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Meet our #UoRWomen!

To mark International Women’s Day this year, we asked some of our brilliant staff to answer a few questions about their research, their career highlights, and their inspirations. Read on for a selection…

Dr Macarena L. Cárdenas

Research/teaching specialisation

Paleoecology

What made you choose this area?

I am interested in the environment and particularly on the vegetation. I just love getting to know how the vegetation changes, how it evolves within itself, and how it relates and responds to factors such as the climate and human influence. This area gives me the possibility to not just look at those interactions, but also to reveal how they were in the past, and throughout time.

What advice would you have for young women wanting to become involved in this area?

To keep a large perspective and stay present with the issues that is happening today to the environment that can be understood by studying the past. To engage with not just the topics that are relevant but also, and actually quite importantly, with the people and environment affected by these issues. Also, to do multidisciplinary research, as one proxy will let you know what the other doesn’t want to!

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I am a multi-passionate, so I never get bored if it happens that I have free time. Some of the things I do are: going to open and wild places for hiking, yoga, meditation, exercise, talking and visiting with family and friends,  dancing, crafting, painting and making jewellery. I also have great fun with experimental cooking in the safety (for others) of my home.

Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

My mother. She is my inspiration for courage, strength and sensitivity. She just goes for things no matter what obstacles she may find.  She always said to me: “do whatever you love the most and don’t let it go. No matter what it is, no matter how crazy that may look like for others. If it makes you happy, just do it”. And so I did! (although it is certainly crazy).

 

Professor Anne Verhoef

Research/teaching specialisation:

Environmental physics, with emphasis on soil-plant-atmosphere systems

 What made you choose this area?

Great interest in soil from the age of 14. Studied Soil Science (specialisation soil physics), followed by micrometeorology (Phd)

Was there a moment when you realised that you had become successful academic / research staff?

A number of grant successes in a row not long after I started. Wide-ranging and original teaching portfolio ~5 few years after starting.

What is an exciting development currently in your area?

Combination of novel environmental physics instrumentation (including remote sensing) combined with state of the art process modelling to answer many societally pressing issues.

What advice would you have for young women wanting to become involved in this area?

Follow your scientific interests and passions first and foremost, don’t just take the path of least resistance (e.g. where you have the best GCSE & A-level grades)

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Very little time left…: running, outdoor swimming, gardening

Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

I don’t believe much in (male or female) role models, the thirst for knowledge needs to come from within the young scientist. Lecturers that motivated me during my studies where those who conveyed that passion, not those with necessarily the most advanced lecture slides/notes or best-run practical classes.

 

Dr Hazel McGoff

Research/teaching specialisation:

Teaching geology – Earth processes and history and the resources that we use

What made you choose this area?

It is a practical subject that involves fieldwork, good observation skills and the ability to visualise and imagine processes in space and time.

Was there a moment when you realised that you had become successful academic / research staff?

When my students start teaching me things! Hopefully this means they have enthusiasm for the subject and good knowledge. A great foundation for a career.

What is an exciting development currently in your area?

On a local scale – Chloe Knight, one of our final year students has been researching the meteorite collection that is here in the University of Reading – its geology, the chemistry of the specimens and the history of the collection. We hope to submit a short paper for publication later in the summer.

What advice would you have for young women wanting to become involved in this area?

Go for it – do what interests you most and enjoy it. Learn as much science as you can and appreciate the links between all the different disciplines.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Spending time with my horses.

Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

  1. My friend Dave Prior – now Professor of Geology in Otago University in New Zealand – he brings great energy, enthusiasm and scientific expertise to everything he does.
  2. My PhD supervisor, Derek Briggs – now Professor at the Peabody Museum, Yale, USA – who encouraged all his students to develop their research projects and take them in whatever direction was appropriate.
  3. Isabella Bird – an intrepid Victorian explorer and the first woman to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

 

Dr Liz Shaw

Research/teaching specialisation:

Soil microbiology and biochemistry

What made you choose this area?

My A-level Geography teacher, Mrs Allison (Cottingham High School), first inspired my interest in soil and then my MSc tutor (later PhD supervisor, Richard Burns) inspired my interest in soil microbiology.

Was there a moment when you realised that you had become successful academic / research staff?

There has been no one defining moment but there have been some successes (my appointment to a lectureship, winning my first research grant, promotion, positive feedback from students) that I have celebrated.

What is an exciting development currently in your area?

