The Literary and Visual Landscapes team took some time to tell us about the event’s success.
Our Disrupted Landscapes Symposium, which was held on 14 June, was an opportunity for postgraduate researchers from all disciplines to explore the concept of ‘disrupted landscapes’ across all geographical and chronological time spans.
In our call for papers, we invited speakers to explore the concept of landscapes in both the traditional sense — as geographical and pastoral spaces — and also as figurative sites of conflict and uncertainty.
We also encouraged speakers to question the dual relationship between humans and their environment. For example:
What does it mean for a landscape to be ‘disrupted’?
How might we measure this?
How might a ‘disrupted’ landscape affect its inhabitants, and how might these individuals contribute to the disturbance of their physical surroundings?
The greatest success of the symposium was how our broad call for papers brought so many different areas of research together, enabling us to really promote the interdisciplinary ethos of the Literary and Visual Landscapes Seminar Series.
The speakers came from our own postgraduate research cohort, including some new faces, as well as the University of Sheffield and Goldsmiths (University of London). Our audience was even more varied.
Our panels — ‘Disrupted Victorian Topographies’, ‘Digitised Landscapes’ and ‘Memorialising Landscapes’ — overlapped in more ways than we could have foreseen, such as Andy Day and Doreen Pastor’s discussions on memorials in the landscape, and Joan Passey and Sophie Maxwell’s references to the landscape paintings of J. M. W. Turner.
Tamsin Crowther kicked the afternoon off with a fascinating look at the anxieties of the Victorian suburbs, and Richard Stone commenced our final panel with a lively debate on the urban representation of Bristol’s connection to slavery.
It was exciting also to see how the papers linked back to our seminar series — particularly James Watts’s discussion of colonial landscapes.
Thank you again to the Ventures Fund for such a great opportunity to gain experience organising and coordinating a symposium and to meet so many great postgraduate researchers and learn about such a wide variety of projects.
Katiuska M Ferrer Portillo is a PhD student in the School of Modern Languages. Her research project focuses on the charting the influences and geography of the Bristolian dialect. She shared her experiences with us as a participant in both the Discussion Series and Showcase Exhibition events in this year’s Research without Borders festival.
Applying to take part
February 20, 2017: busy as I was with the preparation for my father’s visit from Venezuela, I received an email from one of my PhD supervisors suggesting that I should participate in the Research without Borders (RwB) event organised by the Bristol Doctoral College (BDC). I paused for a moment to read the event’s advertising:
“All festival participants will: •be offered a bespoke programme of training •meet, connect and collaborate with researchers from across disciplines •showcase their work to a broad audience of academics, students and the wider public •have the opportunity to connect with external experts and industry professionals.”
Although I am a mature student with previous experience in a legal background, and I have presented my work in conferences, youth charities, social clubs, community centres, and have further discussed my research on the local press, BBC Radio Bristol and ITV West News, the fact that English is not my native language made me feel somewhat uneasy and that I needed more training to hone my presentation skills. Hence why I decided to apply for both the Showcase Exhibition and the Discussion Series components of the festival.
Training and preparation
As a proud member of the University of Bristol research community, and I am aware of the high academic standard, prestige and recognition enjoyed by our University. However, I was not prepared for the excellence of each one of the speakers who led our training for the discussion series.
Malcolm Love’s ‘Presenting your Research with Impact’ workshop marked a sea change in my presenting style. Thanks to Malcom’s advice, I learnt the importance of: warming up before presenting, dividing presentations in sections, how to apply a story-telling approach even for the most technical talks, and some good tips to calm my nerves – such as chewing gum for twenty minutes before presenting.
After weeks of hard training and thorough preparation, the moment of truth arrived. The RwB week started with the first ever discussion series, ‘Changing perceptions, transforming identities’, and I was the very first presenter in a venue packed to the rafters with 100 people capacity, including my husband, my niece, my two PhD supervisors, lecturers from the School of Modern Languages, and several friends. No pressure there, then!
