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.

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How a work-based dissertation re-affirmed my confidence in my subject, my own ability and my future

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Post by Jonathon Clark, 3rd Year BSc Geography

The second semester of my second year saw the onset of what all geography undergraduates regard with terror, mystique and possibly a touch of (occasionally) misguided optimism: the Dissertation.

Initially, I felt secure – buoyant amongst a cohort of geography students in the same sea of chaos. The BA-inclined were all scrambling to draw up questionnaires for unsuspecting members of the public. The eager physical scientists in the making immersed in geological maps, ready to snap the perfect Facebook profile picture of them standing triumphantly over a patch of ground they had cored, blasted with an XRF spectrometer and talked about in what could be their first pitch to the scientific community. However, I soon found myself falling behind in the race to have my proposal accepted. The deadline for the proposal loomed, drawing ever closer. My page was still blank. With a sense of impending castastrophe for not only my grades but also my pride, I questioned myself thoroughly. Have I suddenly fallen behind? Am I not as intelligent? Does my brain work differently? Is this the sign that maybe this whole thing isn’t for me? It got that dire.

My logic led me to think about what particular aspects of geography appeal most to me. I have never identified myself as purely a physical or human geographer. Rather, from the first geography lesson I sat in my A Level class, I recognised that geography holds a unique selling point over any other subject taught in academia. No, not its so often bragged about breadth and depth, or its great fieldtrips, but its ability as a discipline to be studied not only for the sole purpose of expanding knowledge of socio-economic trends or physical phenomena but also integrating this knowledge to provide solutions to problems which can affect hundreds of thousands of people, every single day. Great! But how can I translate this interest and passion into a feasible project to carry out in the field? I recognised there were several options open to me. Why not see how different rungs of society in Liverpool feel about climate change? Why not see if austerity is impacting wildlife preservation in the Sefton coast? How has political instability in the Middle East affected the renewable energy industry in Britain? It’s strange; looking back, all of these ideas were actually quite possible. Yet, at the time, in the stress of the moment, I felt like there was an overwhelming amount of scale and work involved in pursuing any of these avenues. It seemed I’d taken one step forwards and two steps back…

Hands up if you’re guilty of sometimes clicking delete loads of times to get through a large backlog of e-mails! I know I’ve done it. This particular day, however, I was lucky to not do this as I received an e-mail from Andy Plater regarding work placements available over summer, which could convert into work-based dissertations. I had heard about work-based dissertations in a lecture earlier in the year and dismissed it as a complicated, paperwork-laden option for completing my dissertation. This dismissal was reinforced by the naive belief I held at the time which led me to falsely trust I could come up with a piece of original research on the spot. One of the placements Andy talked about in the e-mail was at a social enterprise recycling company based in Huyton, called Elixir. I read on to learn about what would eventually become a significant part of my life.

Close up gran pick beltElixir was founded by Ben Donnelly as a company which employed ex-offenders, addicts and those who have been out of work for prolonged periods. At their plant, they recycle waste PVCu plastic from the construction industry. Through shredding and granulating it and then shipping it on to manufacturers, the PVCu is completely recycled with zero waste to landfill. The story of the company’s creation really struck a chord with me, and the nature of their environmental and social work appealed to me. Ben had contacted Andy as well as the Centre for Global Eco Innovation (CGE) – a venture run by the universities of Lancaster and Liverpool as well as the commercialisation firm Inventya. Based on the first floor of the Roxby, they normally deal with small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who have an environmental focus to their work. The universities provide enable the companies to host dedicated graduate researchers and to gain access to research and development facilities to allow the companies to develop new economically sustainable or beneficial products. In the case of Elixir, no postgraduate student had been found at the time to quite suit the nature of the work they were undertaking; Elixir sought to expand from recycling just PVCu to also recycling other types of plastic waste, as well as potentially recycling electronic waste and looking into setting up a renewable energy project.

