#GHWRGpostgradexperiences: the challenges of being a parent and carer in the first year of a PhD

Recently, I attended a postgraduate workshop with around 200 other students, and we were asked to list the most important things in our lives. Not one person said “My PhD”.

“That’s as it should be,” commented the workshop leader. In other words, you won’t achieve satisfaction and balance in life if you put your studies ahead of everything else.

Of course, there are times when your studies take a front seat – during fieldwork, for example, when the days can be long, exciting and exhausting, and you find yourself totally engrossed in your research. Yet for many students, even these moments are fraught with conflict. Conflict between the personal and professional. Conflict between family pressures and the desire to write that paper, submit that abstract, travel to a conference, or just spend a few hours in the library or lab.

I’m talking about students with caring responsibilities, and there are a lot of us. Students with dependent children or who care for a relative or friend appear to be on the increase, although nobody knows the exact number because this information is not currently gathered on a country-wide scale.  Nevertheless, the number of mature students (those entering university after the age of 21) is currently around 140,000, and by definition postgraduate students are that bit older and more likely to have dependants.

However, even the youngest freshers may well have responsibilities that involve caring for a child, partner, parent or other family member. Such roles in the home can put huge restrictions on a student’s ability to devote sufficient time and energy to their course or research project without suffering burnout or high levels of stress.

Students who are parents tend to stay close to home, often not having the luxury of choosing to spend several years at a university far from where they live. A typical day may be an exhausting round of housework, school/nursery runs, medical appointments, admin, nappy changes and broken sleep, before you even get around to opening a book or laptop. This is not to mention the financial burden that carers carry.

As a mum to one-year-old Baby L, my day begins at 5.30am. After nappy changes, washing, dressing, brushing of teeth, a breakfast that mostly ends up splattered across the walls and floor, and a quick clean of the house, we then set off for a 20-minute walk to the childminder. By the time I arrive on campus, I have already been up for four hours. I spend my whole PhD stipend on childcare, which buys me 28 hours per week. After that, I squeeze in the rest of my studies in the evenings when Baby L is asleep.

My PhD journey began when Baby L was just a few days old. That’s when I had my PhD interview, which was conducted by Skype while I sat in bed. I had barely been out of hospital for a day, and my interview presentation had been written on a noisy labour ward in a post-birth fog. Goodness knows if it made any sense, I can’t bear to read it now. Whether my supervisors were impressed by my dedication, or simply took pity on me, I was lucky enough to be awarded a full stipend and a PhD place beginning in September. Of course, I count myself lucky that I have this financial support, when many students also have to work long hours to fund their studies.

Immediately after receiving the offer, I felt horribly conflicted. Baby L would only be seven months old when my course began – how would I cope? Would I have enough hours in the day to devote to my research? Travelling to the library and departmental meetings seemed daunting enough, never mind field work and conferences. Still, the opportunity was too good to miss, so I gladly accepted the place.

Six months in, and I admit that some days are difficult. I recently had to take time off when Baby L was hospitalised with a virus, and finding reliable, affordable childcare is a constant headache. And yet, it is doable. My department and supervisors have been extremely flexible and understanding (it helps that they are all parents too), and I am currently working on a methodology for my research that involves minimal overseas travel.

The downside is that I often miss interesting lectures, talks by visiting experts, film screenings, social events and other activities because they are ad hoc and it is impossible to find childcare. (And nobody appreciates it if you take a hyperactive one-year-old along!) My university records some lectures to listen to at home, but not extra-curricular talks and seminars, and I frequently feel that I am missing out compared to students who are free to attend everything.

Of course, other areas of life can suffer too; my social life is much diminished and I rarely get chance to do things I once enjoyed like going to the theatre or cinema, or doing sport. After an intense first six months, where I thought I had to have my nose in a book or journal every waking hour, I have now relaxed into my PhD a bit, and am learning to make time for activities that recharge my batteries. Of course, it helps that Baby L is growing up, and I’m aware that many students with caring responsibilities cannot expect to have their burden eased with the passage of time.

A great philosopher once said: “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” Actually, it was Dolly Parton, but the point stands. And it’s relevant to students and researchers too. My advice for others in a similar situation is:

  1. Ask for help. This includes flexibility from your supervisors as well as help with childcare or other caring responsibilities, if available. Also, some universities offer carers’ bursaries and support for parents, although this varies.
  2. Slow down. You don’t have to achieve everything in the first year. As they say, a PhD is a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to conserve your energy for that final, difficult mile.
  3. Take time off if you need it. Whether it’s an evening to spend with friends, an afternoon at the park with the kids, or a couple of days in bed when you’re feeling under the weather, you will bounce back with more energy.
  4. Find out if lectures and training sessions are recorded for absent students, and if supervisory meetings can be conducted via Skype. You don’t have to be there in person every single day.
  5. Tailor your project to your capacity and abilities. Don’t plan a hugely complicated piece of fieldwork if there are other ways to get your results. There are plenty of other equally valid methodologies.
  6. Don’t be a perfectionist. You only need to pass, not get a Nobel Prize.
  7. Sometimes you might feel resentful if caring responsibilities prevent you from charging ahead with your studies. But your family and friends will be there long after you hand in your thesis, and ultimately, relationships matter more than qualifications.
  8. Speak to others in a similar situation. You might be surprised to find out what your fellow researchers are coping with in their personal lives. Get together, have a good moan in solidarity, and then celebrate what you’ve achieved. Just getting onto a PhD programme is a huge accomplishment.


Saphia Fleury is a first-year PhD student at the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute. Her research looks at the experiences of child migrants fleeing climate change. Prior to starting her PhD, Saphia spent 12 years as Middle East Editor at the human rights organisation Amnesty International.

Twitter: @SaphiaFleury


#GHWRGjourneys 15: Prof Valorie Crooks

Name: Professor Valorie CrooksPicture 1

Current institution: Department of Geography, Simon Fraser University

Research topics of interest: Medical tourism. Offshore medical schools. International retirement migration.


Tell us about your journey working in the field of geographies of health and wellbeing

 In many ways my journey of becoming and being a health geographer was quite linear. I completed my undergraduate degree at The University of Western Ontario (now Western University) in 1999. In my final year I completed an undergraduate independent research project that focused on physical accessibility and the built environment. I was inspired to focus on that topic because in recent summers I had been a counsellor at an adapted camp for people young people and teens who had various care needs. Jeff Hopkins was my project supervisor, and he was one of the first people to suggest that I consider graduate school and recommended I connect with my future supervisor.

Through completing an undergraduate research project, I realized that I enjoyed research inquiry and decided to ‘put all my eggs into one basket’, as they say, and apply to a single Master’s program that appealed to me. I was accepted to work on my MA degree with Vera Chouinard at McMaster University. That study focused on the employment experiences of women managing arthritis. Through this project I became more interested in understanding the lives and lifeworlds of people managing chronic illnesses and how this intersected with our understandings of disability and disablement. I leveraged this interest into a PhD degree also at McMaster University under Vera’s supervision that explored the lives and health care experiences of women managing a contested chronic illness.

