Welcome to the University of Liverpool’s Geography Blog

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Welcome to the blog for Geography at the University of Liverpool. Follow this blog for regular updates on our work including our research activities, comments on news stories and updates on what our staff, postgraduate and undergraduate students and alumni are doing. We hope this will help give an insight into the dynamic world of geography at the University of Liverpool and that the blog will become a space for conversation about what we do. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment or email us.

Mission Possible: Scoat Tarn Boot Camp

By Fiona Russell (PhD researcher and Graduate Teaching Assistant)

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2st July 2014, the day we conquered Scoat Tarn!

Your mission, Fiona Russell, should you wish to accept it is…… compile a group of eight willing volunteers, two boats, paddles, 8 life jackets (must be safe), two corers, 350m of rope, 10 litres of drinking water, a ladder, some dodgy knees, sunshine and some cling film, then tackle one of the highest lakes in the Lake District to recover 1000 years of mud from beneath 18m of water. This message will self-destruct in 30 seconds.

After some last minute alterations due potential 40 kph winds on Thursday, we set off for an epic coring trip to Scoat Tarn, a typical mountain cirque basin at 600m altitude in the Lake District National Park, UK. Scoat Tarn is small (5.2ha), deep (<20 m), lies in a west facing valley at an altitude of 602 m to the north and above Wastwater, England’s deepest lake. The catchment comprises steeply sloping walls; with summits in excess of 825 m. Scoat Tarn shows a sediment signature of severe acidification in recent years as a direct result of human-induced acid deposition, and the location is one of the UK Upland Waters Monitoring Network of sites, whose data show the lake has recovered to some extent the last two decades.

Seven of the group sensibly met at the Wasdale Head Inn where we set up camp and spent an enjoyable evening in the pub eating drinking and watching Belgium knock USA out of the World Cup. The eighth decided to play a league tennis match til 8.30pm and then drive to the Lake District arriving just in time for last orders and a welcome pint of Lakeland Ale already purchased by the team.

In the morning, after a quiet night’s sleep accompanied by incessant bleating sheep, squawking birds, cuckoos and general noisy countryside, the reality of it all struck home and the tough fieldwork we had come here for arrived. A short drive along the edge of Wastwater and we arrived at the car park. Eight rucksacks packed to the brim with boats, ropes and coring equipment, we set off into the hills for a slightly daunting 500m climb over 4km.

Several hours and several miles (or km) later we reached Scoat Tarn. The aim was to collect 3 short gravity cores and a longer sediment record using a piston corer. To get the latter, we had to set up a rig with a stable working area from which we could operate the piston from. Our design was successful (it was worth carrying the ladder all that way!) and we managed to extract a one meter core from 18 m of water that will probably encompass the last 1000 years of environmental history for this upland catchment and what a catchment a stunning cirque basin in the southwest fells of one of the most beautiful valleys in England…..

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We returned home to Liverpool the next morning with bags of sediment and a huge sense of achievement, my first PhD samples in the bag! Thanks to the team; Richard Chiverrell, John Boyle, Daniel Schillereff, Jen Clear, Hugh Smith, Amy Lennard and Agata Marzecova.

Singapore Field Class 2014

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Post by James Wilford, 3rd year BA Geography Student

It is a surreal experience when you’re standing in a lift and overhear an apparently English conversation that suddenly morphs into a mixture of Chinese and Malay, becoming impossible to follow and throwing you into a sense of uncertainty and confusion. Culture shocks such as this appeal to me. Resultantly, I was unable to resist a subsidised trip, with friends, to a country that is perhaps one of the most culturally diverse – and different to the UK – in the world, especially considering its small population and geographical size. Singapore was the destination of our third year geography field trip.

People arrived in the Lion City up to three days before the start of the field trip, seeking to maximise their time acclimatising to the heat, humidity and time difference. Having recovered from obscure routes across the world by taking leisurely tours around Singapore and relaxing by the roof-top pool, we were ready to start work. In groups of 5 or 6, we were tasked to plan and implement a piece of research. Prior to the trip, each group produced a research proposal, detailing our intentions and methods, enabling feedback to be given, which would then be used whilst researching. The remainder of the two weeks was split between a continuation of this research and further exploration of the city.

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The group that I was working with investigated the perceptions and views of the Singaporean public towards tourism in their city, examining how they felt about its future and government tourism policies. We scheduled interviews with members of the tourism industry and stopped locals on the street to gain their insight and views. Once we had overcome the awkwardness of bothering people for their views, the latter of these become easy. Amazingly, there were few hiccups!

