Postgraduate research

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Congratulations to GES PhD students Anna Freeman and Rebecca Emerton for winning prizes in the 2016 Graduate School Research Image competition and Graduate School Research Poster competitions respectively.

Anna Freeman

Congratulations to GES PhD student Anna Freeman (supervisor Andrew Wade), who won First Prize in the Graduate School Research Image competition 2016, for her entry ‘Big world in a small drop’, which featured a stunning microscope photograph of zooplankton from Farmoor reservoir, near Oxford. Anna received her award at the Graduate School Doctoral Research conference in June. Well done Anna!

The Universirty of Reading Graduate School Doctoral Conference 2106.

The University of Reading Graduate School Doctoral Conference 2016.

 

Rebecca Emerton

Congratulations to GES PhD student Rebecca Emerton (supervisor Hannah Cloke), who won First Prize in the Graduate School Research Poster competition 2016, for her poster entitled ‘El Nino as a predictor of flood hazard’. Rebecca received her award at the Graduate School Doctoral Research conference in June. The standard of posters in this competition was extremely high, but the judges were impressed by the clarity with which Rebecca was able to present complex science. Well done Rebecca!

The Universirty of Reading Graduate School Doctoral Conference 2106.

The University of Reading Graduate School Doctoral Conference 2016.

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In the latter part of November 2015, one of the SAGES doctoral researchers, Saeed Abdul-Razak, had the immense privilege to deliver a presentation to kids of the Fulham Preparatory School in London. The presentation was on the ethical dimensions of climate change and sustainable development with over 120 students in attendance. The talk employed interactive approaches including videos (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRLJscAlk1M), pictures and questions to the audience.

Harvey Glover presents fair trade chocolates to Saaed

Harvey Glover presents fair trade chocolates to Saaed

The kids were introduced to the causes of climate change, development problems around the globe, the new 2015 -2030 sustainable development goals and the role of climate change in achieving these goals. There were case studies from Ghana on climate change mitigation (precisely REDD+) and climate change adaptation (for coastal communities) to explain the ethical implications of climate action.

 

The ethical dimensions aspect of the topic was treated in light of decision making and processes between developed and developing countries at the international level; elites/authorities and citizens at national level; and for the community level, it focused on the vulnerable such as women, children, the poor, etcetera. The presentation concluded on a positive note by encouraging the students to go green, to think globally but act locally as the earth’s resources are finite and human action/inaction are important factors that impact everyone.

Letters from kids of FPS

Letters from kids of FPS

In appreciation for the talk, the school’s current head boy, Harvey Glover, presented Saeed with a jug of fair trade chocolates. A couple of weeks after the talk, the kids wrote lovely letters appreciating the talk and Saeed’s time; some expressed their new inspiration to be green; others had follow-up questions and the remaining expressed how informative the presentation was and how they shared the new knowledge on sustainable actions with their parents, families and friends in order to ‘save the future’.

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On 14th July, Human Geography PhD students convened a workshop themed “Governing the Anthropocene: actors, institutions and processes.”  As a first of its kind, the workshop brought together students from across the University of Reading whose research focuses on the environment, sustainability and development. The workshop was an excellent opportunity for discussions, sharing ideas and networking amongst PhD students who attended.  It also served as a friendly platform for constructive feedback on research works.

IMG_5646The term “anthropocene” has made its way into the diction of scientists, researchers and academics, to refer to the current geological era. An era of profoundly different futures created for the global society, and far from anything previously experienced. The workshop focused talks on changing global environmental governance considerations, needed to meet the critical challenges of climate change, poverty, land use change, water and sanitation and deforestation.

The full-day workshop, which took place at Reading International Solidarity Centre, brought together both conceptual and case study perspectives focusing on international to local scales.  Country case studies of research presented were across the board from UK, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Malaysia and Indonesia. The full workshop programme and presentation abstracts can be viewed here: GA workshop 2015.

From the workshop, it was evident that the University of Reading is engaged in very cross-disciplinary, intriguing and insightful research in the area of natural resources and environmental governance. Cross-cutting themes presented include:

  • The increasing significance given markets in pursuing development and sustainability, which seems to reinforce existing power structures though in some cases is faced with local resistance in practice;
  • How the state manifests itself and its changing role, or its absence in addressing current resource-use problems;
  • The importance of NGOs in the implementation of development projects, and in scrutinizing non-state actors in private regulation and;
  • The nature and forms of participation, and it’s varied conceptualization as a means to an end or as an end in itself.

The workshop culminated with a highly valuable and interesting discussion on ways forward.  It was obvious that progressive and transparent policies are required at multiple levels to bring about meaningful change, and that the public has a role in requesting change from policy makers.  This can only be achieved when the public is motivated and politically engaged on issues such as climate change that otherwise would be viewed by individuals of the public as huge and external to do anything about. In addition, it was noted that PhD students should strive to capitalize on avenues that bridge the gap between their academic research and policy/practice.