So, there I was, nervous but with an adrenaline rush, trying to transmit to the audience the importance, usefulness and beauty of my research, while cracking jokes to conceal that the wrong set of slides appeared on screen! Thankfully no one noticed! Yet the training, preparation and my genuine passion for my work paid off. The presentation was a success. People who were unfamiliar with my discipline asked the most interesting questions during the discussion afterwards while we were enjoying our drinks. The experience has led to further interviews for the University of Bristol Facebook series, Bristol Faces; the Science Technology Today website; as well as my collaboration as an article writer for PolicyBristol. Yet the best was still to come.
The Showcase Exhibition on Friday, 12 May kicked off with a vibrant atmosphere full of the energy and enthusiasm, the sort that only ideas, endeavour and hopes of young researchers can produce. Very rarely do science and humanities researchers get the opportunity to amalgamate their work. That day, a combination of vets, mathematicians, sociologists, engineers, physicists, biologists, physicians, lawyers, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, dancers, artists, literature researchers, and sociolinguists like myself, amongst others, had the chance to share their experiences and bridge the gap between academia and our local community. Thanks to the BDC, Colston Hall became this unique melting pot.
As soon as I got to the Colston Hall, I started to set up my stand trying to put up a giant poster to a poster board, when Kitty Webster, one of the event organisers, asked me if I wanted to talk about my work with Made in Bristol TV. Of course, I replied “YES!”, and Kitty told me that the reporter was going to interview me 20 minutes after the opening of the showcase.
I suddenly realised that I had just an hour to set up my stand and prepare my talk!
The RwB presentation skills training proved to be a lifesaver, because it helped me to give a natural and professional interview about my research on Bristolian, with less than 60 minutes of preparation. That was indeed, the most exciting moment of the week for me!
Last, but not least…
Lastly, but no less important, was my interaction with the general public, and the possibility I had to collect data from young Bristolian speakers, a group I was struggling to encourage to participate with my work. That was definitely a rounded day, but all good things come to an end, and after an exciting and diverse round of presentations for the 3 Minute Thesis Competition (3MT), the event finished, but not without a wonderful post show celebration, whereby the winner of the 3MT and the most engaging stands were chosen. I had the opportunity to make friends with engineers, vets, and biologists, a crowd that, as a sociolinguist, I do not normally mingle with, and once again, RwB made that possible.
Thanks to my fruitful experience at the RwB event, I realized that the University of Bristol offers professional spaces like the BDC, where communication skills are a valuable asset, and this defined a breakthrough moment in my professional life, because helping people communicate their work with impact is a career path that I would like to consider in the future.
Interested in applying for Research without Borders 2018? Visit the BDC website to read the FAQs and submit your application. The deadline is 11am on Monday 5 February 2018.
Alfie Wearn won the Bristol 3MT final last month for his presentation on predicting Alzheimer’s disease. Here he shares his experience of taking part; from almost pulling out of the competition to winning the Bristol 2017 finals in Colston Hall.
“Step out of your comfort zone. Comfort zones are the enemies of achievement.” – Roy T Bennett
I’m not normally a fan of inspirational quotes like these, but I make an exception for this one. I like it because I heard it just as I was about to pull out of the Three Minute Thesis ® (3MT) competition just a couple of days after applying. I told myself that because I was at such an early stage of my PhD, attempting to present a kind of “thesis” summary would be a bit fraudulent – in truth however I think I was wondering what on earth I’d gotten myself in for, and was looking for a good excuse to run away back to the safety of my comfort zone. I lost that excuse pretty swiftly when I was told that plenty of people had taken part in 3MT in their first year. So I bit the bullet and continued with the process. In hindsight – a good decision!
Training & Practice
I was enticed, in part, to participate in the 3MT competition and Research without Borders because of the various public engagement training courses that were available for all successful applicants. During one course a communications expert at the University taught a group of us 3MT hopefuls the importance of creating a story, and using relatable analogies to engage audiences in our research. I also got a chance to practice a very early draft of my talk to this group during that training course. I got some really helpful feedback which helped shape the final version of the talk.
In the days leading up to the semifinals, I practiced it every time I had a spare 3 minutes. I practiced in front of the mirror, in front of friends, I even videoed myself on my phone to see how I sounded to others, and to see if I was doing anything stupid with my hands (still not sure I’d sorted that by the final…). I probably practiced it about 50 times more than necessary, but it gave me confidence, which, I have learned, is all important in something like this.
