Mentoring during and beyond Covid: workshop 12th Jan 2021

Can mentoring help address social inequalities in academia? 

The Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group (GHWRG) and the Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group (GFGRG) are collaborating to drive forward a mentoring agenda in geography and discuss this pertinent question in a virtual workshop. 

We are inviting you to join the conversation. The workshop will take place on Tuesday 12th January 11.30am-1.30pm (GMT)

Book a free place here

Any queries regarding this workshop contact Ailie Tam (

Little Acts of Kindness

For many, 2020 has been a hard year. As a research group, there are lots of things that we would like to change about academia right now, but can’t. However what we do know is that sometimes a little act of kindness can brighten someone’s day. Over the next 12 months, we’re randomly selecting a person a month to send a small treat to. Please nominate someone (or multiple people) by following the link below**. We welcome nominations across all career stages.

** Please note, due to postage costs and group budget, we are unfortunately only able to send to UK-based academics. To avoid sharing sensitive or personal information like addresses, we will get in contact with the nominated person directly should they be selected.

Nominate someone here

(Photo credit: Lina Trochez, Unsplash)

If you have any questions about this project please contact Gabrielle King

Final words from the GHWRG Chair – Dr Andrew Power

Authored by Dr Andrew Power – Chair of GHWRG (2016-2020)

When I took over the role of the Chair of the Geographies of Health Research Group in 2016, its engagement was a bit variable, and it needed some injection of energy.  

My proudest moment was leading the change to include wellbeing in our name and constitution, to broaden the scope of the group. This helped us to welcome a wider range of both early-career and well-established geographers working across health and wellbeing.  

I also had the honour of co-organising the inaugural ‘Hackday’ event on mobile and in-situ methods with Ronan Foley and Sarah Bell. This enabled us to create a space where people could come together to problem-solve and ‘hack’ various methodological challenges within this area of health and wellbeing research.  This sparked a series of annual hackday events, exploring the ethical and practical issues that health and wellbeing geographers encounter through their research.

At the last AGM, I shared some of the early history of the research group from its inception. Due to the COVID19 restrictions on library access, I was not able to get in and access the old AREA journals, which detail the past committee members and activities of the GHRG. Hopefully this baton will be passed on in a subsequent year. 

Finally, thanks to all the committee members that I’ve had the pleasure of working with, in particular Rich Gorman, Beth Greenhough, Ailie Tam and Chloe Asker. As an academic, it is a privilege to have a group of such like-minded people to share time with, and to have a space completely independent of the day job. I look forward to stepping back as an ordinary committee member and feel confident that the group will continue to remain vibrant and relevant with Rich Gorman as Chair and Maria Fannin as Vice-Chair. 

Mini-Symposium: Relational Geographies of the Voluntary Sector

Free mini-symposium on the relational geographies of the voluntary sector. This was originally due to be a Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group sponsored session at the RGS-IBG 2020 but due to the conference being cancelled, it has been re-organised as a standalone virtual event.

Date/time: Thursday 24th September 2020 – 9:00-11:00 GMT

Convenors: Dr Geoffrey DeVerteuil (University of Cardiff) Dr Andrew Power, (University of Southampton)

To attend: Please email Andrew Power ( and he will share the log-in details with you.

 Photo credit: (Joel Muniz, Unsplash)

Symposium theme and outline

The relational approach has been key in advancing alternate understandings of how people and institutions encounter and shape their likely ‘contact points’ within the assemblages they occupy. A recent paper in Progress in Human Geography, ‘The Relational Geographies of the Voluntary Sector: Disentangling the Ballast of Strangers’ (by DeVerteuil, Power and Trudeau) has sought to update Fyfe and Milligan’s (2003) earlier touchstone on the sector by examining it as a series of far-flung and proximate entanglements, relationships and encounters both spatial and social. It focuses on the relations between the voluntary sector and the (shadow) state, internal spaces of client interaction, and external spaces within urban health contexts. People’s ‘contact points’ are understood as a melding of their relative position of power and how (much) they are inclined to engage reflexively with wider social and spatial mediating factors and discourses that shape other people’s contact points in the sector. In the paper, the authors argued that a more fluid, reflexive understanding of the voluntary sector as mediator rather than conduit can help to better capture people’s journeys in and through the various spaces ‘captured’ by its activities.

