What do you consider to be your greatest achievement to date?
Finding a way to develop a career led by my values across the breadth of research, teaching and administrative roles feels like a massive achievement! Much of my work happens slowly and the relationships and outcomes accrue over time. I really relish finding ways to develop deeper and more meaningful ways to collaborate, using the connections from different spheres of my portfolio to activate change. I love joining up different agendas to generate resources to catalyse projects. I get a big sense of achievement when something that you thought might come together, becomes a reality.
Is there a particularly memorable project you have worked on?
My collaboration with the Devon and Exeter Institution (DEI) demonstrates the ways in which a values led approach underpins my work. A few years ago, I supported the DEI in building a renewed strategic relationship with the University of Exeter. I felt passionate about this as the DEI was a founding institution in the early years of higher education in Exeter and finding a way to have a meaningful contemporary relationship felt important. Since securing ongoing university support for the DEI, the Institution has become a central partner in the Global Lives undergraduate module which I co-teach with Professor Ian Cook. We have worked with DEI staff and volunteers to make visible the hidden colonial histories of the city of Exeter, and host exhibitions of the student’s creative work to encourage community conversations about Exeter’s colonial heritage.
You are being recognised for your contributions to research-led teaching. Why is this such an important dimension to your work?
I have had the great fortune to work in a university which supports research-led pedagogical innovation, and in an amazing department where my colleagues invest energy and creativity in pushing the boundaries of research led approaches. This departmental ethos also extends to providing financial support so that we can pay artists and community partners to work with our students. Research-led teaching is hugely rewarding as you are continuously learning with your students to make sense of complex challenges. This is a two-way process as the outcomes of learning in class lead to new research approaches or relationships. I would not be undertaking work with Exeter City Council on the reinterpretation of Buller’s Statue without my module teaching. Asking Global Lives students to reimagine Buller’s statue directly led to my work with an inspiring, diverse, and intergenerational group of collaborators to develop a new public history of this challenging statue.
What excites you about how this field will evolve in the future?
The contemporary dialogues around justice agendas and the desire for transformative action underpins my current and future work. Working with justice agendas and being able to act in small and large ways to transform society and our relationship with our environment is hugely motivating. The challenges of achieving climate justice or justice for communities who have experienced systemic marginalisation can be overwhelming, especially when geographical research reveals the exceptional difficulties we face. Working towards justice is a cross-generational journey and requires collective effort and solidarity. I find a values led ethos supportive in the face of overwhelming challenge. It focuses attention on what committed action you can take, to do what matters. I’m looking to use research-led teaching to develop non-violent, empathetic pathways towards social justice.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to go into a career in this field?
Slow down and take time to reflect on your values and how they might guide your next steps. Training as a geographer leaves your career options wide open, so it is worth taking stock on a periodic basis to ensure you are working in ways that are meaningful to you. Although I have found the autonomy to build a portfolio which is rewarding, academic careers are challenging to achieve, and sometimes the structures of higher education are not the best fit, or available at the right time. I work with brilliant people across a range of external partnerships who started their career in academia but forged new pathways beyond. I am thankful for their work and the transformation they bring through insightful leadership. There are always many ways in which we can build our careers, and I feel that drawing on a values led approach gives you the personal reward that you are doing what matters, even if your original plan changed.