We had 9.30 meetings every morning and organised trips to meet local stakeholders including an NGO working with transient workers, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and group work with fellow University of Liverpool students based in Singapore. The great thing about the trip was that students were in (almost) full control of their schedules – we were able to plan our time, meaning that we could occasionally take a break from being researchers and be tourists. The city is fascinating: we spent time on the country’s islands, such as Sentosa and Ubin and visited skyscraper roof-top bars with spectacular views of the city and its architectural audacity. When group work was finished, the nights were spent chatting, swimming and drinking beer by the hotel pool.

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My favourite aspect of Singapore was the food (probably unsurprising to those who know me). As a hub for expats from the four corners of the globe, the city has a unique cuisine: it combines its own dishes with those from the rest of Asia and the world. Focusing on the Asian food, there are huge food courts, called Hawker Centres (The Maxwell Food Centre and those located at the top of shopping malls are highly recommended), that serve large portions at insanely cheap prices. Add friendly and masterful chefs to the mix, it’s as close to rice and noodle heaven as you can get. If that wasn’t enough, small, independent restaurants line the streets of Chinatown and Little India, offering a truly authentic taste of their cultures. Home comforts are important too: we were never far from a McDonalds, Burger King or KFC, allowing us to get our fixes of fast food, only more cheaply than in the UK.

For many, the opportunity to visit other countries in South East Asia after the trip was a major attraction. Extensive travel plans were initially drawn up, with students attempting as many sojourns on remote, unpopulated tropical islands and stopovers in chaotic Asian cities as humanly-possible in a week-long period. However, feasibility and financial cost meant that these fell through shortly after being anything more than an idea, leaving students with the more realistic options of the more mainstream tourist destinations. These turned out to be equally-incredible experiences. Two friends and I visited Thailand, splitting our time between the beaches of Ko Phi Phi and the nightlife and temples of Bangkok, before travelling back to the UK via Beijing. Others rewarded their work in Singapore with trips to Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia.

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The Singapore field trip was a great way to end a geography degree and a perfect send-off to an interesting three years. The chance to travel with friends in such a large group to the other side of the world will provide unforgettable memories.

Edinburgh Field Class 2014 Photo Competition

Post By Dr. Paul Williamson

Congratulations to Polly Oates and Ben Berkson, joint winners of our 2014 Edinburgh Field Class photo competition.

Here are their winning entries:

'Just say no' by Ben Berkson

‘Just say no’ by Ben Berkson

'The Edinburgh Perspective' by Polly Oates

‘The Edinburgh Perspective’ by Polly Oates

The field class took place in mid-April and saw 26 Year 2 BA Geographers and 2 staff heading north, braving a week of intermittent rain and gales in order to put into practice a variety of research skills acquired over the last year and a half of study.

These included interviewing Members of the Scottish Parliament; surveying any member of the public unable to run away fast enough; focus groups with local activists; and participant observation of the local nightlife.

This year students researched topics as diverse as sauna licensing and Scottish independence:

Word cloud generated from student project titles

Word cloud generated from student project titles

The final part of the field class focused on data analysis, ranging from graphs and tables of survey results, discourse analysis of interview responses and as the map below shows, mapping of the relationship between deprivation and sauna location:

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One headline finding from surveys carried out by students studying Scottish independence was that Edinburgh says ‘no’ to independence:Blog image 5

You heard it here first!

The Edinburgh Field Class is just part of our wider three-year field class programme, which includes trips to North Wales, the Lake District, Spain, California and Singapore. All of these trips are designed an ethos of ‘learning by doing’. Or, in Edinburgh’s Case, ‘learning by doing whilst dodging showers and battling strong equinoctial gale’. Happy Days!

Geographers on Tour: Santa Cruz Field Class 2014

 

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Post by Samantha Brannan, year 3 BSc Geography Student

Choosing third year modules is never easy, but when faced with the choice of either 2 exams or a 2 week field class in California (with coursework) there was little decision left to make. From the moment I stepped out into San Francisco I knew I wouldn’t regret my choice. I took the opportunity to go out a few days early before the field class started, and my first concern was whether I would have enough time to visit each of the department stores that appeared on every corner, and my second was how much I could fit in my suitcase… Luckily I was only staying in San Francisco for two days. We recovered from jetlag and sampled the local food… burgers and pancakes, and had just enough time to take a trip to Pier 39 before meeting the lecturers and setting off for Santa Cruz (this is where the work kicks in). Just over an hour away from San Francisco, the city of Santa Cruz was a complete contrast to where we had just come from. Being from Liverpool ‘city’ to me means fast paced, high rise buildings and lots of traffic, but this place was anything but. Think sandy beaches, surfers, sea lions, California’s oldest amusement park and sunshine every day… suddenly the thought of doing the equivalent of another dissertation isn’t so bad.