New molecular and biogeochemical methodologies that when combined can be used to overcome the problems of understanding what non-culturable microscopic organisms living in an opaque environment (soil) are doing!

Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

My research area inspires me but I am supported in this by my parents, my partner, my son, my friends and key colleagues and collaborators.

 

Dr Beena Balan Sarojini

Research/teaching specialisation

Climate Scientist specialised in Ocean, Atmosphere and Land surface of the Earth.

What made you choose this area?

I loved Physics and Geography in School and I am a nature lover. At the University level I got to know about courses on learning more about the physics of Earth and its climate.

Was there a moment when you realised that you had become successful academic / research staff?

Several moments at different stages of my research career: 1) When I gave my debut international presentation at the European Geophysical Union’s annual conference, 2) When the main article on my PhD study got published in a peer-reviewed journal, and 3) When I got invited to contribute to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in 2013

What is an exciting development currently in your area?

How the representation of soil-plant processes in a climate model can improve the prediction of climate and extreme events like droughts and floods.

What advice would you have for young women wanting to become involved in this area?

Find the right course for you at the University. Get, set and go!

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Swimming, yoga and having fun with my daughter.

Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

My mother who encouraged me and my sister to study as much as we wanted which was not possible for girls at the time when she was studying.

 

Dr Avril Maddrell

I work in Social and Cultural Geography, with particular research interests in the Geographies of death, sacred mobilities and gender.

I am currently an Editor of two international journals Gender, Place and Culture and Social and Cultural Geography. I have really appreciated those occasions when Editors have helped me make the most of my research findings in papers, and now enjoy being an Editor myself; its always rewarding when authors write to say that reviewer and editorial guidance has helped them develop their arguments and showcase their research.

I will be starting a new large AHRC-ESRC research project on March 13th Deathscapes and Diversity: Planning for minorities’ and migrants’ bodily remains, ritual and remembrance practice with Yasminah Beebeejaun (Bartlett School of Planning, UCL) and Katie McClymont, (UWE Bristol) and the two project postdoctoral research associates: Danny McNally and Brenda Mattijssen (University of Reading).

International Women’s Day

Avril will be speaking at the University of Stockholm on 8th March as part of the book launch symposium for Contemporary Encounters in Gender and Religion. European perspectives (Palgrave 2016) with Swedish Co-Editors Lena Gemzoe and Marja-Liisa Keinnanen.

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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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The Andes present an ideal learning space to draw lessons on existing and emerging resilience challenges and opportunities. Andean people and societies have co-evolved with the unique high-mountain contexts in which they live, sometimes in altitudes of more than 3800 m. Although historical achievements including irrigation systems, domestication of cameloids (llama and alpaca) and crop preservation techniques facilitated the development of ancient civilisations in the Andes, modern Andean people face serious challenges in achieving food security and wellbeing.

A new Special Issue co-edited by Dr Giuseppe Feola and Dr Diana Sietz (Wageningen University) aims to improve our understanding of the key dynamics of socio-ecological systems that constrain or foster resilience in the rural Andes. The Special Issue, published in the journal Regional Environmental Change, comprises six papers that investigate three core features of resilience in a variety of socio-ecological systems: diversity, connectivity and development models. The novel insights into resilience dynamics include specific features related to the high-mountain contexts and socio-political tensions in the Andes. Future research can build on this knowledge to further not only resilience theory but also methodological approaches which reflect both case-specific and generic complexity.

Papers included in this Special Issue:

Sietz, D. and Feola, G. (2016) Resilience in the rural Andes: Critical dynamics, constraints and emerging opportunities. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10113-016-1053-9

Vallejo-Rojas, V., Ravera, F. and Rivera-Ferre, MG. (2016) Developing an integrated framework to assess agri-food systems and its application in the Ecuadorian Andes. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10113-015-0887-x

Doughty, CA. (2016) Building climate change resilience through local cooperation: a Peruvian Andes case study. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10113-015-0882-2

Zimmerer, K. and Rojas Vaca, H. (2016) Fine-grain spatial patterning and dynamics of land use and agrobiodiversity amid global changes in the Bolivian Andes. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10113-015-0897-8

Montaña, E., Diaz, H. and Hurlbert, M. (2016) Development, local livelihoods, and vulnerabilities to global environmental change in the South American Dry Andes. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10113-015-0888-9

Chelleri, L., Minucci, G. and Skrimizea, E. (2016) Does community resilience decrease social-ecological vulnerability? Adaptation pathways trade-off in the Bolivian Altiplano. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10113-016-1046-8

Easdale, MH., Aguiar, MR. and Paz, R. (2016) A social–ecological network analysis of Argentinean Andes transhumant pastoralism. http://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs10113-015-0917-8

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ShovonlalRoy_wLast week, GES lecturer Dr Shovonlal Roy delivered an invited talk at the International Symposium “Space – the final frontier for biodiversity monitoring?” held at the Zoological Society of London.