Actually doing the talk
Eventually the semi-finals came about and I finally got to perform what I had been practicing so much for the past month. Despite all this practice, I spent the 10 minutes before my turn wondering why I had not gone over the talk ‘just one more time’ – so much so that I completely missed the previous couple of speakers. But when it came down to it, I realised that actually doing the talk wasn’t nearly as bad as sitting and thinking about it. I immediately forgot all the worries and worst-case scenarios I had constructed for myself and just spoke about what I knew, and what I had practiced. And honestly, I really enjoyed it. Of course, by the time the finals came in May, as part of the Research without Borders showcase day in Colston Hall, I had completely forgotten this lesson, and once again spent the 10 minutes beforehand wishing for that one more chance to practice…
Thoughts, feelings, and lessons learned
I’ve learned that condensing a PhD-sized amount of work into 3 minutes is, if nothing else, a great way of making sure you know exactly what it is you’re doing. Now I realise that sounds like a stupid thing to say. But when you spend so many hours, days and weeks with your head buried in your PhD work, and have little contact with the outside world, as often happens during a PhD, it’s easy to lose touch with the bigger picture. You forget that not everyone knows a lot about Alzheimer’s disease, or the role of the hippocampus in the consolidation of memories. It helps to focus your work, and when you’re having a bad week it is sometimes helpful to be able to remind yourself as to why your work matters.
I urge everyone to have a go at the 3MT and taking part in Research without Borders. You get a snapshot of all the research at the university that you might never even have realised is happening; from ageing kidneys and forest ecosystems, to noise-reducing materials in aeroplanes and the evolution of invertebrate vision, to name but a few. Lifting your head above the water every now and again to see what is going on around you is a habit we should all get into – and what better way, than these two fantastic celebrations of research at the University of Bristol.
You can listen to Alfie talking more about his research, alongside other 3MT finalists, on this Speakezee podcast.
Alfie’s presentation will be judged at a Vitae hosted (virtual) national semi-final next month. Six finalists will then be selected to perform live at the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference during the gala dinner on Monday 11 September 2017. We’ve got our fingers crossed, Alfie!
Life of Breath PhD student Tina Williams shares her blog post from the Life of Breath Blog (original post) on her experiences exhibiting at this year’s Research without Borders festival of postgraduate research.
The 2017 Research Without Borders Festival showcase exhibition ran at Bristol’s Colston Hall on May 12th. I, along with ninety-nine other research students, took part in this engaging research exhibition, with the aim of answering the call to address pressing ‘twenty-first century challenges’ by creating ‘a common language & framework that can transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries’ (Bristol Doctoral College, Research Without Borders Programme, 2017).
Presenting philosophical concepts, ideas, and theories relevant to challenges such as the rise of respiratory conditions and anxiety disorders in a tactile and interactive manner was certainly a challenge, because philosophy is usually discussed within academic conferences, the classroom, journal articles and so on. Conveying the utility of philosophical ideas to contemporary living outside papers, posters or soundbites without losing the impact and message of, for example, phenomenological insights into human existence was always going to be difficult.
My exhibit was included in the ‘Perspectives for Looking at the World’ section. Here, alongside other PhD researchers working in areas including neuro-psychology and neuro-imaging in Alzheimer’s, Middle English debates on the body and soul, colour in Lorca’s theatre, I presented my exhibit ‘Suffering in Silence’. The purpose of the exhibit was to raise the profile of the invisible yet highly prevalent rates of breathless experiences in modern human experience, shine a light on the excellent work of the Life of Breath Project and its members, and to incorporate the utility of exploring phenomenological accounts of changes to embodiment, relationships, and society by respiratory and mental health conditions. This of course includes looking at the experiences of the embodied person and how their condition transforms their way of being-in-the-world, relations with others and their environment as they struggle to catch their breath on, for example, the walk upstairs or to the local surgery, and the relationship with clinicians and the scientific understanding of the impact of illness on the whole person, instead of the medical focus on disease processes. In short, we need to focus on the phenomenology of these experiences:
For many years, our knowledge of children and the sick was held back, kept at a rudimentary stage, by the same assumptions: the questions which the doctor or researcher asked of them were the questions of an adult or a healthy person. Little attempt was made to understand the way that they themselves lived; instead, the emphasis fell on truing to measure how far their efforts fell short of what the average adult or healthy person was capable of accomplishing. (Merleau-Ponty, World of Perception, p. 55).