The first day was quite relaxed, we toured the city and started to work out where we would be working over the next two weeks. As my group was doing a study on public perception of drought we had to set up interviews and focus groups, which proved less challenging than expected. People in local Government were really friendly and keen to talk about how their department had been involved in drought mitigation, we were even invited to the University of California’s Santa Cruz campus to speak with the sustainability department. Unfortunately the same enthusiasm was not felt by the locals we were hounding every day to complete questionnaires and it took a lot of perseverance to get enough.

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For all second years who may be contemplating taking this module, do not be disillusioned, our trip to Santa Cruz was not all work and no play. At 6pm every evening we finished work for the day and took full advantage of the local bars and restaurants, attended a basketball game and visited the Boardwalk (amusement park) on the last day. Apart from the Thai restaurant along the beach (which we recommend you avoid at all costs) there were some really great places to eat out.  If you’re planning on going to Santa Cruz for your final year at Liverpool both the Surfrider Café and Seabright Brewery are a must! In typical “Come Dine With Me” style, girls versus boys, we took advantage of the self-catering facilities and also tried eating in. On average, we managed to cook meals for a cost of around $4 per person so if you’re worried about budgeting whilst you’re away this is a good option.

Once our draft reports were handed in and the field class over, we also took the chance to stay on for a few days before flying home. We made the most of it by taking a night time trip to Alcatraz prison and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately for me, my adventure was then over, but others stayed longer and went on to Yosemite, LA, or continued sightseeing in San Francisco.

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The Santa Cruz field class has been a trip of a lifetime, one filled with unforgettable experiences and great people. I’m glad I got to work on such an interesting topic and as a BSc student, glad I took the opportunity to do a project using human geography methods and gain an insight into the other side of the discipline. At first I was reluctant to step out of my comfort zone, and convinced that I was out of my depth arranging face to face interviews with city council directors, but that was before I arrived in Santa Cruz. After day one I was taken aback by the willingness of people to speak to students, they really make the time for us. , Even the local newspaper was interested in what we were doing and ran a story on us. Doing a project using human geography methods allowed us to see much more of the city than we otherwise would have and although transcribing interviews in coffee shops sometimes felt like cheating (whilst our peers were knee deep in rivers) we can now say we bridged the geography divide and broadened our employability skills – and having tried transcribing and getting people to stop to answer questionnaires, we now know that these methods aren’t as easy as they may seem. Santa Cruz has been a valuable trip as we have been able to put the last two and a half years of learning into practice, as well as it being a fantastic end to our course.  I’ve arrived home with great memories, a list of skills to add to my CV, a suitcase full of banana slug memorabilia and one of the best reasons I can think of for picking a geography degree!

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Opportunity knocks for Woman scientists: maximise your voice

By Karen Halsall (PhD Researcher in Geography and Planning)

Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE

Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, the new presenter of the Sky at Night

For me, giving presentations is a nerve-racking experience. Although it could be worse, according to Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, the new presenter of the Sky at Night, En Hudu Anan, the first woman Astronomer and Babylonian High Priestess had to wear a beard when presenting her studies on the stars so that she looked more like a man. Personally, I am always keen to improve my presentation skills and have often resorted to hiding behind rustling papers and a plethora of PowerPoint slides but perhaps a beard would be one step too far! So I was very pleased to receive a grant from Athena Swan (Charter for women in science: Recognising commitment to advancing woman’s careers in STEMM academia http://www.athenaswan.org.uk) to attend a one day course led by Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Screenhouse Film Company.

The day was in two sections; the morning was spent listening to Maggie and the producer presenting very useful and insightful information into some of the pitfalls and highlights of ‘being on the telly’ with clips of various science experts on news programmes. We also heard that women are currently being sought after by journalists to comment on topical science stories. One of the delegates at the course said she was already promoting herself in this way to the chagrin of her colleagues as she was away from her desk so much! During the afternoon, we were filmed 3 times presenting a 90 second story of our own choosing – no script mostly off the cuff talking. We got feedback after each review on how to improve speech pace, energy and non-verbal skills. This was very useful. I practiced controlling the talk by leaving a few seconds silence between sections (also a useful opportunity to breathe). We talked about the merits of gesticulating and I found that it’s OK to let your arms/hands join in.

So why, you may be asking, is this women only course necessary? Recent research has highlighted that many young female students are not choosing science subjects at A Level. Maggie said “This is because there can be a lack of female role models in schools and that some female students have misconceptions about science being for people who are socially inept”. (Maggie works freelance as a Science Communicator promoting science in schools). So this course was set up to encourage/train more female scientists to stick their head above the parapet and discuss their newsworthy scientific research in a way that is understandable to non-experts.

