PGR @ Geography

PGR @ Geography
2015 PhD research
The School of Geography at Queen Mary University of London is ranked fifth in the UK for the quality of its research publications. PhD students come from all walks of life to join our School and study a wide range of topics. Specialisms in the School are set in four themes: Culture, Space & Power; Economy, Development & Social Justice; Health, Biosciences & Security; Earth Surface Science.

From London to Jeju: a trip to South Korea

My name is Annabelle Wilkins and I’m a final-year PhD student here in the School of Geography. In September, I was invited to participate in the first academic conference to be held at North London Collegiate School on the island of Jeju, South Korea. Jeju is located off the southern coast of the mainland, around an hour’s flight from the capital, Seoul. The island is incredibly diverse, with volcanic peaks, idyllic beach resorts, hiking trails and a rapidly developing urban centre, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region.

Views of the island from Sunrise Peak, at the top of one of its many volcanoes.

Views of the island from Sunrise Peak, at the top of one of its many volcanoes.


NLCS Jeju was established in 2011, and is one of a growing number of international schools on the island. The school offers a British curriculum including the IGCSE, A-Level and the International Baccalaureate. In addition to NLCS, the island has also supported schools affiliated with institutions in Canada and the US, all of which are located in the recently developed Global Education City. The majority of pupils at these schools are Korean students, many of whom are planning to study at some of the world’s leading universities.


Contrasting architecture in Seoul, where visitors can stay in restored traditional houses looking out over the modern city.


I was one of seven visiting academics invited to take part in the conference, participating alongside a mathematician, a classicist, a composer and a poet. The theme of the conference was based around improving subject knowledge. We were encouraged to introduce the teachers to our research interests and to suggest ideas for how they might develop and enhance their lessons and teaching methods. Before the conference itself, I also spent two days working with Year 12 and 13 students who study Geography as part of the IB syllabus. I introduced them to geographies of home and my research on Vietnamese migrants in East London, as well as talking to them about globalisation, migration and identity.

jeju photo

Presenting my research to Year 12 and 13 geography students in one of the school boarding houses.


During the three days of the conference, each academic gave a lecture about their research to an audience of teachers from different subjects. I gave talks to staff from Maths, Chemistry, Languages and PE departments, among others, which made for some fascinating question and discussion sessions as people contributed ideas from their own backgrounds. Once they discovered that the focus of my research is on home and migration, many teachers were keen to share their personal experiences of being an expatriate teacher living in South Korea, and the objects and practices that helped them to create a sense of home.

Statue of the Buddha at Sangbansan temple, Jeju.

Statue of the Buddha at Sangbansan temple, Jeju.


In addition to presenting my research, I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to meet the Geography teachers and share some ideas as to how they might be able to enhance their teaching on globalisation and migration. I introduced them to critical geographies of home and other research by academics here at QMUL, and they were keen to incorporate these perspectives into the syllabus. By the end of the three days, we were discussing how to devise projects about students’ bedrooms and their material culture, possible interviews with the school’s cleaners, who used to work on the land around the school building, and inter-generational interviews between students and older people on the island. I had a brilliant experience at NLCS and also had time for trips to some of the island’s amazing beaches, temples and museums.


A woman diver selling her catch of seafood – women divers are famous within Jeju’s island heritage.


Hyopjae, one of Jeju’s beautiful beaches.


Sunset in Moseulpo, a fishing village close to the school on Jeju.

Sharing PhD experiences in Edinburgh

My name is Alexandra Boyle and I’m a PhD student here in the School of Geography.

This summer, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the 5th International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies at the John McIntyre Conference Centre in Edinburgh. I went to present the initial results of my PhD research ‘Exploring the emotional and spatial dimensions of communication technology use among older adults in contemporary London’.



Collected my conference pack for the 5th International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies at the John McIntyre Conference Centre in Edinburgh.

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh and the conference centre

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

Set against the stunning backdrop of Arthur’s Seat, the University of Edinburgh turned on a fantastic conference (and the weather!) for 3 days of interactive learning, socialising and networking and delicious food!


Looking out over the historic city of Edinburgh.


I stayed on site at the University of Edinburgh accommodation which made me particularly nostalgic for my days as an undergraduate at Arana College at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand (with Dunedin coincidentally founded by the Scottish in 1848 and the name ‘Dunedin’ the Gaelic translation of Edinburgh. The two cities remain sister cities to this day!).

