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Q&A with Dr Kean Fan Lim

Read our interview with 2024 Gill Memorial Award recipient, Dr Kean Fan Lim.

I especially enjoy [...] helping students develop geographical ‘ways of seeing’ as they work through their research.Dr Kean Fan Lim

What did you want to be, or where did you want to work, when you were a teenager?

"I wanted to be a pilot because I wanted to see the world! Having few opportunities to travel while growing up in Singapore, a job that allows me to fly myself worldwide seemed most exciting and cool. And I did follow up on this ambition seriously by going for a selection process – alas, the bewildering array of buttons in the cockpit proved too overwhelming. If I had been successful, I could be the captain who’ll greet you on your next flight!"

A man in front of a bookstand holding up a book.
© Dr Kean Fan Lim

What role do you do now and how would you describe your work?

"I’m currently Senior Lecturer in Economic Geography at Newcastle University. 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! A core aspect of my work is generating new research, and I’m currently involved in projects on urban and regional development in Brazil, China, India, the UK and the USA. At the same time, I shape how students view and write about the world through lectures and dissertation supervision. I especially enjoy the latter, helping students develop geographical ‘ways of seeing’ as they work through their research."

A man in a suit standing next to a long table and in front of a screen giving a presentation.
© Dr Kean Fan Lim

How did you get into this field of work?

"I wasn’t a ‘straight through’ academic who undertook doctoral studies directly after graduating from undergraduate and Master’s degrees. After completing my Master’s degree at the National University of Singapore, I went to work in a secondary school for 3.5 years before moving to the University of British Columbia for my PhD degree. A combination of encouragement and support from my Master’s dissertation supervisor, Professor Henry Yeung, and my wife, Stephanie Lim, was instrumental in actualising this move. Henry always believed in my ability and provided many recommendations when I was applying for a place in doctoral programmes, while Stephanie made immense sacrifices by accompanying me to Canada. Without the help of Henry and Stephanie, I would not be able to take the wonderful opportunity to conduct my doctoral research under the supervision of Professors Trevor Barnes and Jamie Peck in Canada."

What has been the highlight of your career, regardless of how big or small, so far?

"My nomination for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Teaching’ at the Newcastle University Student Union’s The Education Award in 2023 was a moment I’m very proud about. This nomination was for my module leadership and teaching in Interconnected World, the main introductory module to Human Geography at Newcastle University. I feel really happy to know the way we designed and delivered the curriculum had impacted students strongly in what was their first major geography module at university, even though we were a large class of nearly 300 students!"

A man standing in front of a flower display,
© Dr Kean Fan Lim

What are you looking forward to in the future? What’s next?

"Over the next five years, my primary goal is to sustain intellectual leadership both in economic geography and across the interdisciplinary field of development studies. To this end, I will roll out two research agendas simultaneously. The first agenda is to drive conceptual and methodological advancement in urban and regional development studies. Conceptually, I will extend ongoing work on the state’s role in driving capital accumulation in urban regions. Methodologically, I am developing a dialectical method to research and evaluate regional development. The second research agenda will deepen my expertise on infrastructure-led regional development through generating high-impact case studies in multiple locations. One region I’m especially excited about is Tibet."

A brownish river with several industrial boats in it, with a highway on the left side and empty plots of land on the right.
© Dr Kean Fan Lim
  • A brownish river with several industrial boats in it, with a highway on the left side and empty plots of land on the right.
  • A bridge over a near-dry river with in the background a city and a smoggy sky.
  • Three school children in a rural area of China.
  • Green area without any buildings and a smoggy city divided by a river.

What legacy do you hope you’ll leave?

"I hope to create work that foregrounds the fundamental role of spatial analysis for explaining socioeconomic processes. This role is self-evident within geography, but it is surprising how space and place continue to be construed as passive backdrops in many social-scientific studies. My attempt to address this challenge is to create dialogue – and I do so through regular attempts at publishing in journals in other disciplines (e.g. development studies, history, political science and sociology). In doing so, I demonstrate how space and place are not epiphenomena in socioeconomic processes; they are central to the emergence and evolution of these processes."

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