The day encouraged us to look for opportunities to become more media savvy. For example; by presenting at science fairs, writing press releases and writing blogs (e.g. www.thewomensroom.org.uk/ and www.hersay.co.uk). We gained an insight into the work of a currently sought after scientific expert, Maggie Aderin-Pocock, and I picked up some useful tips that will (hopefully) improve my presentations. So it was all together a useful day that I would recommend to other women. It has certainly encouraged me to look out for opportunities to share my research with a wider audience and the value of being skilled in interpreting and communicating complex scientific concepts to non-experts; so thank you Athena Swan! .

Athena Swan (Charter for woman in science: Recognising commitment to advancing woman’s careers in STEMM academia) supported me by paying for registration and travel through a competitive application. Are you already media savvy? If you are not like Professor Alan King and more like Maggie in this News Night clip then now is the time to be an opportunist!

Too short but such a valuable experience – A visit to Liverpool from Brazil

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My experience in Liverpool was without doubt an incredible one. When I first arrived at Manchester airport, the first thing that really caught my attention was the strong accent. From the first moment, it didn’t sound like English, but maybe a mix of other languages all together. For a while, it was the most difficult aspect for me. Now I am almost finished I almost always understand what liverpuldians say, but it is time to go back to Brazil!

I have spent four months in Liverpool as a visiting MSc student from Sao Paulo, working in the Department of Geography and Planning with Dr Neil Macdonald. It has been a really valuable experience; I am leaving with much more than just the academic knowledge, but everything else I have learnt and experienced. In only four months it was possible to learn about the culture, life, behaviour, cooking (the second most difficult point for me), thinking, and the most important - how people can be receptive in a foreign country. The University environment is really pleasant, the staff and students are friendly and committed - almost every day they have some time together for tea and usually they share cake. I have found this really helpful in learning about the people, research and developed some strong friendships. Moreover, the experience as a postgraduate student in the University of Liverpool made me feel valued, as I could work with the different research groups and have different experiences and it helped me become more intellectually mature.

“The city is magic”! It does rain quite often (relative to Brazil anyway), in the beginning it was really weird for me, but I have become familiar with the weather over time. In my country, if it is raining we don’t do anything outdoors; it means that is not possible to take a walk outside, because the rain is short and much heavier than here. An aspect of the weather that really surprised was the temperature; before coming I was scared I would become sick because of the low temperatures, but I was wrong! I felt really pleasant, even though I had never lived in this sort of climate, it was easy to adpat. That’s exactly what makes this city seem magic.

One regret is not having enough time to see more of the UK. This country has a lot natural beauty that should makes fieldwork a fantastic experience. During my time in the UK I have been able to travel around much of Europe, having visited Edinburgh and London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris and Rome.

Liverpool has a great nightlife –  I’ve never seen before a city with this amount of pubs and bars. I loved it! Even if the temperature of the beer is higher than I am used too!

Lucinete Ferreira de Andrade

A semester abroad

By Anna Durbacz, 2nd year BA Geography

My semester abroad in Hong Kong went far too quickly, especially the second half of the semester, after reading week.

Reading week was a real highlight of my semester. One of my chosen geography modules included a compulsory field trip into Guangdong Province, mainland China, to look at the differences between rural and urban lifestyles. There were only two other exchange students who look the field class, which gave me a fantastic opportunity to fully integrate myself with the local students. The scenery was amazing, we saw karst landscapes and terraced rice fields. The activities included trekking to a mountain village, interviewing the local people and visiting a primary school.  I felt that I witnessed first-hand the issues that are facing the people of China whose lives are focused only on the rural economy. This experience has made me very interested in China, and what the future holds for China.

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Academically I feel that I have benefitted hugely from my time abroad. It is always very interesting being taught by and gaining an understanding of people with different approaches and different takes on the world.  The workload was heavy,  but manageable. Exam period at HKU, like every exam period, was quite intense with multiple early starts in the library.

As the exams were before Christmas it left us all with an awesome opportunity to see some more of Asia before heading  back home to Liverpool. Before last summer I didn’t have any experience of any Asian culture, now I have had the chance to visit several Asian countries. The culture in Hong Kong is fascinating, it is completely multidimensional with different influences from throughout Asia and the world .  The city is so contradictory, Chinese & western, old & ultra-modern, densely populated yet with large rural areas. The general lifestyle in Hong Kong was very active, when we were not travelling, most weekends were spent hiking in the New Territories, swimming at the beaches or playing tennis. All the sporting facilitates at HKU were free  to students.

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The opportunity of study abroad is completely unique, it enables you to fully immerse into the place in which you are studying. Without sounding cheesy, this experience has broadened my horizons, not only in an academic way but in every sense.  The experiences and friends that I made during my time abroad will stay with me for a long time. I cannot express in words how much I loved my time abroad and I would suggest if anyone had a similar opportunity to take it instantaneously.