seat and getting comfortable. IMG_3849.JPG Yesterday was all about staff development, wellbeing and Athena SWAN. Here are the smiley faces of our School Self Assessment Team:
IMG_3855.JPG Mainly committee meetings but also plenty of discussion around these meetings about collegiality, decoration plans for our common room and the realisation that we don’t have enough end of term parties to attend! On a serious note though, yesterday we launched our School blog called SAGE(S) Advice. It’s all about fieldwork, gender and careers. Next week: Enhancement Week.

Too smart to be an academic?

This is a bit of a different post for me. At the IAG/NZGS conference in Melbourne, I was encouraged by colleagues to speak up a little bit more…

Guardian pages have been doing the rounds in the Twittersphere in recent weeks. The topics: what not to wear as an academic; and advice on being confident in a world of imposters. I’ve thought about writing about both myself. I mean – how many times have I searched the Internet for conference attire inspiration.

This week – the clothes. For a long time, I didn’t really think too much about what I wore or the impression my clothing made in a work setting – I wanted to feel comfortable and reasonably well turned out. Although I must admit at this point my rather bizarre passion for wearing clothes that in some way signal to my research interests – here is the pine cone dress for example.

Prior to our enthusiasm for trees event in Melbourne

Prior to our enthusiasm for trees event in Melbourne

Over the last year or so what I wear has been something I’ve paid increasing attention to. Why? Because I have a job that pays a little bit better so I can begin to enjoy the sort of clothes I like, but clothing is our visible frontline. Clothes draw attention towards us and push it away. We all use clothing to differing extents to blend in, make a statement, feel comfortable, feel bold. For me, the same goes for shoes, makeup, hair, glasses, bags, laptops…

Chilli top for conference presentation

Chilli top for conference presentation

Painted nails

Painted nails

Miss Marple hat

Miss Marple hat

Why do academics dress so badly? (Answer: they are too happy) by Jonathan Wolff caused a stir last week. His article suggested that “Academics dress badly because we are so fulfilled in our work”. Now it’s a fair comment that compared to other sectors, academics dress differently – our uniform isn’t business casual – we operate on a continuum ranging from what some non-academics would wear to do the gardening [think The Good Life] or a day in court [think The Apprentice]. I suppose we don’t have a uniform. Fulfilment and happiness come into it but many academics that I’ve spoken to feel that people shouldn’t care about what we wear. We are to be judged by the quality of our work, not by the neatness of our hair. Our intellect over our academic fashion. I think the idea that we are “not an industry” plays a big part too (although universities feel increasingly like businesses). My other half works in the corporate sector, the idea that he’d show up to a meeting in anything other than a dark suit, tie and polished shoes is for his business – ludicrous. As long as we retain our individual offices, we will to a certain extent continue to retain our individual styles in a way that other sectors lost long ago. If someone wants to wear a fleece, Velcro sandals or trousers that are too short who is anyone to stop them. Jonathan Wolff continues:

Should academics really worry about how they look? Some, it seems, plainly don’t, but a colleague told me it probably takes her as long to decide what to wear to project her “I don’t care” look, as it does others who dress to impress. This, possibly, does mark a gender split. Men can just put on the same clothes every day until the trousers run away on their own in protest when you try to pick them up off the floor.

Academics have responded to Jonathan Wolff – highlighting the gendered nature of his article, for example: Female academics: don’t power dress, forget heels – and no flowing hair allowed by Francesca Stavrakopoulou:

Jonathan Wolff’s blog about the way academics dress caused uproar on my Twitter and Facebook feeds this week. And rightly so. Despite occasionally acknowledging that some academics might be women, his comments betrayed his assumption that academics are male, for apparently their default uniform comprises trousers, a jacket, a shirt and a tie. But the most galling thing about his assumption is that in one way, he’s right: masculine dress is the standard academic uniform, for academia remains an overtly male domain. As a result, female academics find their appearance scrutinised in ways a male colleague would rarely encounter.

Francesca Stavrakopoulou is clearly onto something here. I heard a collective “speak for yourself” coming from my female colleagues on Twitter and Facebook in response to Jonathan Wolff’s article. Female style is more closely scrutinised than male style. Indeed, women are often the first to judge the style of other women too.IMG_3070

So what can we do about it? Well, rather than regarding a blogpost about academic fashion as taking us away from our real work, we should get involved in a discussion so intimately linked to how academics are perceived by the world outwith Higher Education. University open days are a classic example – should the head of department wear a suit? Should the young lecturer dress casually and then be mistaken for one of the students? Should the VC be in chinos and a blazer? I wanted to write this blogpost because I am becoming increasingly concerned by the amount of time I sometimes spend on deciding what to wear. The following example is just one such situation that has prompted this over-analysis. I decided to wear this blue jumper dress at a research council panel meeting:


Blue jumper dress

It appeared to my colleague on the panel that I was one of the support staff who had arranged the meeting. Okay – it might not just be the outfit I’d chosen, it could be that the person in question missed the moment when we all introduced ourselves. But following a discussion on social media, I am going to settle on the suggestion that on this occasion I was dressed “too smart to be an academic”. This opens up another set of issues around distinctions that make me so angry made between staff working across universities and Higher Education, particularly differences in interactions between academics and those leading on the internal/external workings that support academic life.

My peers, namely the female academics I’ve worked alongside, are rarely seen in a masculinist uniform. They wear bold colours. They have impressive haircuts, paint their nails and keep up with the latest trends. Of course there are exceptions and people for whom this sort of thing holds no interest whatsoever. Let’s: live and let live. From my perspective, we should wear whatever we want in the pursuit and communication of knowledge – who cares whether we are too smart.