The doctoral college provided intensive training to hammer home the message of thinking outside the usual poster presentations; interactive displays and tactile artefacts were just two suggestions. With these in mind, I set upon creating an exhibition that could be an embodied experience as well as represent and evoke anxiety, restricted embodiment, and entrapment often experienced in respiratory conditions or anxiety disorders. This led to the construction of the Restricto-Box: a narrow telephone box-shaped prop that could induce anxiety, the closing-in experience of claustrophobia, and the restriction of both the body and the environment when one is trapped in the moment of breathlessness. These are experiences that those with chronic illnesses, certain disabilities, or panic anxiety often report. My exhibit intended to give voice to these invisible, suffocating, and socially isolating experiences, as, explained during the 3MT (3-Minute Thesis) semi-finals (which I also took part in), ‘when the breath is stifled, the voice is silenced, communication cut off’.
Existentially, breathlessness is a constant reminder of impending mortality. Most of us want to die in our sleep with no knowledge of the event. Not only do patients with chronic, progressive lung disease know of their impending death months, years or decades ahead of the day , they fear how they will die, with the fear of suffocation always somewhere in their minds. This is as frightening as life can be.
(Currow and Johnson, 2015)
This part of the exhibition in particular was received ‘well’: “It is horrible!”, “Get me out!”, and many other expressions of the unpleasant experience of being inside were reported on the feedback cards. Attempting to make the most out of the space, I included within the box examples of changes to embodiment as described by patients and philosophers, particularly in the work of phenomenologists Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Havi Carel.
Indeed, a Heidegger quote I presented was included in one of the comment cards (also visible in the image above):
The Heidegger quote is perfect for the Restricto-Box experience… ‘Things turn towards us… angst is happening all around us’. Being in the box reminds me of the precarity, fragility of life… it makes me think of the life lived by the breathless of no escape, of limited views of the world.
I also included images of distorted embodiment; famous sufferers such as Charles Darwin, who was agoraphobic and suffered from terrible panic attacks that left him breathless and housebound; reports on the shockingly poor air quality of UK cities, workplaces and homes; NASA recommendations for indoor plants to naturally get rid of toxic particulates such as formaldehyde; and journal accounts of related disorders and their impact on patients’ whole worlds, in the hope of informing, contextualising and de-stigmatising these disorders. Staff and students from areas as diverse as professionals in the doctoral college to research laboratory work in formaldehyde-rich environments engaged with my display and discussions, commenting on their own experiences of poor air quality, asthma and panic experiences, social deprivation in their home towns, and concerns about the impact of the polluted environment on their health.
Finally, I incorporated a model of the lungs. One side was damaged by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Squeezing the attached bellows to inflate or deflate the lungs demonstrated hyperinflation of the lungs, visibly protruding, black, and inefficient in comparison to the healthy lung. Additionally, philosophical texts, posters, and information on the Wellcome Trust-funded Life of Breath project and staff was included, so that I could show the important work that members from Bristol and Durham are doing. I was extremely honoured to have my exhibit highly commended, and thank both the team and the Doctoral College for their hard work and all the support given to me.
It’s over a month since our Research without Borders festival of postgraduate research took place across the Univeristy of Bristol and Colston Hall – so these highlights are a good reminder of what fun we had, how much we learned, and how hard our postgraduate research students are working each day of the week!
Pick up on the buzzing atmosphere from our showcase afternoon finale and hear from participants about why they got involved and what they learned:
Dr. Paul Spencer is the BDC’s newly appointed PGR Environment Development Manager, whose role is to oversee the continued improvement and evolution of the Bristol Doctoral College support for all postgraduate researchers in enhancing the quality of their experience. He shared with us the below blog post on Open Access from his own blog, The Digital Doctorate.
I’ve been thinking about the Open Research agenda again recently; it would be fair to describe me as an advocate and I’ve written about this topic before on this blog here and here. This post though is more about the research culture that is often at odds with openess and why I think that needs to change.
