Posts Tagged ‘Research’

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’.

 

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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!

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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.

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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!

My penultimate year at QMUL Geography

From volunteering in North London to travelling in a helicopter in New Zealand, my penultimate year at Queen Mary has been exceptionally busy but nonetheless another great and exciting year.

I’ve travelled to the other side of the world, become the President of a volunteer group, achieved a Silver Green Impact Award, undertaken environmental audit training and even presented my dissertation project to prospective students. Just when I think there are no more things to be involved in, another springs up and at the end of my second year with the ‘what will I do next?’ question looming, this year has definitely provided me with countless options.

In March I travelled to New Zealand for a 10-day field trip around the South Island. The scenery was breathtaking and it was definitely a trip of a lifetime! We got to take a helicopter ride up to the Franz Josef Glacier which we walked across. We went on many walks through valleys, exploring the processes that shaped them and discussed how they might look in the future, which affirmed the knowledge we’d gained from lectures leading up to the trip. Skills developed on fieldtrips like this such as filling out field notebooks and documenting results outside of the lab have definitely prepared me for my dissertation.

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Tasman Proglacial Lake, New Zealand

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The obligatory task of measuring rocks for clast shape analysis (a must for any Geography student)

Since my first year I have been involved in the QMUL Canal Clean Up Volunteer group who are affiliated with Thames 21 who kindly provide equipment, training and most importantly extra pairs of hands on events! From simply volunteering at an event on campus got to know more about Thames 21, the work they do and the opportunities of leadership training. By undertaking the training, I am now the President of the group as well as an Event Support Team Member for Thames 21 outside of university. I recently helped lead an event in Edmonton, North London, where a buried river is being resurfaced to create a wetland. I’ve developed my team work skills, organisation capabilities and learnt to work to a schedule as on events you can be working with 20 or so people. These skills are going to be transferable into the workplace but primarily I really enjoy helping out and using what I learn at university to teach others the science and reasoning behind such projects like the one in Edmonton.

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All the volunteers getting ready for a canal clean up!

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The 2015 Green Impact Awards

In my first year, I also got involved with Green Impact which aims to make the university more sustainable and environmentally aware. Having achieved Bronze last year, my team has completed the Silver Award. Again, being organised, able to achieve on a deadline as well as working and communicating with a team are all skills I’ve gained from the experience here at QMUL, but still it’s being able to put what you study and understand into practice while working with like-minded people that I enjoy most about Green Impact. Through being a Green Impact Project Assistant, I was able to undertake an IEMA approved audit training. It was an insightful day where I got to see what other Green Impact Teams were doing as well as developing experience and skills that will set me in good stead after I graduate.

Now…to get ready for my final year… 🙂

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)

Where Geography meets Biology! Environmental Science students visit Croatia 2015!

Ever wondered what Environmental Science students in the School of Geography get up..? Well, below is a glimpse of what happened when they joined students from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences on a field class to Croatia!

“As a part of our biology module in Environmental Science we had the opportunity to visit Croatia. On a day-to-day basis we were taught by professors specialised in their field from the University of Zagreb. We were taught through interactive fieldwork and we covered a different aspect of biology everyday. This involved studying springs, lakes, and vegetation to bats, crayfish, birds and frogs.

 

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First sunset in Croatia, before the fieldwork begins

Sunset in Croatia, our first night before the field work begins!

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Croatia fieldwork 2015  Cetina springs, where students were classifying invertebrates, measuring water pH, and conductivity.

  Wading in... 

 

Krka National Park, Croatia

Bat hunting

Eco-Location! (Bat communication) On our way to a Bat cave

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Boat trip, fieldwork on a boat! Does it get any better!!  Boat trip

Tree frog

Tree frog

Prof. Nichols demonstrating to the students

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Bird watching.. It isn’t as easy as it looks!

Field work

SNAKESSS!

Franziska, PhD student & demonstrator with our little friend we found along the way!

Crayfish

Crayfish galore! No animals were harmed during the taking of this photo.

Professor Nichols exploring Church of holy salvation

A little history lesson whilst in Croatia!

 

 

 

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

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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!

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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!

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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.

Mastering a Masters (or trying to)

RJC_1616-700x412Graduation 2014 at Queen Mary University of London.

My three years at Queen Mary is flying by, and for me and my friends it’s time to start thinking about the Future. Grim. For me, it’s the pursuit of a postgraduate degree, and since I’ve begun researching and applying for masters study I thought I’d offer some advice.