The session will start with opening words by Geoffrey DeVerteuil who will outline some of the emerging conceptual lines of debate within the relational geographies of the voluntary sector and introduce the four paper presentations. Following the papers, there will be time for questions and discussion.

Paper 1: “Spaces of encounter, bordering and contestation in international development volunteering”, Susanne SCHECH Flinders University, Australia
Abstract: Recent analyses of international development volunteering have drawn attention to the ways this voluntary sector builds on and sustains imaginaries of development that resonate with neoliberal ideas of need, authority and responsibility (e.g. Baillie Smith & Laurie, 2011; Lacey & Ilcan, 2006). This scholarship has contributed to a critical understanding of volunteering and development as a space in which volunteers are assembled as responsible citizens in the delivery of public services through a voluntary sector that is governed by results-based managerialism and power/knowledge centred in the North. Volunteers are called upon to progress global development agendas in a geopolitical assemblage comprising NGOs, state, supranational and private sector organizations, as well as media, celebrities, and other actors that produces largely depoliticised humanitarian interventions and affects (Mostafanezhad, 2014). Yet alternative conceptualisations of international development volunteering highlight its altruistic, solidaristic motivations and historic roots in civil society that provide a space for the engagement of ordinary citizen with unequal post-colonial development (Sobocinska, 2016), and for citizen statecraft as traditional patterns of geopolitical influence are becoming more unstable and contingent (Pinkerton & Benwell, 2014). This presentation explores that space to shed light on volunteers and their overseas colleagues in an Australian government funded program and their entanglements with a range of actors at various scales and in diverse geo-political contexts. Volunteers participate in a “collection of relations between heterogeneous entities to work together for some time” (Müller & Schurr, 2016), which include the volunteer program, its rules and practices, and partner states, and the volunteer hosting NGOs and their external relations. Drawing from case studies in Cambodia, Indonesia, Peru and Solomon Islands, the presentation analyses moments of tension in the assemblage and the ways in which volunteers, NGO hosts and other key stakeholders articulate and respond to them. 

Paper 2: “Voluntary support in a ‘post-austerity’ landscape: Bidding for non-state funding to support precarious lives” Andrew Power, University of Southampton, UK
Abstract: This paper examines voluntary sector care and support provision under a context of significantly reduced government funding. Whilst geographers have analysed the causes and aftermath of austerity on different populations, little attention has been paid to how managers and staff of voluntary sector organisations have had to learn and evolve through bidding for non-statutory funding as a way to sustain their core support provision. Drawing on research with voluntary support organisations in the learning disability social care sector in England and Scotland, the paper examines the effects of the state’s continued reliance on the sector for core ‘public’ services whilst simultaneously withdrawing its funding. Using accounts from staff and managers, the paper offers a particularly novel and potent example of the unfinished and unsettled nature of care and support that has unfolded in the wake ofausterity. 

Paper 3: “Mediating the purchase of the market and the state on the lives of people with intellectual disability: a view from Australian community centres” Ellen Van Holstein University of Melbourne, Australia. Abstract: Contemporary approaches in voluntary sector geographies highlight how voluntary organisations are relationally constituted by their internal spaces, the external spaces of the urban environment, and relationships of the organisation to the state. Rather than directly internalising and conducing external pressures, voluntary organisations are increasingly understood as mediating external influences and stressors such as the neoliberal policies of post-welfare states. In Australia, a recent overhaul of the administration of disability support funding has substantially impacted on how people with disabilities engage with volunteer-led organisations. The National Disability Insurance Scheme represents a transition from organisations receiving bulk funding, to people with disabilities receiving individualised support budgets. One objective of the Scheme was to challenge the ongoing segregation of people with disabilities into the specialist disability support service industry. This paper draws on in-depth interviews with people with intellectual disability and the managers of community centres in the State of Victoria, Australia to analyse how staff and people with intellectual disability adjust to state sanctioned changes in the allocation of disability support entitlements. This paper contributes to understanding processes of mediation by focusing on three sets of bordering practices in these community centres. The first set demonstrates that centres strategically moderate the purchase of the state on the sociality of centres. The second reveals how centres mediate the influence of market dynamics on practices in centres. The third demonstrates how practices shape the inclusion of people with intellectual disability in the activities and social life of community centres. Together these sets show that the interplay of bordering practices have various inclusionary and exclusionary effects for this marginalised group of community centre visitors.