After a short but intense series of discussions regarding what work I would be undertaking during my internship and how it would produce an academic piece that would constitute a dissertation, the interested parties came to an agreement that I would assist Elixir in setting up a facility at their plant which could process waste LCD televisions and computer monitors. On the academic front, I would employ knowledge of ecosystems and environmental planning to produce an environmental impact assessment and life-cycle analysis of the waste screens.

Shred in magIt was a great relief to have other experienced people steer me in what I would write such a lengthy piece of work about. Through the assistance of Matt Fulton, the CGE project manager, the paperwork involved was minimal. Aside from the regular dissertation proposal I only needed complete some insurance documents and a learning agreement. I also quickly realised that I was gaining valuable experience in an industry closely related to my degree subject. Such experience is highly valued by graduate employers and gave me an edge over my peers who may have edged me out in the game of raw marks, chasing that elusive first class honours degree. It was reassuring.

1798458_3973871241712_1373085539_nThe work itself was a combination of office duties, finance and business report tasks akin to an assistant managerial level and also some hands on work in the plant using machinery and working with the lads on the factory floor. It was insightful, educational, useful and, best of all, fun. Working in such a company let me network with key authoritative figures in UK recycling, energy and environmental bodies and companies. It also let me meet some amazing people who have come from the most horrendous backgrounds possible in this country and overcome challenges that cause you to reflect on how lucky you are to have family, friends, health, food and shelter. After 4 weeks of work over the summer, which culminated in a boardroom presentation to managing directors and investors, I was relieved to see my research and designs given approval and investment (after some minor adjustments – I can’t say I’m ashamed about not knowing what the difference between revenue and profit was, having never touched business studies in my life!). This paved the way for me to take a break from Elixir and use my rapidly approaching first semester of third year to focus on completing the academic element of my dissertation. The summary report and skills diary which compose one third of the work-based dissertation module were completed on the job – another huge benefit if you’re someone who is less academically inclined and more oriented towards reports and action plans as well as practical learning.

Gran bag stand with mattyWith the dissertation progressing smoothly, I was delighted to receive a call from Ben offering me part-time work for the remainder of my degree at the company. Spending a few hours a week at Elixir now allows me to manage the operation I tended to from its design stage right up to its present stage of operation. I can now call myself the proud Waste Electronic Development Manager of a company which is processing several tons of electronic waste per week, which would have otherwise contaminated landfill sites and ecosystems with the harmful mercury and lead contaminants such waste electronic goods contain. The added financial bonus to this work is also helping me pay for my final year fieldtrip to California. It’s truly a win-win situation.

Vib 2Hopefully, this post has cast some light on how a work-based dissertation can be so advantageous to an undergraduate student. It’s no exaggeration to say that it shapes you personally as well as academically. Even if the added fun of this doesn’t interest you and you are dead set on logging pollen in samples from the hills of North Wales or the dissertation seems so far off, perhaps this has given you some insight into the highs and lows and mental battles that you can encounter as you enter the twilight of your degree. I hope to add to this post in the not-too-distant future, where I feel the experiences I have detailed here will help me take a leap into the world of work and benefit me even further.

Dream big and work hard.
Jonny

By the way – I got a first (provisionally)!!

Apply Now Deadline 10th Feb: NERC Studentships in Physical Geography

The NERC Funded Manchester & Liverpool Doctoral Training Programme ‘Understanding the Earth, Atmosphere and Ocean’ which links the Universities of Manchester and Liverpool, together with the National Oceanographic Centre to providing funding for doctoral research. Opportunities in Physical Geography are listed under the Earth and Environmental Sciences pillar and in the theme Surface Earth and Palaeontology. Deadline for Applications is 09.00am 10th February 2014.

Some of the Physical Geography topics available are listed below. Click here for further information and to apply for each topic.