What follows is not the wisdom of someone who has completed postgraduate study, but a selection of tips and bits of information that I’ve found useful, crucially as a final year student still in the process of mastering the search for a masters.

 The personal statement

‘This is far too meek and please-sir-can-I-have-some-more. The idea should be to bust down the doors, jump on the table and shout “I am something very special indeed”.’

These are the words of a very trusted friend of mine, a doctor, who read a shoddy draft of my personal statement over Christmas. For many of us, such a task has not been undertaken since our UCAS application, which I wrote three years ago. As much as it was then, it’s a tricky business trying to score the perfect balance between professional modesty and proving your worth. And there’s little assistance to be sought from reading over your old statement; I cringe to think back to my opening line (how proud I was of it at the time!): ‘In the words of Virginia Woolf…’

Oxford’s advice guide states that ‘A statement which indicates the likely dissertation research area the candidate wishes to pursue is more useful than one which presents personal interests, achievements and aspirations.’ At graduate level it doesn’t matter whether you’ve achieved Duke of Edinburgh Awards or play polo – what matters is that you like studying English and, more importantly, that you’re good at it.

Leave out the hobbies, but don’t leave out the showing off. On the contrary, says my reviewer, ‘Bring out intellectual fireworks and do some serious boasting about all the stuff you’ve done’. Your dissertation should be the non plus ultra of your degree, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to talk about how great an independent researcher and thinker you are through a discussion of your project.

Finally, do not be embarrassed about getting people – clever people – to read it. Ask lecturers, PhD students, good undergraduates for help, and don’t worry if they say, as mine did, to rewrite it – your application will be better for it.

Be clear on funding

After undergraduate loans and grants the world of postgraduate study can seem a very scary place. As it stands there is no state funding for masters students, and very little funding from the universities, especially for arts and humanities students. There is, of course, the odd bursary here and there, as well as fee discounts for continuing students (at Queen Mary, for instance, we get a grand off if we stay).

Last year, however, I woke up to news on my phone that the chancellor had announced the introduction of postgraduate loans of up to £10,000 set to start in 2016. And in that moment it seemed all of my worries had gone away. Considering that I’d become so disillusioned at the reality of current postgraduate funding (the lack of it), the prospect of ten grand certainly cheered my spirits.

This is a very important development in higher education, but don’t give up hope on 2015. For those of us who are graduating this year, and who pay the nine grand tuition fees, universities are offering some incentives in the form of bursaries to encourage students to come along in September.

Maybe there is some hope.

Cast your net wide

When I began looking at postgraduate courses I had pretty definite ideas about the kind of places I wanted to study, and even firmer ideas about where I didn’t want to go. I knew I was at an up-and-coming institution, with a vibrant forward-thinking English department, and in east London, not a traditional setting for a Russell Group university. I wanted to avoid universities I perceived as being stuffy or boring (the kind that don’t teach loads of critical theory), and where loads of posh people go.

What I was guilty of, however, was being too closed-minded about many of these institutions. Consequently, I forced myself to look up courses in, make enquiries at, and research as many different universities and departments as possible. At this point, I made the courses and the departments my point of interest, not the preconceptions I had about the institutions.

As I look at all these English departments, north and south, British and international, old and young, I find each offering something particular and unique that makes me want to study there. Many of them are different, even opposing, in outlook and style. We should be excited by different options, though, and investigate these places as a way of trying to figure out what it is we actually want when we apply to study somewhere.

Do you want to learn there?

If we’re not going to base our choice of programme on what is familiar to us or what we thought about the university, what can we look out for? Ask if you want to learn at this institution, in that department, with these people.

It might work to begin by looking up the academics that work in the department, whether you know them or admire their work, and if they seem to offer the kind of ethos you want to work with. In my applications, I have noticed that some critics I have referenced in essays pop up here and there, and this was a good way for me to judge what kind of work gets produced in these places, and whether I want to be part of that. There are also, of course, those celebrity academics we’d all jump at the chance to work with. A word of warning, though, there is of course no guarantee that you would be taught by any particular academic, and, as I learned, they do tend to move around. Having written why I wanted to study under a lecturer at one university, she subsequently (and very inconveniently) moved to another.

Another way to gauge the character of the department in question, without looking to individuals, is to check out their research environment. All departments will list their current projects, and their research strengths and interests. Does their research look helpful to you and does yours look complementary to theirs? Look out for graduate seminars, whether they host conferences, and if they explicitly favour an interdisciplinary or comparative research culture. Do these fit into that you want to study?

