GHWRG Virtual Hack Day – When Research Gets Personal

About this Event

Dates and times of sessions

  • 7thAugust 10am-11:30am
  • 14thAugust 10am-11:30am
  • 20thAugust 2pm-3:30pm

The three sessions are separate events, not repeats. Book free tickets for any of the sessions through Eventbrite

The Hack Day: When research gets personal

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, and managing these relationships can be personally challenging and take additional time to manage carefully. In these hack day sessions we will explore the challenges of negotiating research when we or those close to us are directly affected. Through discussions, conversational methods, and (hopefully- zoom permitting) some virtual creativity, the hack days will focus on the practical and ethical challenges of doing this research.

 

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. These include troubling questions around support and precarity, made even more concerning by the long-term uncertainties that COVID-19 has brought to the sector. 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. This also raises particular questions around COVID, and the impacts of this on who might be in(ex)cluded from taking part in our research.

In the hack day(s) we will explore the challenges of negotiating research when oneself or those close to us are directly affected. Through discussions, conversational methods, and (hopefully- zoom permitting) some virtual creativity, 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? For instance, around disclosure, and what we choose to share with those who may participate in research?

– 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)?

We hope, by the end of the hack day(s), that we can start to compile a resource of experiences (that we feel comfortable with sharing outside the event), things that have helped, and some of the challenges. This will be a space for our own reflections, as well as an effort to offer support in some way for others enduring these things (now, as well as in the future).

Extra additions also welcome to join any of the days- children, plants, animals and so on.

These sessions will be held over 3 weeks, in an effort to include as many people as possible, recognising commitments on time. We know that additional commitments might make attending all three parts difficult. Therefore, please do come along to any that you are able to- even if this is just part of the three virtual meetups. Please choose those you are able to attend in the ‘select dates’ option.

Given the personal, and potentially emotive nature of these discussions, you are welcome to join in and dip out as you feel able. Accounting for these conversations, the event, with the exception of the pre-recorded talks that will be shared in advance of the first meeting, will not be audio or visually recorded.

Online details for the event will be shared via email, after registration.

 

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A short note on COVID: Before the complications of Covid-19, we had designed a hack-day to attend to the realities of doing research that is personal. 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.

Now somewhat unimaginable, these original plans had involved sitting beside each other for discussions, sharing packets of biscuits, making things together out of playdough. While the opportunity to sit within two meters of each other might have temporarily gone away, the need to carefully attend to the ethical and emotional aspects of academia and research feels more prominent than ever. How we interrogate, think through and support work which is personal, and which carries a potentially heavy weight remains even when everything else (including support available) feels like it’s changing.

Therefore, this year’s hack ‘day’ will be held via a series of three short virtual get-togethers over three weeks. As geographers we know that it is not just physical closeness that brings us together. Virtual spaces and information technologies can narrow distances and may sometimes be just as powerful. In moving to bedrooms, kitchens, hallways and gardens across the country, we also hope that the learning from this will provide a model for how we can ensure virtual participation is included in all future post-pandemic events for those who need it.

 

For any queries relating to this event contact: Gabrielle King gabrielle.king@ed.ac.uk 

 

Researching COVID-19 pandemic from the lens of a health geographer: Maps, spatial scales, and social inequities

Authored by Sabrina Li (University of Oxford) 

It is both a strange and exciting time for a health geographer working at the intersection of human health and the environment. More than ever before, the concepts of geography have shaped our understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has redefined our relationships with space and place. It has shown us that at every spatial level, we are all interconnected in some way, shape, or form, and that our actions can have a ripple effect on society.

Maps have always been an important tool for understanding the distribution of diseases and ill health. Today, GIS and map-based dashboards are essential for learning the locations of COVID-19 clusters at different spatial scales, and are not only adopted by government agencies for disease surveillance but also by citizens to learn about the progression of the pandemic. In late January, when the COVID-19 pandemic was still in its infancy, I started working with a group of researchers based in the Department of Zoology at Oxford, the University of Washington, Northeastern University, and the Boston Children’s Hospital to collate cases with individual-level epidemiological information (e.g. gender, age, symptoms, travel history, etc.) into a line list (table with detailed data on each case), which was then mapped onto the Healthmap dashboard in real time. Our project satisfied a growing need for a centralised repository of detailed case data within the epidemiology community; many used our repository to model the early phases of the epidemic in various countries. Surprisingly, prior to this pandemic, a line list of cases during an outbreak was rarely made available for open access in real time. However there are a plethora of benefits to doing so, including accelerating our understanding of the routes of geographic spread and its associated risks. These advantages are highlighted in our correspondence to the Lancet Infectious Diseases, where we discuss the strengths of open data sharing for improving public health planning and surveillance.