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Sarah Duddigan poses with tea bags-smThis week University of Reading and Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) PhD student Sarah Duddigan has been filmed for an Austrian children’s science TV programme, talking about her contribution to a decomposition rate citizen science project, known as the Tea Bag Index – UK.

The Tea Bag Index is a novel method to measure decomposition rate in soil. Decomposition (the breakdown of organic material into its smaller constituents) is an important process for the release of nutrients into soil for plants to use. Therefore gaining a better understanding of decomposition in soil will be of great value to gardeners in the UK. The method is simple, UK participants are recruited through the RHS and posted some tea bags to bury in their garden. After three months they dig them up and send them back, along with a soil sample.

Decomposition of organic matter (i.e. dead plant and animal remains) in soils is an important process in any ecosystem.

Decomposer microorganisms feed on the organic matter and break it down into its simplest components. As organic matter is decomposed, water, carbon dioxide and nutrients are released. Meaning that, any excess nutrients are released and are available for plants to use to grow.

Maintaining a healthy and vibrant garden is the aspiration of most gardeners and healthy fertile soil is a key component of this. Therefore, a better understanding of decomposition rates in garden soils will be of great value to gardeners across the UK.

While having an active microbial population decomposing organic matter is important for soil health, they are not without their problems. While organic matter is decomposing, it releases the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. A fast decay leads to more CO2 in the atmosphere and slow decay could lead to a greater proportion of carbon remaining in the soil. It is estimated that soils store a gigantic 2,300 billion tons of carbon worldwide; triple the amount than all the worlds plants. Therefore in order to gain a better understanding of global CO2 emissions from soils it is vital to know more about the rate of decomposition.

The data from the UK therefore can also be combined with data being collected across Europe (or across the world in fact) in order to gain a better understanding on the role of decomposition in global carbon emissions and the contribution to climate change.

This seems to be a contradiction, on the one hand decomposition is good for plant health, but on the other has the potential to contribute to climate change. This is why projects such as this, which aim to gain a better understanding of decomposition rates in soil, are so important.

For more information, and updates on the progress of the project, see the links below:
Website: www.teabagindexuk.wordpress.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/teabagindexuk

Twitter: www.twitter.com/TeaBagIndexUK

@TeaBagIndexUK

#TeaBagIndexUK

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image2At the latest HERG meeting a research seminar took place in which we had the following PhD speakers talking about their projects prior to a group discussion:

Abu-Bakar Siddiq Massaquoi

“Topic: Addressing tenure and livelihood matters for REDD+ in Sierra Leone: Exploring the problems and prospects of an Adaptive Collaborative Management (ACM) approach.
My research examines the issues, options and outcomes of collaborative and adaptive management strategies for forest and natural resources management in three protected areas (national parks) in Sierra Leone. The purpose is to explore the possibility and value in blending the two approaches for addressing local tenure and livelihood concerns and for producing incentives for enhancing adaptive capacity, social learning and meaningful participation. Essentially, the study will guide the application and operationalisation of adaptive collaborative management for addressing various local concerns for REDD+ and other forest management regimes.”

Mighty Ihesiulor

Topic: Geographies of health and well-being in West Africa: a case study of Nigeria’s Niger Delta region.

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Brian Chirambo
My topic is: Addressing Drivers of Deforestation in Zambia: A methodology Critique of REDD+

The aim of the presentation was to share what my research was all about. Specifically I addressed my research questions, hypothesis, objectives and proposed methods.

Dennis Mailu

“My topic is ‘a critical assessment of governance of urban ecosystem services: A case study of Kibera slums, Nairobi Kenya.’

My study focuses on water governance in an urban poor context, demonstrating links between resilience principles and practice.”

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Private Sector Resilience

Photo Peter McMannersPeter Mcmanners, who is a member of the HERG Resilience Research Cluster, presented a seminar to geography students on private sector resilience. He outlined the significance of sustainability in the context of a business response. The underlying rationale for the private sector to engage with sustainability was explained. He also pointed out the limitations on business to apply their capabilities to fashion significant change to the way they operate. Business is constrained by investors with short time horizons and an overall expectation placed on business to focus on bottom-line performance. Many of the changes required in society and the economy, to deliver sustainability and resilience, have the characteristics of long-term systemic change. This is something we are not very good at. The culture of short-term results is not conducive to the long-term strategic planning required to deliver a resilient economy alongside a sustainable society.

Current research into sustainability in aviation was used to discuss private sector resilience within a particular case study. This exposed a policy stalemate where the aviation industry is held back and unable to advance towards a low emissions future. There is the potential for a bright future for aviation but it requires radical change. In a global highly regulated industry with substantial sunk costs there is little appetite for transformational change. Current research into a new model for aviation was outlined and discussed with different passenger segments based on the premise that flying slower could be the catalyst to develop a new generation of low-carbon air vehicle.