I defended my PhD in September of 2005 and in that same month I started a postdoctoral fellowship jointly at York University and in a special program at the University of Toronto. Fresh on the academic job market, I immediately started looking for job ads and considering opportunities. I submitted my first application within a few weeks of starting my postdoc with the intent of gaining some experience in assembling the application package. Shortly thereafter I was called for an interview based on that first application, and in the end I secured that very job. By December of 2005 my contract to start at Simon Fraser University (SFU) as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography was set, and I started the position in September of 2006. I remain at SFU and am now a Full Professor and Canada Research Chair.

Upon starting my position at SFU I worked to develop studies that extended the interests I had developed throughout my graduate and postdoctoral training. Much of this work dealt with issues of chronic illness, disability, and/or primary health care. Everything changed in 2009 when I obtained my first grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to study medical tourism. A few years prior I wanted to add a few minutes of content on medical tourism to a lecture in my health geography course but had difficulty finding reliable academic sources. I was surprised by this and made a ‘mental note’ about this research gap and looked for granting opportunities that would allow me to pursue studying this transnational health care mobility. That first study in 2009 explored ethical aspects of Canadians’ decision making in medical tourism, and it catalyzed an entirely new trajectory in my career. In the decade that followed I received two significant career salary awards based on my ground-breaking research on medical tourism, developed a highly collaborative and international research program, and had worked to create medical tourism policy platforms for two governments. Perhaps most importantly, I developed a trusting, valued, productive, and lasting collaboration with bioethicist (who is now sometimes mistaken for being a health researcher!) Jeremy Snyder. In recent years Jeremy and I have started to explore other transnational health care mobilities, including Caribbean offshore medical schools and health care for international retirement migrants, and also medical crowdfunding.

What has been most fascinating, surprising or rewarding in the course of this journey?

The most rewarding aspect of my journey has been having the opportunity to meet and work with so many talented, creative, and capable colleagues, collaborators, and trainees. My career today is the sum total of my interactions and collaborations with so many other people, including the graduate students I have supervised. In many ways, academia is very much about ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very tall ones who have boosted my career greatly.

Picture 1The most fascinating aspect of my journey has definitely been all of the international research travel I have undertaken in the last decade. India. Mongolia. South Korea. Oman (pictured here). Mexico. Belize. Cayman Islands. The Bahamas. St. Lucia. Jamaica. Grenada. Barbados. Guatemala. Colombia. Rwanda. My research on transnational health care mobilities has very much required me to get transnational. I have learned so much about people, cultures, the practice of academia in different places, life, and myself through this travel.

The most surprising aspect of my journey is that I never thought that I would get to where I currently am. I described my journey as being linear above, but I certainly do not intend to imply that it has been predictable. Just this afternoon I was updating my CV and I noticed that I received my first ever research funding exactly 20 years ago (it was a small internal grant to support my Master’s research). I truly cannot believe that I have had 20 years of research involvement, 20 years worth of research ideas, or 20 years worth of research funding. When I was finishing my PhD, I remember becomingly increasingly and genuinely concerned that I would not be able to come up with new research questions, design studies, or obtain funding. This was likely due to a combination of imposter syndrome and these aspects of academia not really being taught to me during my graduate training. After obtaining promotion to Full Professor before turning 40, earning a number of career distinctions, and having a steady record of research funding and publication, I look back on that early thinking with disbelief. Meanwhile, all the time I look to the future and wonder: how can my interest in discovery drive me to new topics, methods, questions, and places; do I have what it takes to keep going in academia; and how am I going to come up with 20+ more years worth of publication ideas? I now see these questions as opportunities rather than concerns or worries.

 Have you experienced any ethical, practical or research related challenges along the way?

Well, there’s that initial medical tourism project I was working on using an ethics framework where my colleagues and I realized that actually using the words ‘ethical’ in our interview questions was not the best way to get participants to talk about their decision-making. We wrote about that here. Or my early realization that while research collaborations can be difficult to initiate, they can be even harder to end. Heather Castleden and I wrote about that in this piece. One thing I can say for certain is that every ethical, practical, and research challenge I have faced in my career has taught me at least one good lesson that has shaped my journey of becoming the health geographer I am today.

 What advice would you give to an aspiring health or wellbeing geographer?

 I recently gave a presentation that touched on some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned throughout my research journey thus far. These are the ones I shared, and they hold true as advice for any aspiring health geographer:

  • Be open to synergies, opportunities, and collaborations that facilitate meeting your goals (and, secondarily, can support others’ goals too).
  • While it’s important to learn from others’ knowledge, be sure to use your own experiences and interests to guide you in new directions.
  • Fieldwork (and in my case, especially international fieldwork) is always shaped by gendered norms, colonial legacies, and cultural hierarchies that must be carefully navigated.
  • Regardless of your experience and networks, primary data collection is a grind that involves trying, trying, and trying again in order to recruit participants.
  • You will never tire of hearing about instances when your research is transferred into applied contexts such as policy and practice guidelines.


Links to website, Twitter and/or selected papers


Watch me talk about my transnational health care mobilities research here, and my knowledge mobilization strategies here.


#GHWRGjourneys 14: Prof Wil Gesler

Name: Professor Emeritus Wil Gesler Wil Gesler

Current institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Emeritus professor)

Research topics of interest: Spatial patterns of health and disease, therapeutic landscapes, cultural geography


Tell us about your journey working in the field of geographies of health and wellbeing

 My career as a professional geographer did not begin until I was in my mid-thirties.  For my Ph.D. in Geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) I decided to try and research access-to-care in an African country and applied to the Ford Foundation for a grant to study a Maternal and Child clinic in Calabar, Nigeria.  After waiting several months in limbo and starting plans to conduct my Ph.D. research in the U.S. instead, the Ford grant suddenly came through and I was off to West Africa for six months.

In 1978, after receiving the Ph.D., applying without success for several jobs, and getting married, my first job was at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, a position I only landed because the Geography Department’s first choice had decided to go elsewhere.

For junior faculty at Rutgers the job was tenuous.  We were retained on a yearly basis for a maximum of three years, at which time we had to move on.  I applied for and got a Fulbright at the University of Sierra Leone to tide me over while I looked for another job.  In Sierra Leone, I taught a Medical Geography course, carried out three research projects, and applied, unsuccessfully, through the Jobs in Geography newsletter for several jobs.  Toward the end of our stay in Sierra Leone an unexpected offer came from my old department at UNC-CH.  Again, I was no one’s first choice, but enough second choices got me through.