Map jpeg

Map sourced from https://www.healthmap.org/covid-19/ 

Despite the versatility of modern GIS technologies in improving our preparedness and response, we were still unprepared to address the detrimental impacts of this pandemic on certain population groups in our society, especially at the local level. While it may come naturally for every health geographer to concur that the social determinants of health shape our life course and underpins health inequities, this notion was not obvious to others until the pandemic unmasked the brutal reality of deep racial and socioeconomic divides in our society. This has been amplified in Brazil, which at the time of writing has the second highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world behind the United States.

Working with a multidisciplinary group of researchers from the UK-Brazil Centre for Arbovirus Discovery, Diagnosis, Genomics and Epidemiology (CADDE), we found that access to COVID-19 testing in the Greater Metropolitan area of São Paulo varied by socioeconomic status such as income per capita. In our most recent paper (currently under review in Nature Medicine), we highlight that importation of COVID-19 cases into Brazil came from people traveling abroad in the United States and Europe. We mapped these cases and found that in the early phases of the epidemic, cases came from residents of high-income neighbourhoods. Over two-thirds of the confirmed cases in the early phases of the epidemic in Brazil came from private labs, where the cost per test was approximately between 300-690 Brazilian real (~$56-$130 USD). This hindered access to testing for many, as the cost of a single test was equivalent to two-thirds of the minimum monthly salary of a person living in Brazil.

Driven by this finding, we are currently exploring the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on population groups stratified by socioeconomic status, race, and access to healthcare facilities in São Paulo state. In light of recent events, the role and impacts of structural racism on public health has become a common narrative. In particular, this sparked discussion on how race should be incorporated in social science research. As race is indicative of heredity, is race truly a risk factor for COVID-19 infections, or is it underlying systemic racism that disproportionally exposes structurally disadvantaged populations to the pandemic? Moreover, as health geographers, how do we reckon with the interactions between race, history, and the social determinants of health in our research?  This is a much-needed discourse moving forward, but it is evident that health geographers will play an important role in understanding the health and social impacts of the current pandemic and its repercussions in a post-pandemic society.

 

Bio:

Sabrina Li is a second-year DPhil student at the University of Oxford. Her research explores how human-environment interactions drive the spread of yellow fever virus in Brazil. She is also a member of the UK-Brazil CADDE initiative and Oxford Martin School Programme on Pandemic Genomics.

SabrinaLi_Profile

Twitter: @sabrinalyli

E-mail: Sabrina.li@ouce.ox.ac.uk

PhDing in the new normal

Authored by Thomas Lowe (University of Groningen)

On 19th April I was to embark on the second phase of my PhD research in Lancaster. Everything was in place and I was excited to get back out into the field, meet the existing participants again, and recruit new participants. Then COVID19 struck.

Getting used to working from home took some time. Whereas before there was a routine of getting up and going to the office, that is now no longer the case. As the title suggests though, this situation has become my new normal. Whilst I still look forward to going back to the office, I have become more used to working from home. I have a routine, of getting up before 9am, sitting to a table, and even using a timer to ensure I have a break every hour. With working at home, it can be easy to forget when to take a break, and especially when to stop taking a break! This was an issue for me to begin with. However, sticking to this simple schedule and using a timer helps me to concentrate and makes the breaks more rewarding. It also helps to parcel up your day, so I can transition between different tasks or activities, and feel that a break symbolises not just to relax but to change track. As a result, I feel I have become more aware of how I use my day, and the intentional use of breaks. Both of which will also benefit me when going back to the office.