More than ever before postgraduate study is about what you want, so investigate how each English department works as well as what it works on. Have you preferred being taught in lectures or in seminars? Queen Mary, for instance, teaches only in seminars, whereas Birkbeck incorporates both.

Do they want you there?

Are they too busy pouring water to have a proper conversation with you? This is a question I had to ask myself when I attended a postgraduate fair at Senate House last year. A member of a university admissions team really didn’t seem bothered in having to sell their institution and wasn’t very helpful. It is so important to think about whether that university wants you there, whether they value you as a contributor to their intellectual life, or if they regard you merely as someone privileged to be studying with them.

This final point relates to all of the previous. You are paying a lot of money to be at your chosen university, you are beginning to work as a mature and independent learner, and you want to choose somewhere you want be a part of. You have to sell yourself in the application, but a good university will try to sell itself to you, too. Think about whether they seem to value their students – do they offer you as much as you offer them?

Crunch Time

There’s this disease that is well-known to college students. They call it end-of-term-itis. It sneaks up on you, especially as a study abroad student who has been exploring and traveling at every opportunity. All of a sudden, there are only a few weeks left in the semester, and you actually have to start working on the five essays you haven’t thought about since they were assigned. Where did all the time go? you think. There was so much of it, and now it’s gone! And then the Stress Monster attacks. I’ve compiled a few tips on how to banish him and finish out the semester as strongly as you started it.

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  1. Look at your reading lists. All of my professors gave supplementary reading lists at the beginning of the semester. I didn’t really pay much attention to them when I got them, but they are proving very useful in finding resources for my essays.
  2. Take one thing at a time. When I sat down and looked at the assignments I needed to complete, I was totally overwhelmed. My mind was pulled in too many directions and I couldn’t focus on any of them. Once I decided to tackle one assignment at a time, I became a lot more productive.
  3. Go to the library. Aside from being a great source of research material, the library can be a good change of pace. The upper floors of the library have lots of quiet study spaces that can make it easier for me to focus because everyone around me is focused. Added bonus: no need to leave the building to get coffee or a snack – there is a café inside the QMUL Mile End library.
  4. If you get stuck, take a break. Go for a walk, read a fun article on Buzzfeed, or watch a few YouTube videos. It may sound counterproductive, but when I find myself getting mentally blocked, the most productive thing can sometimes be to step away from it for a little while.

Happy studies!

Studying in the UK as a Colombian student

De Pais en Pais (from country to country) is an annual conference hosted by the Universidad de Antioquia. Each year they invite a single or group of countries and put together a series of talks open to both students and academics, but very importantly, the community at large.

This year the guest nation was Great Britain. In 2014, I had the privilege of attending the conference on behalf of Queen Mary University of London, where I presented on the subject of what it’s like to study in the UK as an international Colombian student.

This is important because of the growing links between the two countries: there is more funding available for academics to carry out joint research projects and more funding for Colombian students to carry out postgraduate studies abroad and study English.

But, how does this affect students at QMUL?

The movement of academics and students adds to our education and builds on our global perspective. But what has struck me, and something that I suspect many students don’t know, is the eagerness of Colombians to welcome British students, researchers and teachers to become a part of their already growing academic culture.

Whilst I was talking to an audience of Colombian students about my experience of studying in the UK as a Colombian student I realised that what made my experience extraordinary was the chance to interact with different cultures and points of view and the challenge of moving to a new country. In other words, learning to adapt and learning to value a new place.

Thus, I have to echo the invitation of the Universidad de Antioquia and Colombia and call on more British students to consider a period of study abroad, and particularly in Colombia, where some of their skills (particularly around languages) will be integrated into the local and academic community (ICETEX the national scholarship and student loan company, is offering full scholarships for foreigners who wish to undertake periods of study in Colombia).

This is why it is so important that QMUL students take advantage of the language opportunities and other services such as the study abroad office, the careers service and enterprise centre. There are many opportunities abroad that offer the possibility of personal and academic growth, and as students it’s easy to forget that many of the services that we need to make this happen are right here, on our doorstep.

For me, as an international student, the conference was an inspiration and a celebration of all that is diverse about QMUL. It was a pleasure to be a part of it, and to see the amazing international links that the university has built and developed over the years.

Gabriela holds an Honours Degree in History and Politics from Queen Mary University of London. She also served as Vice President for Education with QMUL Students’ Union.

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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