Back in North Carolina, I concentrated on quantifiable aspects of the geography of health care provision and disease.  Publications in refereed journals and eventually promotion and tenure followed.  But then, strongly influenced by the geographers Robert Stock and Robin Kearns, I became aware for the first time of the extremely exciting prospect of applying social theories such as structuralism and humanism to Medical Geography.  Now, I thought (backed with tenure), was the time to challenge old orthodoxies and pursue what I increasingly felt really mattered in the geographies of disease and health.  So as a newly minted health geographer I began to take the turn to qualitative work, research that involved me more directly with study subjects, studies with social relevance, all of that.

In 1991 I published a book, The Cultural Geography of Health Care, that combined my interests in Health and Cultural Geography.  An anonymous reviewer for the publisher suggested that at one point I was talking about what might be called ‘therapeutic landscapes’ (t.l.).  I pondered just what that phrase might mean and spent the next year digging through the Medical Geography, Medical Anthropology, Medical Sociology, and Environmental Psychology literatures to try and understand what a t.l. might look like.  The result was the development of a framework, backed by social theories, for examining health care in any manner of situations from the home to the giant hospital, based on looking closely at physical (natural and human-made), social, and symbolic environments in a place.  I first applied these ideas to three places with a lasting reputation for healing, Epidauros in Greece, Bath in England, and Lourdes in France.  Later, after retiring from UNC-CH in 2003, I worked with colleagues in two studies of mental health hospitals in England.  I took early retirement at age sixty-one, mainly because my English wife wanted to return to her native place. 

What has been most fascinating, surprising or rewarding in the course of this journey?

I would say that the most fascinating thing about working in Health Geography (as well as in Cultural Geography), spurred on by an insatiable curiosity, has been the wide variety of topics that I have been able to pursue.  I discovered that I could study health care delivery, disease patterns, therapeutic landscapes, the geography of religion, and imaginative literatures in North America, Europe, and Africa.  There were times when I felt that I was straying into the territory of academics working in other fields.  But of course non-geographers borrow ideas from us as well.

My academic career has been full of surprises.  At Rutgers, keen to find new projects to follow on from Ph.D. research, colleagues came to me out of the blue with two large data sets that I had no idea existed and we collaborated on analysing them.  In Freetown, Sierra Leone, a colleague and I stumbled serendipitously on the ‘death room,’ an amazing office where meticulously compiled registers of births and deaths went back several decades.  The information we collected enabled us to make a mortality map for 1974 and produce demographic and epidemiologic profiles of the city over time.  As we scanned the interview transcripts from our north eastern England mental hospital study, we were surprised at how the topics of risk avoidance and smoking behaviour played such a dominant role in the lives of users and staff.

I would have to say that the most rewarding aspect of my career was working with various groups of people  I found especially great pleasure working with upper level undergraduates in elective courses such as Cultural Geography and African Geography.  Most fun at this level was assigning group projects where I would work with small teams on topics of interest to them.  Graduate seminars, when I was given the chance to hold them, were always a delight because, collectively, we could venture out into new territory; delve into the newest trends in theory and practice.

Probably the most rewarding contact with students was being on M.A. and Ph.D. committees, both within Geography and in other departments (mainly in Public Health), especially in the role of advisor.  Graduate students, the slave class of academia, were usually at a delightfully critical point in their careers, full of fresh new ideas, raring to make a mark, needing different levels of guidance.  To see a research idea take shape and blossom in an enthusiastic mind is wonderful.

I think it is essential for an academic to produce self-authored only papers from their dissertations and throughout their career, but most of my projects and articles were carried out with one or more others (almost 100 in total).  There were frictions among team members on a few occasions, but in large part we enjoyed working together in a common cause.  I also had rewarding interactions with interview subjects.  Interviewing can be a scary business, but if you can somehow put people at their ease they are usually willing to talk and tell you some surprising things that would have never occurred to you.


Have you experienced any ethical, practical or research related challenges along the way?

I suppose the biggest challenge for many of us is that we have to carry out two full-time jobs as the same time, teaching and research.  If you have a family with children, as I did not, this could mean you have three jobs.  The teaching burden can be quite variable.  Most of my colleagues started out as I did teaching some large classes, up to ninety students, for the first several years.  Later on, when you have built up a good set of lectures and upper-level undergraduate and graduate seminars begin to swing your way, things may become easier.  But of course, if you want to keep your teaching contemporary you need to constantly bring you lectures up-to-date.  I found the Teaching and Learning Center on campus invaluable in this regard and used them several times.

As everyone knows, getting published is an effort that can have many pitfalls.  You are at the mercy of journal editors and reviewers.  It took me a few years to feel confident that I was improving my paper-writing skills to the point where I felt I had a decent chance of getting into print.  Every rejection left me feeling hollow for some time.  I found that medical and health geographers were somewhat at a disadvantage when it came to getting published in ‘mainstream’ geography journals as we were a relatively small sub-discipline.  For some in authority, getting into journals like Social Science & Medicine was not enough.  This barrier was lowered over time for me.  Thank heavens for Health & Place and other new journals that became outlets for us.

Another challenge which I think many of us in Human Geography face is obtaining grants, another prerequisite in many universities for advancement.  I was told by colleagues that it was fine for physical geographers to apply for grants because money grew on trees for them, but for us humans it was hardly worth the bother.  I knew that this wasn’t necessarily the case and began to apply for small grants to visit my three t.l. places.  Then I decided to go big time and with much effort and lots of good help I finally landed a couple of grants funded in total for over $ 2million.

What advice would you give to an aspiring health or wellbeing geographer?

Ok, let’s start with a cliché, persistence.  If your career follows the usual pattern, there will be moments when you feel like giving up on a research project that is not going well for a variety of reasons.  There are many glitches and disappointments that can come your way: your research idea turns out not to be doable, you can’t obtain the funding or data you need, a colleague abandons the project, your findings don’t make sense, or reviewers are not impressed with your work.  It took me and my colleagues four grant applications over eight years to finally get one of the large projects mentioned above funded.

An obvious way to deal with the two-jobs-in-one problem is to make each one work for the other.  You can use the results from your own research in your lectures and seminars, as I am sure most of you do.  You can also turn classroom experiences into research projects, write them up, and submit the results to a pedagogical journal.  My experience with pedagogical journals is that reviewers are, overall, more critical, more discerning, friendlier, and more helpful than reviewers for other journals.  It feels good to be part of this community.

Festina lente or ‘make haste slowly’ is a motto our high school Latin teacher gave us.  The phrase means something like ‘work steadily and efficiently and you will get where you want to go faster in the long run and with better results’.  My advice is, if you want a good quality product, take your time and get it right.  I believe that, if you keep calm and carry on methodically, you will be more likely to develop what the anthropologist Clifford Geertz called thick description.  What I think he meant by this is to spend time looking at your study subjects, your data, or whatever from as many angles as possible, the way a good ethnographer would proceed.  If you do this, you should begin to arrive at a web of interconnections which makes for a richer mix of meaning and a higher quality final product.  The t.l. framework is one attempt at thick description.