I have been quite lucky in that I have regular online meetings with my supervisors and team, since working from home began. These are often on either weekly or fortnightly basis. I also have a quick meeting each Monday morning with one of my supervisors, to have a chat and discuss what I want to achieve in the coming week. Within our department we also have daily online coffee breaks, which offers an opportunity to talk with our peers. These are not mandatory, and you can attend whenever you like, which I think is a good aspect of this. Often, I enjoy just listening to the group, and it works both as a way of updating about the department but also checking in on people to see if they are well. Almost therapeutic in nature. I think maintaining these connections is important, especially for newer PhD students. Overall, I think this transition has been handled well for me and I do honestly feel supported.

Yet, I am aware this may not be the case for other PhD students. I suggest that perhaps more PhD focused meetings could be made available, informally so PhDs can connect and discuss any issues they are having or simply have a chat. These could be done in slightly smaller groups, as it can be quite intimidating having virtual meetings with a large group. Having a variety of different meetings may be helpful. For example, maybe a meeting about what everyone has read recently, what films they have watched or even a discussion on an interesting topic. Another idea could be a buddy system, which may be helpful by giving PhDs someone who is committed to responding when they need help. I am aware we are all busy and have our own personal difficulties etc, but even I have experienced sending an email to someone and never getting a response. It can be really demotivating, especially when you just want to check in with someone!

Conferences have also been cancelled or postponed sadly. I was to present at the midterm conference in April, which was of course postponed. This was disappointing as I was looking forward to my first conference. it was quite demotivating when it was cancelled, especially as I had applied to present and won a bursary. I think some recognition of that would go a long way, as I am sure other PhDs also put in the work to get a place at the conference and now feel that work hasn’t been recognised properly. Since then, I have applied to other conferences later in the year with the hope of attending in person or online. I have also recently been attempting to record a presentation for a conference. I have found this experience frustrating to say the least (with a lot of swearing involved I’m afraid), mainly because it feels so unnatural and I just can’t get over the fact I am recording myself. Maybe I am being too much of a perfectionist. For example, I stopped one recording attempt because I called myself Tom and not Thomas! Overall, I really hope conferences can go back to the way they were, because I think (although I have never been to a conference yet!) that a big part of the experience is just being there.

The current working environment for most PhDs is far from ideal. I must admit I still do not like virtual meetings, and I have come to really appreciate the benefits of face to face meetings. The subtleties in how we speak, and our body language are more apparent than ever now. With being from Yorkshire and having an accent, I do feel a large enough part of the understanding is lost online and there is not that natural back and forth, cutting in, making jokes and the like that occurs in person; which I miss. I am sure many would agree with this sentiment.

Mentoring in academia during and beyond Covid-19

Authored by Dr Ailie Tam and Dr Sarah Bell on behalf of the GHWRG/GFGRG Mentoring Working Group.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the RGS Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group (GHWRG) and the Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group (GFGRG) had decided to collaborate to drive forward mentoring in the areas of gender, health and disability. Two events had been planned for April and May 2020. The first event was a half-day Mentoring Working Group meeting, which aimed to map out a tangible pathway for developing a mentoring scheme. The second was a full-day mentoring workshop, which was due to take place in May and would have been open to research group members and other academic geographers. Due to Covid-19, both events were postponed. However, an initial Working Group meeting was convened online to initiate key discussions in this area, and we are in the process of planning the second event as a virtual workshop, with more information to follow in the coming weeks.

This article summarises points raised during the online Mentoring Working Group discussion, which took place on the 23rd April 2020. We wanted to share these notes as a process of transparency, but also in case they are useful for anyone keen to enhance mentoring practices in academia, particularly those directed at women and key minority groups.

 

The demand for mentoring and the impact of Covid-19

Discussions around the importance of effective and care-full mentoring are particularly timely with the significant changes facing academia and society more broadly at present. Prior to Covid-19, both research groups had acknowledged the demand from members for mentoring. The pandemic has added a range of significant challenges for those working in academia, which seem to be illuminating existing structural inequalities relating to career progression and the difficulties women and individuals from minority groups experience working in this sector. There is a clear need for more effective and socially inclusive approaches to mentoring, that can learn from and support people in negotiating – and countering – this increasingly challenging academic landscape. The demand for mentoring can span all levels of experience, with peer mentoring networks being something which people can benefit from at all career stages.

