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As part of the Society’s medals and awards celebrations, we spoke to some of the recipients to find out more about their career paths, achievements and aspirations.

When asked what they wanted to be growing up, and what advice they had for someone seeking a career in their field, eminent climber and author, and recipient of the 2024 Patron’s Medal, Stephen Venables, said: “I had no idea what work I would actually end up doing, but I did love wild mountain country and I wanted to go climbing, preferably on big, remote, glaciated mountains.” Dr Vanessa Lawrence CB, recipient of the 2024 Founder’s Medal, and senior advisor to governments, told us that while she always knew she wanted to use geographical knowledge in her career, she did not start off in an overtly geographical sector. Discussing her own career route, which began in publishing, she advised: “If you have set your heart on something, try looking at how best to achieve it, from several different angles”.

Gill Memorial Award recipient, Dr Kean Fan Lim, is a senior economic lecturer at Newcastle University, who wanted to be a pilot growing up. Despite his change of career path, Kean told us: “I’m very fortunate to be in this role because it allows me to do something more exciting than just flying to different places around the world – I write and speak about these places!”. There was a sense from the recipients that while not all career paths are planned and linear, passion and an open mind are key.

Our recipients also reflected on their most memorable achievements to date. From Vanessa’s experience as the geospatial lead for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Stephen’s ascent of Everest, to Kean’s nomination for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Teaching’ at Newcastle University, a commitment to geographical work offers diverse stories of personal and professional success.

Other recipients talked about their future aspirations and the legacies they hope to leave. Professor Lily Kong, who was awarded this year’s Victoria Medal, told us: "I look forward to a time when academia extricates itself from the dangers of purely focusing on academic metrics, superficial rankings, and cut-throat research cultures, to embrace societal impact in the assessment of research, and cultivating supportive and collaborative cultures”. Ness Award recipient, Colonel Chris Hadfield, having served 21 years as an astronaut, said: “I hope that the risks I have taken and things I have accomplished have set an example and pushed back the edges of what’s possible.”

Dr Iestyn Woolway, who received the Gill Memorial Award, finished his interview saying: “Ultimately, I envision a world where my efforts have helped pave the way towards a more sustainable and resilient future for generations to come”.

Find the full list of 2024 medal and award recipients, and read the series of interviews.

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