A strategy I used to overcome stumbling blocks and disappointments was to have two or more research projects on the go at the same time, ideally at different stages.  Be formulating your research questions for one project, delving into the literature for another, collecting data for still another, and so on.  That way, if you hit a snag or delay in one project you have fall back options.  Even if a project comes to a dead end, you can pick up with another one.  I found this sustained my hope that I would eventually succeed somewhere along the line.

Finally, my advice would be to occasionally sit back and congratulate yourself or comfort yourself with the idea that you are privileged to be working within an amazing community of scholars who are committed to one of the most important projects in life, improving the health of others.






GHWRG Hack Day- When Research Gets Personal

This event has been postponed until further notice
As a committee, we’ve made the tricky decision to postpone the Hack Day. We didn’t want to put anyone at unnecessary risk, particularly those with chronic illnesses, underlying conditions, and caring responsibilities. We’ll be keeping an eye on how things progress with Covid-19, and we hope to be able to rearrange for early/mid July.  (Gabrielle King, 12th March 2020)

Event details

  • Title: GHWRG Hack Day – When Research Gets Personalhttps___cdn.evbuc.com_images_93447829_230677918786_1_original
  • Date: Tues 12th May 2020
  • Time: 10.15am-4.15pm
  • Location: Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR
  • Cost: £22.15 per person (includes lunch and refreshments)
  • Registration: Register here

Event description

Hack Days are intended to provide opportunities to discuss tricky questions in detail, working collectively to get to the heart of an issue, and to generate new ideas around it. In this hack day, we want to attend to the realities and challenges of doing research that is personal.

At the RGS-IBG 2019, researchers spoke of negotiating the challenges of researching questions of health and wellbeing when either they, or those close to them, were directly affected. Conversations around the lived experiences of doing research have also been gaining traction beyond the RGS. From troubling questions around support and precarity, higher education staff have been on strike for the second time in two years. The Wellcome Trust’s most recent review of research cultures highlights the concerns around work-life (in)balance and burgeoning mental health issues. Distinctions between work and life are often blurry, and these can be even more so when the research we undertake has a personal connection.

In addition to this, some of the populations we engage with in our research may also be disempowered and subject to inequalities. This can mean that we may have to tread carefully to ensure that our research questions and methodologies seek to empower participants, or at least do not further exacerbate issues. Managing these relationships can be personally challenging and take additional time to manage carefully.

Through this event, we will explore the challenges of negotiating research when oneself or those close to us are directly affected. Through discussions, conversational methods, and creating, the hack day will focus on the practical and ethical challenges of doing this research. In holding space for open and honest conversations, we will consider the following questions, as well as others that emerge as pertinent;

– What are the implications (professionally, personally) for doing research that we have a connection to?

– Is support available to deal with concerns, and to check that we are okay? What might we like this support to look like if it isn’t in place? Whose responsibility is this, (and perhaps, who’s should this be)?

– How does this sit within wider ethical questions?

– How might we capture or conceptualise these experiences in a way that can be shared and useful for others doing research now (and those to come in the future)?

Given the personal, and potentially emotive nature of these discussions, there will be a quiet space available at all times during the day.

Planned agenda for the day

10:15-10:45: Registration

10:45-11:00: Welcome, and introduction: Discussion about what we all want/hope to get out of the day

11:00-12:15: Session 1: Sharing stories

With Flossie Kingsbury, Dr Emma Laurie, Eleanor Martin, Angharad Butler-Rees, Rosalie Warnock, Dr Sarah Hughes

12:15-13:00: Session 2: Reflections, discussions, and opportunities for questions/thoughts

Chaired, and with reflections from, Dr Nadia Von Benzon

13:00-13:30: Lunch

13:30-14:00: Session 3: Dialogue walks/talks.

14:00-15:00: Session 4: Negotiating challenges

Chaired, and with reflections from, Dr Kate Boyer

15:00-16:00: Session 5: Getting Creative, Moving forward- what can we do?

16:00-16:15: Closing

There are a small number of postgraduate busaries available. We will ask each participant seeking financial support to submit a 1 page letter or email outlining: the applicant’s interest in attending the event, relevance to their programme of research, and reasons for not being able to fund the travel from other sources (e.g.- home department or studentship). Applications for financial support will be considered by the GHWRG Chair, Secretary and Treasurer, who will make a decision based on these applications how many should and can be supported. Please email gabrielle.king@ed.ac.uk.

#GHWRGJourneys 13: Prof Tony Gatrell

Name: Prof Tony Gatrelltony gatrell aldwych

Current institution: Lancaster University (Emeritus)

Research topics of interest: mobilities and health; health inequalities; equity of access to health services; ageing; end of life care 

Tell us about your journey working in the field of geographies of health and wellbeing 

OK, I have to start with an admission; I have not always been a health geographer. My career began way back in the last century in what I would call analytical cartography and spatial analysis, and these were both my postgraduate interests in the US and research areas when I became an early career Lecturer at Salford University.

It was a struggle to get a job back in the UK after four years at Penn State. I’d applied there from Bristol, which was the ‘home’ of quantitative human geography at the time and where the example set by Peter Haggett convinced me to try and find a career in academia. After gaining a PhD I found that applications for Lectureships at Durham and Bristol fell on stony ground. Indeed, when I later looked to move from Salford I had unsuccessful interviews at four Universities before Lancaster University took me on. It was only when I arrived at Lancaster that I began to realise there were possibly fruitful applications of my quantitative interests to health data. At the time there were concerns in the UK about the uptake of childhood immunisations; specifically, a ‘scare’ about the safety of the vaccine for whooping cough (pertussis). I wanted to know if uptake varied from place to place and whether there were social disparities in some parents opting out of that component but still having their child immunised against diphtheria and tetanus. A public health contact furnished me with data for small areas in Salford (Greater Manchester) and I related the immunisation data to various social indicators. This led to much stronger work with my friend and colleague Martyn Senior, where a successful grant application allowed us to collect individual data and do some qualitative interviews.

Another public interest story piqued my interest soon after. There were newspaper reports of a ‘cluster’ of children born with eye malformations, and the suggestion was that this was linked to their living near an incinerator.  This seemed to me to be a classic geographical problem – there was both a possible environmental association, but also a spatial one (where did these children live in relation to the suspect source?). Sadly, the research I undertook with the consultant ophthalmologist treating these children did not lead anywhere, but I did (with colleague Andrew Lovett, now at UEA) develop further interests in the geography of congenital malformations (such as spina bifida).  Andrew and I also undertook related research on cancer of the larynx, which we also associated with proximity to another incinerator.

