Centre for Global Eco-Innovation: Environmental Researchers talking about how their passion drives their work

Last week the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation (CGE) held its third annual boot camp for Graduate Researchers based here at the University of Liverpool, and Lancaster University.  The CGE currently funds 50 PhDs in across a host of university departments including Engineering, Chemistry alongside 4 PhDs based in Geography and Planning.

Decamping to Ribby Hall, just outside Preston, the CGE researchers participated in a host of sessions all aimed at helping them to develop their skills in post-PhD life, either presenting research to other academics, putting together a business pitch, or marketing their ideas using video.  We also heard from guest speakers including Mark Shayler from the Royal Society’s Great Recovery Project, who spoke about the circular economy, and how important research is in filling that role, as well as Gary Townley from the Intellectual Property Office who spoke about IP in all its forms.

One of the major draws of the bootcamp was a session held by Bellyflop TV, which was aimed at GRs who wanted to produce videos that could either demonstrate their research, or market a new idea or business idea that they might have upon graduating.  To help illustrate how a video was put together, our researchers were asked ‘What made you want to do a PhD?’, with the resulting footage being compiled.  The result is the video below.

Combined, the research completed by the PhD researchers, working with their companies and the CGE will be responsible for the mitigation of 60,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, 725,000 tonnes of water and over 13,000 tonnes of material diverted from landfill by the project’s end.  Importantly, however, while the video does a great job of showcasing the range of innovation that the CGE supports, what it really shows is that each PhD has its own story and that often research is driven by a passion that goes beyond 9-5, and that ultimately it is this passion that has driven the success of the CGE’s projects.

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!

Sea level is rising: get out of the way!

Sea level 1

Post by Dr. Claire Mellett

In April this year The Geological Society of America and American Geophysical Union joined together to hold the first Penrose/Chapman conference in Texas, USA, under the theme of; Coastal processes and environments under sea-level rise and changing climate: science to inform management. The meeting’s main objective was to raise awareness of the vulnerability of coastal environments to climate and sea-level change and to bridge the gap between science and policy to ensure informed management of the coastal environment. The meeting brought together 80 scientists (including myself) from around the world to discuss the impacts of sea-level rise, climate change, storms and human activity on the coast.

The meeting kicked off with a number of talks looking at records of past sea level. In the past sea-level rise was not linear and there was some degree of natural variability. However, recent rates of sea-level rise are higher than they have been during the last 2000 years. Whilst globally sea-level is currently rising (eustatic), the effect of this rise on the coast varies locally depending on whether the land is rising or falling (isostatic). In the Gulf of Mexico, lowering of the land (subsidence) due to the extraction of oil, gas and water, sediment loading and sediment compaction means that in this area the coast is experiencing even higher rates of sea-level rise making it more vulnerable to the impacts of storms. Here human activity is exasperating the impact of sea-level rise on the coast and billions of dollars are spent trying to protect or repair infrastructure in these low lying areas. The question facing policy makers now is will the economy be able to sustainably support such investment in coastal protection in the future?

Galveston, Texas

Whilst sea-level rise is a major threat to the future of coastal environments, a number of talks highlighted other environmental variables of equal importance. Of these, variations in sediment supply appeared the most significant. In areas where high amounts of sediment are being delivered to the coast, the coast may be able to keep up or even grow despite rising sea-levels. However, in many places humans are interfering with the sediment budget by damning rivers (e.g. Yangtze River, China) or nourishing beaches (e.g. The Netherlands). The meeting highlighted the delicate relationship between sea-level and sediment supply in determining how a coast will respond.

As the meeting drew to close, we were working towards a consensus based on the best available science to present to governments and policy makers outlining the biggest challenges for coastal environments in the future. My personal interpretation of this consensus is that sea-level rise and the impact of climate change at the coast are not something to worry about in the future but something that is happening now. I feel the perception that sea-level rise will slowly encroach the coast at a snail’s pace is misguided. A more realistic view when trying to visualise the impacts of sea-level rise is to think of episodic events such as storm surges and hurricanes which have instantaneous and devastating effects on the coast (and economy). It is therefore important to recognise that in order to secure a sustainable future at the coast, society must learn to adapt to (or get out the way of) rising sea levels.

Latest QWeCI Project Newsletter now available

Post by Andrew McCaldon

I am the project secretary and Dr. Andy Morse is the coordinator of the QWeCI Project – Quantifying Weather and Climate Impacts on Health in Developing Countries.

In this project, researchers across 13 European and African research institutions work together to integrate data from climate modelling and disease forecasting systems to predict the likelihood of an epidemic up to six months in advance.  The research, funded by the European Commission Seventh Framework programme, focuses on climate and disease in Senegal, Ghana and Malawi and aims to give decision–makers the necessary time to deploy intervention methods to help prevent large scale spread of diseases such as Rift Valley Fever and malaria.