  • Taking useful climate data to the business community Supervisors: Andy Morse and Andy Heath
  • Catchment to basin sediment flux: a simulation framework. Supervisors: Prof Richard Chiverrell, Drs John Boyle and Hugh Smith (CASE Partner Lake District National Park)
  • Holocene landscape P dynamics and modelling for the Cheshire and Shropshire Meres. Supervisors: Dr John Boyle, Profs Richard Chiverrell & Andy Plater (CASE Partner Natural England)
  •  Developing a ‘tool box’ for natural flood risk management. Supervisors: Dr Karen Potter & Dr Neil Macdonald
  •  Dynamics of Overland Flows on Hillslopes.‌ Supervisors: Dr Karen Potter & Dr Neil Macdonald
  • Effects of climate and hydrological change on river channel stability. Supervisors: Professor Janet Hooke, Professor Andy Morse, Dr Neil Macdonald
  • Are there relationships between flood frequency, seasonality and large scale climatic drivers? Supervisors: Dr Neil Macdonald & Dr John Boyle
  • Locating ‘Hot Spots’ of Contaminated Sediment in Rivers. Supervisors: Dr James Cooper, Prof Janet Hooke and Dr Hugh Smith (Geography and Planning)
  •  Modelling movement of large sediment in river flows. Supervisors: Professor Janet Hooke and Dr James Cooper
  •  Residence times of contaminated sediment in river floodplains. Supervisors: Hugh Smith, Janet Hooke, James Cooper, Richard Chiverrell
  •  Soil Deterioration under a Changing Climate. Supervisors: Dr James Cooper, Prof Janet Hooke and Prof Andreas Lang (Geography and Planning)

We welcome applicants for our Doctoral Training Programme in Understanding the Earth, Atmosphere and Ocean. Further information: Interviews will take place on the 26th & 27th February 2014.  Applicants must have, or be about to obtain, a first class or upper second degree.  If you have a lower second degree, but have also obtained a masters qualification, you are also eligible. If you do not have these qualifications but you have substantial relevant post-graduate experience please contact the School holding the studentship to find out if your relevant experience is sufficient. Our studentships are funded by NERC and are available to UK nationals and other EU nationals that have resided in the UK for three years prior to commencing the studentship.  If you meet this criteria, funding will be provided for tuition fees and stipend.  If you are a citizen of a EU member state you will eligible for a fees-only award.

First publication – ‘Procedural and distributive justice in a community-based Marine Protected Area in Zanzibar, Tanzania’

By Madeleine Gustavsson

As a PhD student in the Department of Geography and Planning, earlier this week I got my first research article published in Marine Policy: “Procedural and distributive justice in a community-based Marine Protected Area in Zanzibar, Tanzania”. The paper was co-authored by Lars Lindström (Dept. Political Science, Stockholm University), Narriman S. Jiddawi (Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Dar es Salaam) and Maricela de la Torre-Castro (Dept. Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University) who are all experts on natural resource management and governance in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Uroa, Zanzibar Island

Uroa, Zanzibar Island

The article investigates participation by local actors in planning and implementation of a ‘community-based managed’ Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Zanzibar, Tanzania, which is analysed in terms of procedural and distributive justice.

The study finds that no local actors participated in the planning of the MPA. Fishermen who were members of a village fishermen committee participated in implementation although this did not include women. The government of Zanzibar distributed equipment, alternative income generating projects and relied on tourism for development of the local economy. However, the distributed equipment and tourism development have created conflict and injustice within and between villages, because of the insufficient resources, which do not target those in need. Tourism created problems such as inequality between livelihoods, environmental destruction and local power asymmetries between hotel management and local people.” This paper found that neither procedural nor distributive justice has been achieved. The MPA has further failed to meet its objectives of conflict resolution and sustainable use of natural resources.  The paper argues that interactive participation by all, in the design and planning phases, is necessary for social-ecological sustainability outcomes.

The work was part of my master’s degree project at Stockholm University, Sweden. The paper adds to the growing field of MPAs social impacts in developing countries. Thanks for reading this blog post, and if you are interested, please get in contact (Click here to email).