But this and other research was classical ‘medical’ geography, motivated by clear public concerns, and it took work by Kelvyn Jones and Graham Moon, but also Robin Kearns, to point the way to a more theoretically- and socially-informed model of health geography. A further spur was working with sociologists on a major programme on health inequalities, led by former colleague Hilary Graham. Reading more widely, and attending successive meetings such as the International Medical Geography Symposia, helped me see that there were other fields to be cultivated. I found the work of Pierre Bourdieu to be particularly insightful, and was delighted to see that even a French sociologist used quantitative methods (correspondence analysis)!

All of this work was undertaken in Geography Departments, initially at Salford and then Lancaster University (both departments now refashioned and renamed, with ‘environment’ in the title, as seems to be the fashion these days). But I was then invited to set up a health services research network in Lancaster, which became a tiny Institute for Health Research. This built relations with academics in other departments, but with funding provided by the now-defunct Regional Health Authority (whose research was directed by geographer Maggie Pearson) we were able to set up a fledgling department, develop postgraduate degrees, and recruit new staff from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. An early appointment was Christine Milligan, who built her very successful career with us.  University reorganisation of Faculties led to our becoming part of a new Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, and I landed the job of Dean. Of course, few people in academia like Deans very much, since they tend to say no rather than yes! But I did my best to support colleagues and I loved the whole process of making appointments and then watching careers take off. Under the leadership of a terrific Vice-Chancellor (there are such people) the Institute expanded considerably, but while I continued to do some research the job of full-time Dean limited this. While it wasn’t ‘proper’ research I did manage to develop a proposal, then write a book, on the Geography of Health.

I remember very well how my health geography textbook came about. I was sitting outside one of the sessions at the Baltimore IMGS meeting and sketched out a rough outline. I checked with Kelvyn and Graham that they had no plans for a second edition of their ground-breaking book ‘Health, Disease and Society’ and felt my path was clear for a new text. I’ve always loved writing, and I loved writing that book. But when the publishers came knocking at the door for a second edition, managerial commitments demanded I needed a co-author, and happily Susan Elliott (then at McMaster, now Waterloo, in Canada) was a willing collaborator; so willing, in fact, that she co-authored a third edition! 

I did my best to maintain a research profile. Another fruitful area grew out of a call for research on ageing and since my ageing parents were keen gardeners I thought there was novel research to be done on gardening and mental health. Fortunately, I teamed up with Christine Milligan and Amanda Bingley and we collected some fascinating interview data, the analysis of which led to some papers that we linked to the literature on therapeutic landscapes. Shortly after, my interactions with the late distinguished sociologist John Urry led me to explore the links between complexity theory, about which he had written widely, and health. When he left complexity behind to map out a huge research agenda on the new mobilities paradigm I saw an opportunity to see how that linked to health, since it seemed (and still seems) to me that the mobilities literature has relatively little to say about health and wellbeing. I managed to get another book published on that subject. Having now retired, I am no longer undertaking research, though I’m not short of ideas….

What has been most fascinating, surprising or rewarding in the course of this journey?

You can see that my health geography interests migrated away from a classical medical geography approach, albeit one motivated by questions of public interest. I’m not sure this has been either fascinating or surprising, but it has certainly been rewarding!

What was certainly rewarding, especially early in my career, was having stimulating teachers and fellow students with whom to bounce around ideas. Having great teachers (notably, Peter Haggett and Peter Gould) helped of course, and I’ve always tried to convey a passion for the subject, whether health geography or – earlier in my career – quantitative methods (yes, it’s even possible to get passionate about statistical spatial analysis). The pleasure I’ve got from teaching interested (and interesting) students, who’ve then gone on themselves to become academics, is a career highlight. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to help Simon Kingham, Jan Rigby, Clive Sabel, Jo Briggs, Paul Boyle, Christine Dunn and others on their very successful journeys, and gain much from them in return. I’ve also found it hugely rewarding to act as an External Examiner for many PhD theses. It’s one of the few times you really get to read something thoroughly, and I always took it very seriously, just as I did when refereeing papers. If someone has spent (hundreds of) hours crafting a dissertation the least you can do is give them the courtesy of a searching but unintimidating viva, and helpful and timely feedback.

I also found it very satisfying myself to develop an idea or research proposal and seeing it come to fruition, either as a successful grant application or a subsequent publication. Coming up with some research that I felt to be really original, receiving my first set of proofs from a journal, and seeing it in hard copy (those were the days…) was a great thrill as a 26 year old. 

Have you experienced any ethical, practical or research related challenges along the way?

I learnt some hard lessons when undertaking research that might prove controversial. I spoke about the cancer of the larynx research at a conference and it was picked up by the national press and radio. Perhaps I should have alerted the environmental and public health agencies about the findings, as they were pretty upset to get what they saw as negative publicity and have to deal with the fallout.

Keeping up with research methods has proved a major challenge. Once upon a time I thought I was pretty competent as a (spatial) statistician, but now I’m out of my depth. I didn’t find the time, once I became a senior University manager, to keep abreast of developments. Having said that, I’ve become more sceptical about the extent to which the latest panoply of techniques can genuinely throw light on contemporary health issues and if I were to wind my research clock back 25 years I might be more attracted to political economy perspectives rather than what would now be called (somewhat inaccurately) positivist approaches. The work of Paul Farmer is singularly appealing.

Work-life balance is always challenging and it was no different for me. Fortunately, my partner is also an academic and I know how fortunate we have been to work for quite a few years at the same institution – though she now commutes to another university. We were able to take it in turns to be at home when small children were unwell. Those small children are now wonderful young women; like their very clever uncle (the brighter of the twins) they are historians, not geographers, but you can’t have everything…..

What advice would you give to an aspiring health or wellbeing geographer?

 I think the best advice is to read as much as you can, inside and outside the discipline of geography. If there seem to be some interesting ideas coming out in the sociology literature (say), or epidemiology, or health services research, or psychology, think about whether there are geographical angles to be exploited. I suppose my ploughing the complexity and mobilities fields cultivated by sociologist John Urry would be a good example. Another recent example would be how Gavin Andrews spotted an opportunity to explore whether non-representational theory had anything to say to health geographers and while NRT isn’t everyone’s cup of tea it shows what can be done if you think outside the conventional boxes.

Getting a foot on the job ladder is not easy, as several of the pieces in this (excellent) series suggests. But I have sat on, or chaired, countless interview panels, and have a good idea of what floats (or sinks) the panel’s boat. Doing your homework about the University/Department to which you are applying is common sense. So too is a well organised presentation if you are offered an interview.  If you are given 15 minutes to speak about your research don’t spend half your time introducing yourself and your background. If there are 5 minutes for questions make sure you allow for that. Keep any slides relatively uncluttered and wholly legible. Look your panel in the eye and try to be likeable, unflustered and keen on the job. And if you are lucky enough to be offered the post please don’t say ‘I need to go back and discuss with my partner’; have those discussions before you turn up for interview.