Martin is a professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London. He is also the co-founder of the Open Library of Humanities (OLH) and his talk was a really good explanation of how academic publishing could and should work – even in the humanities and social sciences. I think it important to highlight that the model of open research is not the exclusive domain of science, it affects us across the disciplines although there are some particular challenges in humanities.
He started out by outlining the contradictory nature of scholarly publishing as it is now, on the one hand we publish to be read but on the other we publish to expose our work to assessment.
He framed this as researchers operating in a symbolic economy whereby they hand over their academic findings to publishers to package up and disseminate. This content is given away and, in exchange, researchers hope that these outputs will translate, through assessment and ranking, into a pecuniary advantage in terms of promotion and progression (and therefore salary). There is a delayed benefit in this academic activity which exacerbates the precarious nature of academic research careers, especially those who are just starting out. Martin showed us how this symbolic economy maps onto a real economy of publishing.
We captured all of this on video that you can see below:
The challenge for early career researchers is to look past the rhetoric of “publish or perish” and understand the actual economics of scholarly publishing. It is for researchers themselves to push back – the status quo cannot be maintained because it is simply not sustainable and, worse, is undermining the most important aspect of publishing academic work in the first place – the need for it to be read.
The challenge for people like me who support the development of researchers is to keep pushing for the open research agenda to be embraced in institutional support for researchers, for example making it as easy as possible for postgraduate researchers to deposit their doctoral outputs in open repositories and reduce the barriers that are sometimes put in the way.
As our 100 postgraduate researchers involved in this year’s Research without Borders festival prepare their exhibitions, discussions and presentations, we took a trip down memory lane to last year’s showcase and talked to the winner of the prize for Interactive Display, Henry Webber, an Archaeology and Anthropology PhD candidate.
Last year I applied to display my research at the Research Without Borders festival. I wanted to use the process as an exercise for thinking about my ideas, and how to present and communicate these ideas to a mixture of people from colleagues to academics, to the general public and other industries.
My research involves connecting archaeology with agriculture. It is about learning what impacts humans have had on the landscape, the material remains left in the soil, and how these may be impacting state of the art farming techniques and agricultural knowledge in the 21st century.
Some of the main aspects that I wanted to convey were the material aspects of my research, the focus on soils and how they are central to both archaeology (for the study of the human past) and agriculture (for the future of society). In addition, I wanted to showcase how agricultural techniques are changing with the evolution of remote sensing data, and software and hardware development. With an increased focus on high resolution data and precise methodologies, such as GPS steering of tractors and variable rate fertiliser application, requiring ever more detailed knowledge of soil variation, the impacts that humans have had on soils are becoming increasingly more important.
To try to engage people in my display and demonstrate these ideas, I brought in real soil and turf blocks to replicate a field with a crop. I then stripped off the topsoil and recreated a miniature archaeological site with darker colours of soil representing high organic matter and nutrient levels such as phosphorus, which is often found in conjunction with archaeological sites. I used toy tractors from my childhood to demonstrate the actions and spatial connection that farmers have with archaeology and to explain some of the contentions that currently exist between farmers and archaeologists. Next to this I had printed images of my case study datasets and a projector with several videos showing high-tech precision spraying, laser weeding and autonomous vehicles. I also brought some actual geophysical equipment (Ground Penetrating Radar) for people to use. With Ground Penetrating Radar, it is possible to see objects below the surface, and in the display hall we could tell where pipes, electric cables, and solid floor supports were from the way they reflect radar energy. This sort of technique is also however, commonly used to discover buried archaeology.
After I found out that I had won the prize for best interactive display, I was delighted! I had certainly got a lot out of the event already from just the networking and discussions with people, but the prize was an additional bonus. The prize consisted of money to put towards training of my choice, which I decided to use to improve and continue my professional development in being qualified in agronomic advice.
I had already completed a course in fertiliser and agronomy advice as part of the PhD, but this extra funding helped me to continue to be professionally accredited and knowledgeable about current agronomic
advice, issues, and legislation. This has great benefit for my research as, when talking to farmers, I can contextualise my research in ‘real life’ farming practices in the UK today. It has also helped me to engage with farmers and develop positive relationships around which my research can become much more reflexive. Finally, this training provides me with a qualification that will be useful in any future career path relating to food and farming and allow me to have a broader perspective.