Although I was inevitably nervous about presenting, the conference was a unique opportunity to present the findings of my research to a community of like-minded scholars. The conference allowed me to test out ideas in a support environment and gain critical feedback that will help me to refine my research. The conference also provided a platform to meet interesting PhD students from Taiwan, Singapore, the UK and the Netherlands and share amongst each other our PhD experiences.


Dr Joyce Davidson presenting her plenary session

With a diverse calendar of events not only were there daily plenary sessions with preeminent scholars in the field, namely Professor Liz Bondi and Dr Joyce Davidson who were co-authors (along with Mick Smith) of the seminal book ‘Emotional Geographies’ which helped to establish emotional geographies as discipline, but also the opportunity to participate in field trips, a drinks reception and the conference dinner…and I managed to find time to squeeze in a trip to the top of Arthur’s Seat!

Water industry visits QMUL

Award-winning students at the Queen Mary graduation day 2015 with Professor Alison Blunt (centre)

Gabriel Streich (second left) at QMUL Geography graduation 2015

Hi – my name is Gabriel Streich and I’ve just finished my masters in environmental science at QMUL Geography!

It’s been a packed semester but I just wanted to update about an annual lecture we attended here at QMUL by the Worshipful Company of Water Conservators – one of the supporters of our masters programme: Integrated Management of Freshwater Environments.

“The annual Water Conservators Lecture, this year hosted in the impressive surroundings of Queen Mary’s Octagon, was a fascinating opportunity to hear some big names in the water industry giving their take on the issues and innovations that will affect future water use in the City of London.

“Martin Baggs, CEO of Thames Water, gave a very engaging talk on the scale of Thames Water’s supply challenge and some of the measures they are taking to tighten up on efficiency.  Talks from Mark Lane, Chairman of British Water, and a representative of the host organisation, Ricardo-AEA gave insightful lectures on the pressures facing water in the City, and also on the innovations that could address these pressures, from technical solutions, such as real-time sewer controls, through to wholesale changes in economic models, e.g. from linear to circular economies.  As a representative of the water industry as a whole, Sarah Mukerhjee, Director of Environment at Water UK, provided the context within which the other talks fell.

“This was a free event and it provided a breadth of information that is really relevant to those of us with an interest in water within London and more generally within cities.  The opportunity to network with key figures in the water industry was also a bonus that any student would be glad of.”

  • I also visited the Tagliamento River in north east Italy as part of my degree, so you can see more pics from that on Flickr. Enjoy!

Team Alps 2015: Why are we going back?

In November 2014, I wrote about the rain we encountered during the Team Alps 2014 fieldwork trip.  As it turns out, four of us are going back, along with three others, for TEAM ALPS 2015! So, why are we going back?

Well, the good news is that two undergraduates appreciated their research so much still after handing in their third-year dissertations, that their inquiring minds are willing to explore yet more unanswered questions! So, while they have signed up to carry on studying at masters level (here at QMUL Geography – yay!) we get to return and start exploring their MSc theses!

Nature Nap

Lucky enough to have inspired these two undergraduates to come out for a second summer. Are they ready to work hard, or enjoy the art of the nature nap?


Unexpected findings last summer led to a side project primarily investigated by my supervisor, Dr Sven Lukas, and this project will be revisited for more information. My personal project will also be revisited following the findings of last year, primarily the need for more robust methods for mapping landforms.

Additionally, three new Team Alps members bring a diverse set of fieldwork skills, backgrounds, and adventurous spirits to help us tackle our research questions and to perhaps develop their own.

This leads to what I like to think of as a mini-workshop for the group this summer. We will be conducting terrestrial laser scanning and ground penetrating radar to better understand the morphologies of landforms in two valleys. These techniques are new to our group, and will therefore allow each of us to broaden both our skill-sets as geomorphologists and the findings of our projects.

Schwarzensteinkees Colt

Maybe this young one will be in the valley again this year (although all grown up)! It’s always nice to have someone greet you as you walk into your field area for the day.

Those of us returning are so excited to get back to the magical Berliner Hütte (complete with excess amounts of meat and cheese, bathing in sinks, and [hopefully] less rain) and of course to show off one of our favorite fieldwork base camps to a new crop of researchers!

Dinner’s view of the Hornkees (left) and Waxeggkees (right) glaciers from the back porch of the Berliner Hütte.

Dinner’s view of the Hornkees (left) and Waxeggkees (right) glaciers from the back porch of the Berliner Hütte.