Getting into print is tough – there’s a lot of competition. In the UK there is relentless pressure to publish in ‘top’ journals, and that’s not always realistic early in your career. Don’t be put off trying for lesser-ranked journals or getting into an edited collection. I’m not sure there’s a lot of point aiming for the most prestigious journals with your first try if the ‘hit rate’ is very low; if you get lots of rejections you can soon get demoralised.

Look for interesting collaborations, whether with people working inside or outside the discipline or clinically-minded (and I don’t just mean medically-qualified) folk. Reach out to people at conferences or via email. The vast majority of health researchers, whether professional geographers or otherwise, will rarely turn you away. But do watch out for the occasional predator on the look-out for interesting ideas or work that they might take away and use for their own purposes; it’s not only students that can sometimes plagiarise! I have been caught out a couple of times and it’s disheartening. But don’t let me end on a sour note. I cannot think of a single unfriendly health geographer and if you can get to the biennial symposium I won’t be proved wrong.

Links to website, Twitter and/or selected papers

I have written a much longer piece about my career – how I became a geographer, people I’ve met on the way, some personal history, and so on – and I’m happy to share this ‘warts and all’ account if anyone wishes to ask for a copy (a.gatrell@lancaster.ac.uk). There’s more detail about my health geography interests, but plenty else to delight (?) and amuse (?). Lots of names you’d recognise, and lots you won’t. Tweets as @TonyGatrell.





#GHWRGjourneys 12: Prof Sophie Bowlby

Name: Professor Sophie BowlbySophieBowlby_3673_w1

Current Institutions: University of Reading and University of Loughborough

Research topics of interest: relationships of care in time-space, especially informal care within and beyond the family; friendship; (dis)ability, mobility, access and ICTs.


Tell us about your journey working in the field of geographies of health and wellbeing

First a confession – I have never identified as a health or wellbeing geographer but rather as a feminist, urban social geographer. But I have ended up doing research on informal care and children with socio-emotional differences which speaks to the concerns of health and wellbeing geographers.

After graduating in geography at Cambridge University in 1966, I got funding for a DSC_0007Geography MSc at Northwestern University in Chicago. At the time, the Geography Department there was a hotbed of cutting-edge, positivist research in quantitative geography. While I was excited by these ideas, I was even more excited by the idea of spending two years in America – I certainly had no idea of a future career in academia. However, after two years on the MSc, continuing to a PhD seemed inevitable! My American MSc/PhD training included courses in Maths, Statistics, Transport, Sociology and Geography. One of the most notable was a Sociology course taught by Janet Abu-Lughod and her skill at encouraging critical debate was an example I later tried to emulate. My PhD was on ‘Spatial Variation in Consumers’ Information Levels’ and while my theoretical and empirical concerns have changed radically since then, an interest in mobility, access, information and retail consumption have remained. While at Northwestern I became friends with fellow graduates Susan and Perry Hanson. Their research on the travel patterns of Swedish households and analysis of gendered differences in travel was my first introduction to the possibility of a geography of gender.

After some unsuccessful forays into the North American University hiring system I was lucky to get a one year lecturing post at Reading in the UK, followed by a lectureship at Glasgow University. But after a year in Glasgow I returned to Reading as a lecturer in Social Geography (and, to my surprise, stayed there until my statutory retirement 38 years later!). Teaching social geography, my experiences as a female academic, political developments of the time and meeting other like-minded geographers at International British Geographers(IBG) conferences led to my involvement in the nascent field of feminist geography. After Linda McDowell had led a successful struggle to establish the Women and Geography Study Group of the IBG I became part of the collective who wrote the first “Geography and Gender’ textbook, published in 1984. At the same time I became interested in disability, mobility and wellbeing through research on, and subsequent involvement with, ReadiBus (a bus service in Reading for people who cannot use a mainstream bus, whose Board of Trustees I now chair) and, much later, through supervising Ruth Butler’s PhD research on the access of people with visual impairment to public space.

Between then and the end of the 1990s I was involved in a variety of research linked to retailing or to gendered and racialised relationships, working with friends and colleagues including Jo Foord and Sally Lloyd Evans. In the mid 90s I met Sue Gregory – then a researcher in sociology at Reading – who introduced me to Linda McKie, then a sociologist at Aberdeen University. This was the start of a longstanding, continuing collaboration on writing and research about ‘care’, drawing on our personal experiences of caring and being cared for and our different disciplinary backgrounds. While initially we were particularly focussed on issues of childcare this soon developed into a more general interest in all types of informal care, including friendship. My research with Linda still continues, now with Sue Lewis. In the last ten years or so my interests in care and disability have led to research on the friendships of women in their fifties and my inclusion in research led by Louise Holt on the experiences of children with socio-emotional differences in school and by Ruth Evans on care relations and bereavement in Senegal.

What has been most fascinating, surprising or rewarding in the course of this journey?

I continue to find the questions raised by geographers fascinating – from the ‘classic’ concerns of place and history and human-environment relations to the wilder shores of theoretical speculations and critiques. The enjoyment I found when doing geography at secondary school in seeing a relationship between my book learning and the material world has remained with me. I must thank my geography teacher, Clifford Johnson, for managing to make even the A-level syllabus seem exciting!

One discovery that surprised me when I first became a lecturer and which also has been a source of continuing pleasure, has been my enjoyment of teaching both undergraduate and postgraduate students. Some of them have later become friends and colleagues. Teaching about a topic is often the first time you really understand it and may force you to learn about issues that do not initially attract you – but which may enlarge your understanding or turn out to be intriguing and absorbing. Interacting with students is often rewarding and intellectually stimulating – as well as sometimes being maddening! Although I certainly don’t miss marking or administration since my retirement, I do miss students.

Have you experienced any ethical, practical or research related challenges along the way?

The practical challenges I have experienced are common to most academics: too many things to do, leading to stress and the feeling of doing a little bit of everything badly; the difficulty of getting money (and time) to do the research I wanted to do at any given time – so many unsuccessful research bids! Related to these challenges were the common difficulties of reconciling family life and outside commitments with the pressures of the job. Here mutual support from friends and colleagues, especially women colleagues, was invaluable. I am very aware that in the ten years since I retired things have got much worse both in terms of overwork and in terms of the availability of jobs and decent pay – I hope very strongly that political action will eventually result in improvement. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring health or wellbeing geographer?

Follow your interests and don’t throw away ideas for research which seem odd or unconventional if they are also ideas which excite you. Find colleagues with whom you can share research writing and projects – I have found working with other people definitely improves both the eventual output and the pleasure of the research process. A research problem shared is, indeed, usually a problem halved. This is not to say that working with others is problem free, but for me, the benefits have far outweighed the difficulties.