 

The need to re-define mentoring and stimulate new practices to shape the academy

Whilst mentoring is an important way in which individuals can access support, there is a desperate need to re-define and adapt traditional mentoring practices. This may mean moving away from unidirectional advisory approaches (which can become singular ‘heroic’ masculine models), towards more collective network-based practices that endorse and advocate for the value of women and minority groups working in academia, at varying stages of career progression. More creative approaches might include models built on forms of sponsorship, peer mentoring and/or reverse mentoring, which have been adopted and used in other sectors. As the academy is in the process of potentially significant change in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the adaptation and instigation of new mentoring practices could influence and shape positive social change.

The approach of sponsorship has been largely used in business sectors and involves individuals gaining support from an established patron to foster connections and encourage career progression. In this type of mentoring relationship, a mentor might support a mentee through introductions, involvement in projects or by helping to identify career opportunities. It was mentioned in the Working Group meeting that in academia women, in particular, have often been over mentored and under sponsored. Moving beyond ‘heroic’ mentoring models, this sponsorship form of mentoring could be harnessed to advocate for individuals and directly encourage and support career progression.

Members also suggested exploring other forms of peer mentoring such as Action Learning Sets, where small groups meet regularly and work collectively on a shared goal. This approach is common in the public and private sectors outside academia. It was suggested that a guest speaker who specialises in this approach could be invited to speak at the next mentoring workshop.

In addition to the benefits of peer support networks, reverse mentoring was raised as a counter approach that could reverse traditional mentoring hierarchies. If implemented with care, reverse mentoring approaches could recognise and harness the knowledge and experience of junior colleagues to help those in senior roles. Such insights could, in turn, facilitate those in senior roles to challenge (rather than inadvertently reproduce) the social inequalities that currently remain somewhat entrenched within academia e.g. along lines of gender, disability, ethnicity, class, culture, seniority etc. This approach seems particularly important given the changing landscape of academia.

 

Driving forward a mentoring agenda

Whilst there is a recognised demand and need to enhance mentoring practices, there remains the challenge of creating space and time for mentoring activities within career progression pathways. There is a need to ensure pathways allow for – and explicitly acknowledge the value of – mentoring, both for those being mentored and those mentoring. This shift in how mentoring is valued within academia is important to enhance the long-term sustainability of such networks/activities in the context of existing (over)-workloads/expectations.

Steps towards the facilitation of more organic mentoring networks may include, for example:

  • Supporting the development of peer mentoring schemes outside people’s own institutions, where departmental pressures and politics can otherwise seep into and compromise the value of mentoring relationships;
  • Opening up meaningful mentoring channels for those who are not benefitting from any kind of immediate institutional mentoring/sponsorship support;
  • Bringing together people from different sectors with complementary sets of experience and insight to share with each other;
  • Creating opportunities for smaller peer mentoring networks to develop around thematic interests, in the hope that these groups may then become more autonomous in self-organising over time. Themes may focus on general issues of relevance e.g. progressing through publishing, virtual teaching and support, conducting remote fieldwork and analysis, managing stakeholder expectations within impact-oriented activities etc. Alternatively, they may focus on the broader challenges of career development, work-life balance and nurturing academic confidence in the context of specific life circumstances e.g. academia and care (including parenting and other care roles), negotiating ableism in academia, challenging classism in academia, teaching/writing/research in a second language etc.

 The virtual workshop will be the next step to drive forward this mentoring agenda and facilitate activities to foster such organic mentoring opportunities.

 

Mentoring guidance and good practice

Lastly the group acknowledged a need to develop and/or contribute to guidance to support more effective and beneficial mentoring practices. This guidance could support those new to mentoring in navigating mentoring relationships, as well as more established mentors. In producing such guidance, care will be needed to emphasise that ‘one mentoring size’ is unlikely to fit all needs/priorities. The questions were posed: How can we develop a range of different mentoring approaches for people to reflect on, tailor and integrate appropriately into their own/institutional practices? And how can we model the kind of academy we want in coming years through changes in our mentoring practices? The virtual mentoring workshop will explore this further by providing the time and space to discuss mentoring practices and current challenges of working in academia.