Did that last photo look familiar? Maybe you have seen some of the Austria tourism ads throughout the London transport network; the Berliner Hütte is famous! (Here: Green Park tube station)

Did that last photo look familiar? Maybe you have seen some of the Austria tourism ads throughout the London transport network; the Berliner Hütte is famous! (Here: Green Park tube station)

Smile! Geographer on camera to help BBC get behind drills, dentures and dentistry

Kristin Hussey Headshot

PhD student in the School of Geography Kristin Hussey

Most people tend to think of academics and postgraduate students as always buried in books in some dusty archive or whiling away behind a computer screen. I think you would be surprised at all of the different research activities we actually get up to. Not to say we don’t do those things; as a historical geographer, books, archives and museums are the reality of my day to day. But now more than ever it’s important to reach out and engage audiences with our research in new ways. Sometimes, this can mean actually getting in front of a camera and discussing your interests with a broadcast audience!

photo 1

Kristin talks about her previous research into dental surgery during WWI with prize-winning writer, historian and author of the BBC’s Eyewitness audiobooks, presenter Professor Joanna Bourke.

In the past I’d assumed you needed to be a lecturer before your opinion was sought out for on-camera interviews, but actually there seems to be a growing interest in history and historical research. I know I personally tune in to all sorts of shows along the lines of ‘Secret Killers of the Victorian Home’ to hear historians give me all the gruesome details. I’d never thought as a PhD student I’d have the opportunity to be on camera, so when I was asked to be interviewed by Professor Joanna Bourke for her one-hour special ‘Drills, Dentures and Dentistry: An Oral History’, I didn’t know where to begin!

In the show I’m actually discussing research I carried out in my previous position as Assistant Curator of the Hunterian Museum on dental surgery in the First World War. While my time period of interest has remained roughly the same, I’m now studying in the School of Geography at Queen Mary University of London to examine the influence of the empire and the development of British medicine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Fortunately my supervisors have been very supportive of my continuing with any talks or appearances I’m offered on the subject of my previous work. It’s important to remember that your PhD is just one project in your broader career!

With no media experience at all, QMUL was absolutely fantastic at giving me some pointers on what to do on the day. Everything from how to dress to pattern of speaking can be very important. What I don’t think anyone prepared me for was how very hard filming can be. Hours upon hours under the hot lights becomes exhausting – especially when you don’t have a script and so you need to try and come up with an answer on the spot with the camera rolling! It doesn’t really matter how well you know your topic that can be tricky. Also, in order to get the interview from a variety of shots, you need to repeat yourself many times. I’m sure I gave wildly different answers in each take, so that’s definitely something to work on for the future. I was incredibly impressed by Joanna Bourke’s calm and professionalism doing this exhausting work.

Overall it was an interesting experience and I hope I’ll have another opportunity to give TV history a go as my PhD research progresses!

photo 2

The BBC programme was filmed at the Royal College of Surgeons here in London.

If you’d like to read more about my research, click through to my profile page on the School of Geography website.

Watch now on BBC iPlayer (Kristin at 44.30) or read more about BBC 4’s Drills, Dentures and Dentustry: An Oral History. It aired on BBC 4 on March 30th at 9pm, 2015.

Team Alps 2014: Luxurious (?) Alpine fieldwork

Hi all! My name is Cianna, and I am currently in the 2nd year of my PhD in Physical Geography, studying a specific type of glacial deposit in the European Alps. My research background includes hillslope and glacial geomorphology and sedimentology with research locations in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, the Olympic Mountains in Washington, and the Southern Alps in New Zealand.

I clearly picked this vein of scientific research based on the places I know it can take me, and this summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend an entire month doing fieldwork in the Austrian Alps in between my first and second years. This was also an opportunity for four undergraduates, who are interested in Quaternary glacial dynamics and modern alpine river systems, in the summer before their third years to accomplish fieldwork for their dissertation projects

There is something to be gained from rugged, camping-based fieldwork, and I have had these experiences. But sometimes, it is nice to come back to a warm dining room at the end of a long day of digging with a four-course meal waiting. It is particularly nice to have this warm dining room (with Backgammon and tea) when an incredibly wet July has barred you from going outside for safety concerns.

Team Alps 2014 descends from the Schwarzensteinkees valley to the lower valleys (Waxeggkees in the background) and our accommodations (Berliner Hütte in the background). This is an example of a BEAUTIFUL alpine day, perfect for fieldwork.