Looking back on my career I see that luck has played a great part – in meeting good collaborators, in being in the right place at the right time – and sometimes in experiencing the opposite. So, be open to new directions and opportunities while also trying to follow your interests. This may seem paradoxical, but I think that it is important to be open to the possibility that something you haven’t considered to be ‘the sort of thing I research’ might speak to some underlying questions that do motivate your research enthusiasm.

Finally, don’t regard teaching as simply a chore getting in the way of publication and career progression (although it often does do this), use it to develop your knowledge and ideas.


Links to website, Twitter and/or selected papers

Bowlby S., McKie L., Gregory S. and MacPherson, I. (2010) Interdependencies and Care across the Lifecourse, Routledge, London. file:///Users/srb/Downloads/9780203860076_googlepreview.pdf

Bowlby S (2011) Friendship, Co-presence and Care: neglected spaces, Social and Cultural Geography, 12, 605-622, https://doi.org/10.1080/14649365.2011.601264

Holt L., Bowlby S. and Lea J. (2013) Emotions and the Habitus: young people with socio-emotional differences (re)producing social, emotional and cultural capital in family and leisure space-times, Emotion, Space and Society, 9, 33-41, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.emospa.2013.02.002

Bowlby S. and McKie L. (2018) Care and caring: an ecological framework, Area, 51,3,532-539, https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12511

Evans R., Bowlby S., Ribbens McCarthy J., Wouango J. and Kébé F. (2018) ‘It’s God’s will’ Consolation and religious meaning-making after a family death in urban Senegal, Chapter 10 in C. Jedan, A. Maddrell and E. Venbrux (eds) Consolationscapes in the Face of Loss:

Grief and Consolation in Space and Time, Routledge, London. https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/e/9780815358800

Bowlby S. (2019) ‘Caring in domestic spaces: inequalities and housing’, Chapter 3 in Jupp E., Bowlby S., Franklin J. and Hall S. M. (eds) The New Politics of Home: Housing, gender and care in times of crisis, Policy Press Shorts (Research), Policy Press, Bristol. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvjghvp4






#GHWRGjourneys 11: Prof Graham Moon

Name: Professor Graham Moon20180721_141706

Current institution: University of Southampton (Emeritus)

Research topics:  Place effects on health-related behaviour, mainly smoking but also drinking and, increasingly in recent years, diet. Psychiatric care, particularly post-asylum geographies. Small area estimation. General practice provision. Histories of health geography.


 Tell us about your journey working in the field of geographies of health and wellbeing

Now seems a good time for a spot of reflection as I took slightly early retirement about six months ago, because I could and because I wanted the flexibility to do what I want when I want. I still remain active in research and graduate supervision, intending to continue for a while yet but as a ‘free agent’. Looking back, it’s all been pretty great, but it’s been a fair old while.

I left school back in the 70s (!) and worked as a very lowly assistant in a council town planning department before doing Geography at Exeter. Exeter at the time was a fairly sleepy place; I played hard, grew my hair and had a good time. There was no ‘health’ in the course at all and my interests focussed largely on political and urban geography. I also realised that, contrary to earlier experiences, I quite enjoyed quantitative methods. By my third year, I was keen to take these studies further. But what was I to do? Beyond something around political geography, I didn’t have much of a clue. If there had been opportunities, I probably should have done a masters, but there weren’t really any in geography at the time. It was straight to PhD or out to the job market.

Fortunately for my general cluelessness, there were, even then, some PhD opportunities focussed on staff-generated topics. I was interviewed for several, rightly turned down for some (one esteemed human geographer still reminds me of one particular occasion), and offered a couple, which unfortunately weren’t on topics that appealed. A job in town planning loomed, for that was still vaguely in my mind. By chance however, back in my home town of Portsmouth, I made a speculative application to the local Polytechnic. A very supportive tutor, Alan Burnett, steered me gently away from an unfeasible topic in East European political geography and onto inequalities in public service provision. The department was bigger than I was used to but very friendly and there was what might best be termed a ‘portfolio’ support package available involving part-time teaching and assisting with research projects. I signed on for a PhD with Alan as supervisor and Steven Pinch, who had just joined nearby Southampton, as an external advisor.

It was a great three and a bit years. I did a lot of teaching, mainly statistics but also some social geography and some tutoring. I had a spell in Birmingham working for the Institute of Local Government Studies and a fraught few weeks as an enumerator for the 1981 census. It still being (at the start) the 1970s, income gaps were filled by unemployment benefit, though that became a lot more difficult with the advent of Thatcherism. Still no health geography! It lurched into the thesis relatively late on when I (we?) decided that my focus on local council services needed to be complemented with a chapter on NHS services, so I worked up a case study of inequalities in access to general practice provision drawing on work by Paul Knox. It got stronger when Alan and I got sequential ESRC support for a study of community attitudes to hostel facilities extending North American work by Chris Smith and Michael Dear to the UK. Most significantly however, my focus on health geography gelled when Portsmouth hired Kelvyn Jones. I was typing up (!) a paper for the (RGS-)IBG conference in Edinburgh drawing on my PhD work and he said “Hmm health care. Would you like to write the health care bit of a medical geography book with me”. Or words to that effect.  It was the start of an enduring and mutually beneficial collaboration.

So we wrote “Health, Disease and Society”, which contributed to the reframing of medical geography in the mid-1980s. I shifted out of the urban and social groups in the RGS-IBG into the very welcoming medical geography group where David Phillips and Andrew Learmonth offered early encouragement.  Kelvyn, Liz Twigg (who subsequently became my life partner) and I went along to the first IMGS joining an equally collegiate, helpful and welcoming international group of health geographers. I also left the geography department; lecturing posts were few and far between in the early Thatcher years and, while I was lucky enough to win successive ESRC grants, it was a hand to mouth existence. One of the advantages of Portsmouth was its local connections and it housed a social care research unit funded by the local authority. It had permanent research posts! They hired me and I moved to the next door building to work on a commissioned research programme. This was great for contacts outside academia and crossed extensively into the health field. After a couple of years I shifted over to a lectureship in social sciences to work on the development of health professional education. I did industrial quantities of teaching in health policy, medical sociology, research methods and even social theory; more substantively I was one of the university leads when nurse education joined the University and did a lot of curriculum development.

Throughout this period, Kelvyn, Liz and I carried on with research in health geography. Kelvyn and I authored the first progress reports on the sub-discipline in Progress in Human Geography. My own interests focussed on the role of place in the language of health policy but there were also joint projects with internal and external collaborators sustained by a steady flow of local and ESRC funding. By far the most significant of the joint projects was Kelvyn’s discovery of multilevel modelling and from 1991 onward we wrote, with postgrad colleagues, a series of influential papers exploring place effects on health using ML approaches. Increasingly my interests in this direction focussed on health behaviours. At the same time, I became successively the Secretary and then the Chair of the Medical Geography Study Group leading on the name change to the Geography of Health Study Group, fostering the ENRGHI meeting, and, of most long term significance, I launched Health and Place in 1995.