 

Members of the Mentoring Working Group

Prof Niamh Shortt

Dr Ailie Tam

Dr Sarah Bell

Dr Elizabeth Gagen

Prof Jo Sharp

Dr Johanna L. Waters

Prof Sophie Bowlby

Dr Catherine Souch

Prof Hester Parr

Dr Beth Greenhough

Prof Felicity Callard

Dr Diana Beljaars

Prof Harriet Hawkins

Prof Rosie Cox

Prof Sarah Atkinson

Dr Sarah Hughes

Dr Andrew Power

 

Any queries, contact Ailie Tam (a.tam@uea.ac.uk)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open call: GHWRG Dissertation Prize

The Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group Undergraduate Dissertation Prize 2020

The GHWRG offers a dissertation prize, sponsored by the journal Health and Place. The prize is open to any currently registered undergraduate student in a UK university and will be awarded to the dissertation that exhibits the best overall contribution to any issue relating to geographies of health and wellbeing. The winner will receive £150, and the dissertation in second place will receive £50 plus an honourable mention. The dissertations should usually be of first-class standard and be submitted by the student’s Department (Head or nominated representative) and with the student’s knowledge, in electronic format only to: Maddy Thompson (Newcastle University). Email: Maddy.Thompson@ncl.ac.uk. Please include a contact email address for the student (post-graduation). Please note that we can only accept one entry from any department.

Deadline: 15th July 2020

The marking criteria for the dissertation prize can be viewed here 

#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
Email:
s.fleury-2019@hull.ac.uk

 

#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

www.valoriecrooks.org

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 Virtual Hack Day – When Research Gets Personal

About this Event

Dates and times of sessions

  • 7thAugust 10am-11:30am
  • 14thAugust 10am-11:30am
  • 20thAugust 2pm-3:30pm

The three sessions are separate events, not repeats. Book free tickets for any of the sessions through Eventbrite

The Hack Day: When research gets personal

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, and managing these relationships can be personally challenging and take additional time to manage carefully. In these hack day sessions we will explore the challenges of negotiating research when we or those close to us are directly affected. Through discussions, conversational methods, and (hopefully- zoom permitting) some virtual creativity, the hack days will focus on the practical and ethical challenges of doing this research.

 

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. These include troubling questions around support and precarity, made even more concerning by the long-term uncertainties that COVID-19 has brought to the sector. 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. This also raises particular questions around COVID, and the impacts of this on who might be in(ex)cluded from taking part in our research.

In the hack day(s) we will explore the challenges of negotiating research when oneself or those close to us are directly affected. Through discussions, conversational methods, and (hopefully- zoom permitting) some virtual creativity, 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? For instance, around disclosure, and what we choose to share with those who may participate in research?

– 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)?

We hope, by the end of the hack day(s), that we can start to compile a resource of experiences (that we feel comfortable with sharing outside the event), things that have helped, and some of the challenges. This will be a space for our own reflections, as well as an effort to offer support in some way for others enduring these things (now, as well as in the future).

Extra additions also welcome to join any of the days- children, plants, animals and so on.

These sessions will be held over 3 weeks, in an effort to include as many people as possible, recognising commitments on time. We know that additional commitments might make attending all three parts difficult. Therefore, please do come along to any that you are able to- even if this is just part of the three virtual meetups. Please choose those you are able to attend in the ‘select dates’ option.

Given the personal, and potentially emotive nature of these discussions, you are welcome to join in and dip out as you feel able. Accounting for these conversations, the event, with the exception of the pre-recorded talks that will be shared in advance of the first meeting, will not be audio or visually recorded.

Online details for the event will be shared via email, after registration.

 

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A short note on COVID: Before the complications of Covid-19, we had designed a hack-day to attend to the realities of doing research that is personal. 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.

Now somewhat unimaginable, these original plans had involved sitting beside each other for discussions, sharing packets of biscuits, making things together out of playdough. While the opportunity to sit within two meters of each other might have temporarily gone away, the need to carefully attend to the ethical and emotional aspects of academia and research feels more prominent than ever. How we interrogate, think through and support work which is personal, and which carries a potentially heavy weight remains even when everything else (including support available) feels like it’s changing.

Therefore, this year’s hack ‘day’ will be held via a series of three short virtual get-togethers over three weeks. As geographers we know that it is not just physical closeness that brings us together. Virtual spaces and information technologies can narrow distances and may sometimes be just as powerful. In moving to bedrooms, kitchens, hallways and gardens across the country, we also hope that the learning from this will provide a model for how we can ensure virtual participation is included in all future post-pandemic events for those who need it.

 

For any queries relating to this event contact: Gabrielle King 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.