The Research without Borders festival was certainly a great event and I am glad to see it continuing this year. It was worthwhile from many perspectives for me and I would encourage you to get involved to meet new people, try out new ideas and explore displaying your own research!
The showcase exhibition returns to Colston Hall frmo 2 to 5pm on 12 May in this year’s Research without Borders festival. Sign up for tickets via Eventbrite.
Keri McNamara, a third year PGR student in the School of Earth Sciences, spoke to Myles Wickstead following his lecture on a life-long career in aid and development as part of the Cabot Institute lecture series. This blog has been reposted with permission by the Cabot Institute, and the original post can be viewed here.
Ever wondered what a career in aid and development is like? Or how the world’s current development programmes came into being? Look no further than this blog on Myles Wickstead who gave a Cabot Institute lecture and short interview on his reflections and experiences on a colourful career in aid and development.
Among Wickstead’s notable achievements are a position as head of British Development Division in Eastern Africa, coordinating a British Government White Paper on eliminating world poverty and now being an advisor to the charity Hand in Hand International.
An audio recording of Myles lecture can be found above. His talk focussed largely on the inception of the building blocks of international development; the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary fund. He began by turning back time towards the end of the second World War, in which the atmosphere of global reconciliation bred the need for trans-border institutions such as the UN that had the oversight necessary for peace to prevail.
Many years later, the UN decided to introduce development goals with the aim of reducing global poverty within a given time frame. The first of these was the Millennium Development Goals which were drafted in the UN head quarters with little external solicitation. In fact, Wickstead reminisced that environmental goals were almost completely overlooked and only added when a member of the committee ran into the director of the UN environment department on the way to the copier room…
Wickstead went on to add that a large parts of the Millennium goals were generally quite successful although there was still plenty of scope to be more inclusive. He also dwelt on the new Sustainable Development Goals drafted by the UN in 2015 and the Paris climate summit which, Wickstead claims, represent a much more integrated approach to propel international development into the future.
Below is my interview with Myles in which I question him on his talk and ask him about his career in aid and development:
You mentioned a fair bit in your talk about the importance of tying in environment sustainability with aid and development. How do you see that working in practice in a developing country when sustainable practices can be sometimes be quite anti-economic?
Yes, the two things are brought together in the Global Goals for Sustainable Development agreed in New York in September 2015. Let’s take an example of a country that’s well-endowed with forest resources. They could get rich quickly by chopping down the trees and selling the wood. You can’t expect those countries to simply say ‘we are not going to chop our forest down’. Firstly you need them to realise that for the long-term sustainability of their country they need to preserve the forest. But second, because maintaining the forests helps protect us all from climate change they rightly expect some compensation from the international community to do so. There are (albeit imperfect) mechanisms in place for this. Despite this I do, on the whole, think they are being successfully implemented: take Brazil for example.
There are also examples where – often without the consent of the government – indigenous forests are being cut down to make way for palm oil plantations, with devastating consequences not only for the trees but the wildlife. In these situations, governments need to be encouraged to take firm action against the individuals or companies concerned, again with support from the international community as and if appropriate.
I work on volcanic hazard in Ethiopia and one of the things I’ve noticed is the more wealthy urban areas are developing fast with an expanding middle class, but the more rural areas are still subject to a lot of extreme poverty. What part should external aid play in helping this wealth filter down?
It’s a very important question and one I touched on when talking about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were in place from 2000-2015. That period saw extraordinary progress, including halving the proportion of people living in absolute poverty, but many people (for example, those with disabilities or from ethnic minorities) were left out. It is also the case that urban areas, with generally better infrastructure and more job opportunities, tended to make faster progress. A lot of people in rural areas were in very much the same position in 2015 as in 1990. Within Ethiopia, a combination of rapid economic growth – supported both by investment and aid – and good policies mean that the benefits are now being felt more widely.