Read about the recent activity in the latest QweCI Project newsletter, which can be downloaded here, and more information can be found here.

Embodying the lifecourse workshop Durham 21st November 2012

Art work produced as part of an intergenerational bodies research session

Post by Dr Bethan Evans

Here are details of a forthcoming workshop I am involved in with colleagues in the Department of Geography at Durham University.

Embodying the Life Course: Relating Past, Present and Future Bodies Workshop

Wednesday, November 21st 2012, 10am-5pm Location: Collingwood College, Durham, UK

Organisers: Rachel Colls, Kathrin Hörschelmann (Department of Geography, University of Durham) and Bethan Evans (Geography, University of Liverpool)

Keynotes by:

Paper presentations by:

This is an interdisciplinary workshop that will consider how life courses can be understood as embodied and how bodies of different ages relate through intergenerational encounters. The workshop will explore new conceptual perspectives and methodological approaches to research on embodiment, age and wellbeing by considering how bodies are performed and experienced between generations and persons of different ages.

Specifically this will involve considering the benefits of bringing an intergenerational perspective to debates on relationality, embodiment, age and wellbeing across the social sciences (Hopkins and Pain 2007; Prout 2000; Vanderbeck, 2007).  The workshop will also explore the multiple ways in which embodied intergenerational encounters ‘matter’. This will include considering, for example: the ways in which genetic discourses are mobilised in intergenerational encounters; how remembered past bodies shape self-perception; how anticipated future bodies might mediate individuals’ sense of wellbeing; and the role of particular spaces and places in the facilitation of intergenerational encounters. Ethical and methodological issues of researching embodiment from an intergenerational perspective will also be discussed.

To attend the workshop, please write to rachel.colls@durham.ac.uk or kathrin.horschelmann@durham.ac.uk by 12th October 2012.

Please note that places are limited. The workshop fee is £30 (waged) or £15 (unwaged/student). We would appreciate advance payment by cheque (payable to “Durham University”), but will be able to take payment by cheque or in cash on the day. Please send cheques to Rachel Colls, Department of Geography, University of Durham, Science Site, South Road, DH1 3LE, U.K.

What do Geographers do in their summer holidays?

Post by Dr Andy Davies

When term time is over, a lot of students think that the University shuts down and that we academics get really long summer holidays. Of course, we do have some time off, but work carries on around the University, even if it is significantly quieter with most students away for the summer.

The summer is a great time to do fieldwork, but one of the things that most academics do in the summer is spend time at conferences and workshops to discuss the latest ideas and talk about their research. For Human Geographers, one of the biggest conferences is the Annual Conference of the Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers) (RGS), which was at the University of Edinburgh in July this year. I, together with other members of the Department, was involved in presenting papers at this conference. However, this wasn’t all that went on during my time in Scotland.

When in Scotland, you have to have an Irn Bru on the train!

Geography obviously has lots of topics to study within it, from more ‘physical’ topics like glaciation and climate change to more ‘human’ ones like health and development. One of my roles as an academic is as a Committee Member of the Geographies of Justice Research Group (GJRG) of the RGS-IBG. The RGS-IBG has many research groups, where researchers on specific topics within Geography meet and discuss the latest developments within their own sub-field, but also to ensure that the work we do continues to be relevant and important to the wider world. The GJRG is, as it’s name suggests, interested in issues of justice and equality, and at its heart is a commitment to doing research that is socially ‘just’.

So, before the RGS-IBG conference, I spent a day in the University of Dundee, attending a pre-Conference event on ‘Shaping Agendas in Justice Research’. Having never been to ‘the sunniest place in Scotland’ before, it was unsurprisingly raining on the day I arrived. However, there were seals basking in shoals of the River Tay, and the train journey from Edinburgh to Dundee was beautiful and a real surprise. The day itself was spent with a variety of papers which took the quite broad theme of ‘justice’ and thought about issues such as social in/exclusion in the regeneration of Dundee’s waterfront, participatory research with street Children in Accra, Ghana and student activism in Chile. The variety of presentations and topics within them showed how vibrant Human Geography research is, but also how Human Geographers are committed to doing work that is explicitly socially just – i.e. that it produces outcomes that are beneficial to humanity, and do not act in ways that serve to increase inequality within the world.

The River Tay in Dundee – sadly, no seals visible!

These are very real challenges which many of us in Geography at Liverpool are committed to working on – using Geography to do work that struggles against injustice. That’s why I’m a member of the GJRG, and also one of the main reasons why I work as a geographer – because as a subject, its commitment to understanding how the world around us functions allows us to (hopefully) create a better world for future generations. It also proves that, despite what students may think, we also do work in the summer holidays!