Portsmouth became a go-to place for health geography in the late 1990s. In 1996 we ran the International Medical Geography Symposium (IMGS) and a fantastic group of colleagues came together. As seen earlier in these Journeys, Tim Brown was with us; he structured my somewhat scattergun fascination with Foucault. So too were Myles Gould, John Mohan, SV Subramanian, Andrea Litva, Martin Powell, and Craig Duncan. Susan Elliott, Robert Pampalon and Ross Barnett were among our longer term visitors. It came to an end in the early 2000s. The 2001 UK Research Assessment Exercise recognised our excellence but unfortunately not that of the wider department. Funding was decimated and, for the health geography group, it was a ‘for sale’ sign. The majority of the group moved on.

My last few years at Portsmouth were fascinating and rewarding despite the demise of the health geography group. I was, by then working as University Director of Research having climbed the management ladder.  As a senior manager I enjoyed strategizing, developing and steering R&D policy, leading institutional bids and building research culture. My research also took new directions. Ross’s visit to Portsmouth had led to me taking a sabbatical in New Zealand. This was life changing. I loved it and kept going back. It was good to take research time out from what was by then a largely management career but it was also good to be back in geography departments.  Increasingly I collaborated with Ross and later with Jamie Pearce when he arrived in Canterbury, and also with Robin Kearns and Alun Joseph. Back in the UK, I pulled a then very large amount of funding from TNS, a market research company. This was for commercial work on small area estimation. It was a world away from academic research, quite opulent but very driven. We pitched product and sold it to high profile customers. The funding was great but the scope for publication was quite constrained by intellectual property agreements. Despite reasonable sales, it ultimately came to an end when the company was taken over and pulled out of health information. By then, however, I had moved to Southampton.

By the mid-2000s I was frustrated at Portsmouth. The institution was financially successful but risk averse when it came to taking its research profile to the next level. I was near the top of the management tree but realistically needed to move elsewhere to progress further. At the same time, my New Zealand links and the TNS work were reminding me that I did like actually doing research. Life matters too. Pursuing a career in your home town has consequences with increasingly elderly parents on your door step. I was also in a dual career household with a partner who was very successful in her own right and children who were settled in local schools. Some fantastic opportunities came up but there was really only one place I was ever going. It had to be Southampton.

And so to Southampton and a daily commute along the south coast. I said I was quitting management and focussing on research. It didn’t quite work like that. I did spells as Deputy Head of Education, Deputy Head of Research, Acting Head and Associate Dean of Research. All were enjoyable, particularly the latter, though there were some testing times and the commute was stressful until I shifted to bike and train. Most of all however it was great to get back to research and build new collaborations alongside my existing links. I carried on working with Ross and Jamie on smoking behaviour and with Alun and Robin on post asylum geographies. As Jamie has noted, I continue to show a willingness to collaborate with him and CRESH colleagues – and I was also mightily pleased when he agreed to take on Health and Place when, after 20 years,  I decided I had done my time. Additionally, I carried on long-standing collaborations with Sheena Asthana in Plymouth and with Liz Twigg, both in different ways focussed on what became the dominant theme in my work at Southampton: small area estimation methods for health needs assessment. My interests in health behaviour were extended beyond smoking with fruitful and highly enjoyable collaborations with Christina Vogel (on diet), and with Scott Weich (on psychiatric health service use). I also enjoyed working with Paul Roderick and other colleagues in public health and with colleagues in social statistics. Part of the motivation for moving to Southampton was encouragement to develop a health geography group and it was hugely exciting to join  Dave Martin, Jim Wright and Sam Cockings, and later work alongside Emma Roe, Geoff Deverteuil and Kate Boyer, and more recently Andy Power, Dianna Smith, Nathaniel Lewis and Andy Tatem and his Worldpop team. They may not all think of themselves as health geographers but I do!

What has been most fascinating, surprising or rewarding in the course of this journey? 

Fascinating: Getting my head around multilevel models and more generally quantitative methods alongside appreciating the sheer variety of secondary data that there are out there waiting to be applied to health research problems. Seeing health geography and its foundations shift and change over time. When I started out GIS wasn’t really a thing, AIDS/HIV was an emerging research topic, pubs were full of smoke and the neo-liberal ‘experiment’ in health care had not started. It’s a very different world but it’s important to retain a sense of wonder and curiosity

Surprising: Sometimes people like what you least expect. I never thought that my papers on small area estimation would lead to the opportunities and consequences that they did. It started off as more of a side project but led to a lot of funding, commercial impact and policy change informing legislation on tobacco control.

Rewarding: Graduate Students and colleagues. I’ve been lucky to work with some great people at all stages in my career and help build some strong teams. It’s been wonderful to see many of my former PhD students and researchers go on to have great careers of their own. I’ve also enjoyed examining the PhDs and writing letters of recommendation and advice for appointments, promotions, chairs and prizes for many (most?) leading health geographers, both current and now retired. It’s been a real privilege to see people develop and take the sub-discipline forward. It’s also gratifying that the gender balance is far better than it was, though there is scope for improvement and ethnic diversity remains a challenge to be addressed.

Have you experienced any ethical, practical or research related challenges along the way?

Much of my early research experience studying homelessness and social care involved interview work and ethnography. I enjoyed it at the time but realised I was better and more comfortable with texts and data than interviewing and immersion. It’s also sometimes been challenging reconciling my interests in more qualitative and theoretical post asylum geographies with my very different concern with data, multilevel models and health related behaviour. Variety is however the spice of life.

More recently I will confess to something of a frustration with data access and research ethics. It’s a complex and incredibly important field. It has to be done properly with appropriate safeguards. However, for someone who grew up with getting data on a CD through the post or even on sheets of paper that then had to be put on punch cards, the contemporary world of data governance is new and sometimes perplexing. It’s entirely right that things have changed, but it takes a lot longer than you ever expect and the systems tend to change under your feet.

What advice would you give to an aspiring health or wellbeing geographer?

Be kind, open and positive. Be clear about what you do and where your expertise lies. As Andy Power said in his ‘Journey’, saying ‘yes’ can often lead to some rewarding opportunities, often in unpromising circumstances or surprising ways. You may find you’re good at something that takes you in a different direction to what you anticipated. Don’t be afraid to look beyond geography or even beyond academia for opportunities and contacts. Collaborate extensively and with purpose. Equally, be wary of getting overloaded and only promise what you can deliver. Remember that life is for living and your significant others matter so be available to them. Be proud to be a health (or wellbeing) geographer and, yes, go to the IMGS.

Links to website, Twitter and/or selected papers

Southampton website: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/geography/about/staff/gm1d06.page (a little dated but pretty current)

Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.co.uk/citations?user=vZ28vM8AAAAJ&hl=en