The role of Chinese investment in infrastructure, particularly roads, has I think been quite a positive one. The Government of Ethiopia has a very clear five year growth and investment plan and they expect their partners to deliver; I remember one case of former Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles requiring a Chinese company to rebuild a road they had just built as it was not up to standard; I am sure they were equally exacting of other companies from other countries. Not all African governments have that kind of determination but on the whole I think Chinese engagement has been a good thing. And the fact that Africa was largely unaffected by the global recession following the crash of 2008 was not only because it was not as connected to the international financial system as other parts of the world, but also because China and other countries in Asia continued to buy its raw materials.
What influenced your decision to have a career in Aid and development?
I had lived and travelled overseas a little. My father was a marine biologist and as a technical expert worked for the predecessors of DFID and lived and worked overseas in places like Singapore, Tanzania, and Jamaica. So I probably got some of the wish to live and work overseas from him – though alas didn’t inherit the science gene, which passed me by!
I went through the civil service fast stream process, and having successfully negotiated that had to make a choice about which Department I wanted to join. It was then the Ministry of Overseas Development; a few years later became the Overseas Development Administration of the FCO; and in 1997 became a fully-fledged Department of State with its own Cabinet Minister. Interestingly, DFID remains the most popular choice of all government departments for fast-steam applicants.
Is there a defining moment in your career you want to mention?
I have been extraordinarily lucky in the choices that I have made – or have been made for me – in terms of where I was at particular time. To have had the chance to run a regional office in Africa; to have been on the Board of the World Bank; to have worked closely with Ministers both as a Private Secretary and in coordinating the 1997 White Paper (the first in 24 years); and to be Ambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union – it was a huge privilege (and very hard work!) to be given these responsibilities. I ran the Commission for Africa Secretariat in 2004/5, and I suppose one of the great moments was going to present a copy of the Commission’s Report ‘Our Common Interest’ in 2005 to Nelson Mandela.
Someone asked earlier today- how do you keep positive despite the gloomy state of much of the world? My answer would be that the world has made extraordinary progress over the past quarter of a century in pulling people out of poverty, and that we have a real chance of completing the task, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, by 2030. Of course there have been setbacks along the way, and there will be more – conflict and environmental challenges to name but two. But with political will, and by maintaining a positive focus, I believe we can aspire to a better world both for ourselves and for future generations.
The Bristol heat of the international competition for communicating science asks working scientists and technologists to explain something about science in just 3 minutes. Kate spoke about the science of hairstyling and shape memory polymers, and is one of 4 to progress to the Regional final, which brings together talent from across Wales, the Midlands and the Southwest.
Famelab [http://www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/about/famelab/] is a communications competition where entrants have no slides and only the props they can carry on with them. Participants begin with local heats, then work their way up through region and national to the international final at Cheltenham Science Festival. Taking part in Famelab has kickstarted the careers of many presenters and performers, from musicians to more traditional explosion-based science demonstrations.
Kate Oliver is in the third year of their time at the Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials, and is working on 3D printing shape-changing materials. They also co-organise and regularly perform at local chaotic science cabaret, Science Showoff Bristol, [https://scienceshowoff.wordpress.com/] and are taking part in the Science Showoff Talent Factory [ https://showofftalentfactory.wordpress.com/ ]. Kate said:
“Today I spoke about the molecular action that enables hair to hold shapes – it’s called shape memory, and could be very useful in future technologies. Talking about science allows me to indulge my attention-seeking, outward going side – though I like being with my machines in lab too.”
Of 8 entrants into the local heat, 4 went through: in addition to Kate, Alex Lathbridge, Lon Barfield, and Alex McCleod will be joining another 10 at the Regional final, to be held in March. It’s free, and all are welcome to come down, watch, and offer their thoughts.
This post was originally published on the BCFN website, and can be viewed here.
A massive thank you to the 200+ new Postgraduate Researchers who attended our first ever Researcher Inauguration event on Monday, 6 February. Held in the Reception Rooms of the iconic Wills Memorial Building, our new students were officially welcomed into the University’s research community by the Vice-Chancellor and the Bristol Doctoral College. Check out the full story on our storify for highlights of the night, which included free scarves, a prize draw and excellent speeches from Dr. Samantha Matthews and current 4th year PhD student Leanne Melbourne.