Paper 4: “Playing or Being Played? Ambivalence and Antagonism in the Tokyo 2020 Volunteer Programme”Conor Moloney, Queen Mary University London, UK
Abstract: Cities are increasingly animated by different forms of play: product placements, street games, interactive pop-ups, immersive installations, and so on. However, in taking up such participatory invitations and attending to their immediacy, critical awareness may necessarily be suspended: we ‘enter into the fun of it’ whilst social, economic and political implications are obscured. Drawing from critical perspectives on the ‘relational turn’ in the humanities, this paper considers apparent paradoxes in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic & Paralympic Games volunteer programme. Fieldwork conducted in Summer 2019 involved programme participants and organisers during the orientation phase prior to formal training. It investigated the terms of the relational ‘contract’ structured around volunteers, how equipped they were to negotiate it, and how organisers attended to their ethical responsibilities. Findings suggest that while key aspects of the programme could be considered ‘dramaturgical’, there appeared to be considerable ambivalence in carrying this through into a relational volunteer experience—particularly when compared with other large-scale volunteer programmes such as the Tokyo Marathon and long-term disaster recovery in the Tohoku region. This ambivalence has its counterpart in Tokyo’s anti-Olympic activism, which focussed critique on the Volunteer programme in a way unimaginable in London 2012. This antagonism was largely conceptualised in terms of labour relations, with the inference that traditional Japanese norms of hospitality and duty were being instrumentalised for corporate purposes. This rather transactional understanding of the role implied a certain complicity by volunteers in their own exploitation, whilst failing to account for the relational aspects of the role which many volunteers reported as valued. The paper concludes by reflecting on the tensions between the Games establishment, the state apparatus, and the voluntary sector organisers who actually delivered the volunteer training programme—from which these paradoxes appear (at least in part) to derive. 

Any other queries relating to this symposium contact: Andrew Power (

Register for the GHWRG AGM

Dear colleagues,

The Annual General Meeting of the Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group (GHWRG) of the RGS-IBG will take place online on Friday 4th September 11am – 12pm. All are welcome. If you wish to send agenda items for discussion, please email our secretary Rich Gorman ( by Friday 21st August at noon. This meeting will be held over Zoom. Please follow the link below to register:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

The Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group is also looking for new committee members to fill the following positions:

·         Chair (3 year term)

·         Secretary (3 year term)

·         Postgraduate Representative (2 positions) (1 year term)

Candidates for these positions must be a Fellow or Postgraduate Fellow of the RGS-IBG.

* Chair is responsible for:

  • Chairing the AGM and working with the Research Group Secretary to produce meeting agendas, agree minutes, and communicate effectively with the RGS-IBG, GHWRG committee, and membership; ontributing to the Annual Report and other central RGS-IBG processes as required; a central point of contact for GHWRG committee members and assisting relevant personnel with initiatives, events and activities as needed; attending Research Group Committee meetings and other associated events at the RGS-IBG offices (2-3 times per year); having (light touch) oversight of the Research Group’s activities

*Secretary is responsible for:

  • The coordination of the research group’s administration; preparation of agendas and notices; ensuring meetings are effectively organised and minuted; maintaining effective records; overseeing the membership of the group; communication and correspondence with the membership

* Postgraduate Representatives are responsible for:

  • Promoting postgraduate interests and needs to the wider Research Group; occasional conference, seminar and session organisation for post-graduates (with rest of group) and maintaining connection with wider postgraduate community through the Postgraduate Forum.

Nominations for these committee roles are now open.  Nominations must be in writing to the Chair (Dr Andrew Power – and Secretary (Dr Rich Gorman – with the name of two nominators (these need not be Fellows of the RGS-IBG or existing committee members). Nominations are accepted until Thursday 3rd September. If more than one person is nominated, a vote will be held during the business of the AGM. Candidates will need to be based in the UK to attend meetings and make a commitment to fulfilling their elected post.

If you have any questions about what the roles involve, or anything else at all, don’t hesitate to get in contact.

Rich Gorman (Secretary, GHWRG)
Andrew Power (Chair, GHWRG)

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.



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 


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 

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.



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.


Twitter: @sabrinalyli


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 (








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: 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