Team Alps 2014 descends from the Schwarzensteinkees valley to the lower valleys (Waxeggkees in the background) and our accommodations (Berliner Hütte in the background). This is an example of a BEAUTIFUL alpine day, perfect for fieldwork.



The fieldwork group started as six, until my supervisor (Dr. Sven Lukas) left about 10 days in. Then, it was down to me doing my PhD fieldwork and monitoring four undergraduate students as they completed fieldwork for their dissertation projects. The undergraduates worked in pairs, while I was off to my study area (with interruptions from curious horses and attention-starved sheep). We would work from shortly after breakfast to shortly before dinner, when we would all meet up again to discuss the day’s progress, questions, and stories.

Curious Horses

A herd of horses spends summers in the Schwarzensteinkees valley, my primary study site. Some are curious and nosy, others keep to themselves. It is certainly nice to have some friendly faces around on long days!


Little Lamb

“Pay attention to meeee! I am so much more adorable than the rocks you are trying to measure!” A flock of sheep also spends the summer in the Schwarzenstienkees valley, and are quite needy for human attention.

The amenities provided by a popular Alpine hiking hut create quite cozy fieldwork. That is, until we were stuck inside for periods of days while stuck in a cloud of relentless downpour. We quickly tired of board games, cabin fever struck, and the drying room was a terrifying place of dampness and stink. As students, we seldom paid for a hot shower and instead learned the fine art of hut trough washes in the cold bathroom under near-icy water from the tap.

Foggy Day

An example of fieldwork in “The Cloud”. Sometimes, visibility was reduced to less than 5 meters! But, that’s still better than a relentless downpour…


Stay tuned for more about the scientific excitement (and the despair we overcame!)…

Letters from Nepal…PhD Geographer reports back

Enjoying the festival of Holi with my good friend Arya

Enjoying the festival of Holi with my good friend Arya (right)

My name’s Suzy and I’m a PhD student in the School of Geography at Queen Mary University of London. Here’s a little glimpse into some of the work I’ve been doing in Nepal and a few pictures too!

I count myself very lucky to be doing a PhD. I get to study a subject that I am very passionate about and I get paid for it too; I couldn’t really ask for more. On top of that I get to live in Nepal for eight months. I am half way through my research now and it is has certainly been interesting. My research involves talking to women from various backgrounds around Kathmandu and the wider valley.

My boyfriend and a view of Langtang range

My boyfriend and a view of Langtang range

So doing a PhD is much more than spending three years with your nose in a book. My time in Nepal has meant I have had a chance to learn about new and exciting culture and I have picked up a fair amount of the Nepali language. I have met all sorts of characters and enjoyed laughing, crying and sharing stories with them. Living in a developing country like Nepal has its challenges and difficulties, but there is never a dull moment.

My research topic is on ‘Widowhood and Well-being in Nepal’. When I first started this research in 2009 I soon realised there was no research on widowhood in Nepal and little research generally worldwide. I wanted to do something to help, but once I started the master’s, however, I realised I would really need to take this to PhD level to bring it to the attention of academics and policy makers.

A typical day in Nepal starts early with the morning Hindu prayers and a run around the temple a few times that I live next to. I have breakfast on the porch in the sunshine and then I go to meet my participants. Sometimes that can be right in the centre of Kathmandu amongst the beeping traffic, the roaming cattle, the market stalls and the spicy and fragrant aromas. Other days that can involve sitting amongst paddy fields and having a relaxing cup of tea whilst chatting to my participants. When I return home I enjoy going to yoga and listening to the crows settling down for the evening.

Doing a PhD is not without its difficulties. I think the hardest thing is maintaining a balance and stepping away from your work. As my research is so personal to me it is sometimes hard to take time away from it. Since starting the PhD I have got better at this and realised it is definitely a marathon not a sprint. I would say a PhD is hard, but if it is not hard it is not worth it. The satisfaction you get from it is definitely worth the theoretical and practical blood, sweat and tears. I would never consider myself to be very academic and if you asked me if I wanted to do a PhD five years ago I would say “never”. Yet, here I am now.

I hope you enjoy the pictures!

Suzy 🙂



View from Kyanjin Ri 4773m

View from Kyanjin Ri 4,773m

Two widows at a single women meeting Kaski

Two widows at a single women meeting Kaski

Lady making clay pots in Timi

Lady making clay pots in Timi

Paddy fields in Chitwan

Paddy fields in Chitwan

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