Finally, the seminar returned to the big picture of the global economy and an examination of the macroeconomic policy which sets the context within which business operates. Discussion was around whether economic globalisation will continue of whether the imperative of resilience will be the driver towards a more proximized economy. The seminar did not arrive at a definitive conclusion but raised the possibility of a transformation in macroeconomics to provide business with a different macroeconomic framework within which to operate.  As sustainability and resilience rise up the policy agenda, we are likely to see much more consideration of transformational change as policy makers accept that the current state of affairs cannot continue indefinitely. If the private sector is to play an active role in such a transformation, it will have to be part of a wider initiative orchestrated by politicians and policy makers.

The seminar was a thought provoking session which produced lively discussion and debate.

For further information: McManners, P. (2014) ‘Reframing economic policy towards sustainability’, Int. J. Green Economics, Vol. 8, Nos. 3/4, pp.288–305.

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Peter McManners low resDoctoral researcher Peter McManners has had his paper ‘Reframing Economic Policy Towards Sustainability’ published in the International Journal of Green Economics. This reports conceptual research at the interface between macroeconomic and environmental policy, applying the concepts of sustainability and resilience. A key observation is that the dialogue about sustainability over recent decades has failed to reduce the threat that human activities pose to the global ecosystem.

Peter proposes that the time has come to question deep-rooted assumptions, including the role of economics. In this paper, priorities are re-examined and principles developed to be able to build a sustainable economy. It is argued that sustainability economics is subservient to society’s higher objectives and is about control and balance, rather than laissez-faire free markets. A new definition and conceptual model for sustainability is proposed that is closer to reality than the traditional models having cornerstones of ‘culture’, ‘land’, ‘population’ and ‘energy’. Using this model allows economic policy to be repositioned in support of the needs of society and compliant with effective stewardship of the ecosystem to deliver a resilient economy operating within planetary limits.

Peter McManners is a doctoral researcher in his third year supervised by Emily Boyd and Steve Musson.

McManners, P.J. (2014) Reframing Economic Policy Towards Sustainability, International Journal of Green Economics, Vol. 8, Nos. 3/4, pp 288-305.

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Last week 18 Early Career Researchers (ECRs, PhD and Post-Doc) from both FFIR programmes (FRANC and SINATRA) met for the first ECR meeting hosted by the School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science, University of Reading (20th & 21st January, 2015).

Each ECR gave an 8 minute presentation on their work and how they might interact with other members of the programme. This was the first opportunity for ECRs from both projects to present to one another, and as a result a number of potential collaborations and interactions were discovered. The presentations showcased a number of new datasets being created, either catchment specific data, rainfall data or emergency response/human loss data. This highlighted a number of potential users within the programme, and hence a number of interactions between ECR. The presentations also showed the diverse range of activities being undertaken to answer the problem of Flooding From Intense Rainfall.

On the second day there were breakout sessions to discuss potential further interactions and collaborations, with a strong emphasis on sustaining the collaboration between ECRs. A number of potential joint publications were discussed as well as ideas for the next ECR meeting, forums and progress updates to keep the ECR community working together.

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Congratulations to Aroa Garcia-Suarez (PhD student in Archaeology) and Izabela Stacewicz (PhD student in GES), who have made successful applications to the first annual Rob Potter Memorial Overseas Travel Award.  Both Aroa and Izabela have each been awarded £500 towards overseas fieldwork in 2014/2015.

Izabela Stacewicz

Izabela Stacewicz

“I am delighted to have received the Rob Potter Memorial Travel Award for Overseas Fieldwork, and I am most grateful to the Committee for supporting my work.  My PhD project explores the politics and effectiveness of Social Impact Assessment in addressing land and labour rights in the context of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.  The Award will contribute to fieldwork in Malaysia and Indonesia in Spring 2015, during which I will conduct research with palm oil plantation workers, and communities affected by palm oil production.”

Izabela Stacewicz

“This award represents a great aid to carry out fieldwork related to my doctoral project and will be used to cover travel costs to and from Turkey in order to finalise the excavation and sampling of an archaeologically significant Neolithic building at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Çatalhöyük.”

Aroa Garcia-Suarez

This is the first year of this award made in honour of the former Head of School, Professor Emeritus Rob Potter (1950 – 2014).  For more information about Rob’s academic achievements, and details on the application process for the Overseas Travel Award, please visit the webpage.

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Around 80 postgraduate students are gathering in Loughborough today to kick-off a two-day conference, in which they will test new ideas and strengthen their theories.

The Mid-Term Conference, organised each year by the Society’s Postgraduate Forum, gives budding researchers the opportunity to present papers in a supportive environment.

Our very own Dr Hilary Geoghegan opened the conference with some wise words to the students in attendance. “We are all part of the discipline of geography,” she said. “Find and hold on to your passion for geography, engage with others within and beyond academia, be enthusiastic about your research and think creatively about what it is to be an early-career geographer in the 21st century.”

Click here to read more details.

Follow the conference on Twitter using the hashtag #PGFmidterm.

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