The symposium brought together “leading experts in biodiversity monitoring and satellite remote sensing to discuss ways to better capitalise on this technology to monitor biological diversity globally”, and arranged a “workshop on scientific writing offered to all attendees and organised by the journal Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation editorial team”.

The talks aimed at addressing the “societal, economic and scientific interests in mapping biodiversity, measuring how biodiversity is faring, and asking what can be done to efficiently mitigate further biodiversity loss are at an all-time high.”

Dr. Roy presented on “Ocean remote sensing for modelling and monitoring marine autotrophic biodiversity”.

More than 120 international delegates, including a number of early career researchers and PhD students, attended the symposium. More about it can be found here, and Twitter responses from the audience can be found using the hashtag (29th April 2016):  #RSConservation.

 

Visit Dr Shovonlal Roy’s staff profile page.

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glofaseventProfessor Hannah Cloke and Dr Liz Stephens, in collaboration with the Walker Institute, are hosting an afternoon event to showcase the University’s work in developing and supporting flood forecasting capabilities globally. It is open to all University staff and students, plus participants from other organisations who are interested in flood forecasting.

The Open Event will include presentations by keynote speakers from ECMWF, Department for International Development (DFID) the Red Cross Climate Centre and the Joint Research Centre (JRC).

There will be a wine, canapé and poster session and all delegates are invited to submit an A1 poster of their research relating to flooding / flood forecasting if they would like.

In total we are expecting approximately 100 people to attend so this will be a great opportunity for networking and a chance to showcase research from UoR and collaborators.

The event is free to attend but registration is essential – link here: store.rdg.ac/GloFAS_Open_Event

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Giuseppe Feola spent three weeks in February and March 2016 doing fieldwork in south-east Kazakhstan. He was accompanied by postdoctoral researcher Tristam Barrett and worked in close cooperation with colleagues at the Institute of Geography in Almaty. The team also benefitted from the support of the Local Community Fund, an NGO which runs an agribusiness centre in Shelek, near one of the research sites. The research team set out to collet data for the project “Climate change, water resources and food security in Kazakhstan“.

 

Moment of group discussion during the multi-stakeholder workshop in Koram

Moment of group discussion during the multi-stakeholder workshop in Koram

The first phase of the field work involved organising and conducting two multi-stakeholder workshops in the villages of Koram and Karaoi. Both villages have experienced serious water management issues in recent years, and the workshops allowed the research team and the participants to identify the major challenges faced by the water management system in the each location. The workshops enabled productive discussions across the boundaries that traditionally separate farmers, local authorities, NGOs and local scientists, and therefore helped unravel the complex relations between the challenges faced by different actors in dealing with water use in agriculture. For example, the workshops clearly showed that, while climate change affects water availability in this region, infrastructural inadequacies and financial and organisational issues play an important role in limiting the adaptive capacity of the farming system to climate change.

 

Map of the challenges faced by different actors in the local farming system in Karaoi

Map of the challenges faced by different actors in the local farming system in Karaoi

The second phase of the field work involved field visits and semi-structured interviews with 21 participants . With the aid of a mental mapping technique, the interviews allowed us to grasp the interviewee’s understanding of the water management system, in its infrastructural, environmental, and institutional dimensions. Moreover, the interviews also focussed on ongoing adaptation strategies. These include, for example, spontaneous rescheduling of water supply rotations among farmers and farmer self-organisation to clean some of the main irrigation canals and fill the gap let by the inability of the responsible state organisation to maintain the irrigation infrastructure.

 

Example of a mental map of the water system in Koram

Example of a mental map of the water system in Koram

This research will improve understanding of agricultural adaptation to climate change in south-east Kazakhstan, but it also sheds light on the still ongoing post-Soviet transformation of agriculture in this country.

 

You can read more about Giuseppe at his staff profile and personal webpage.

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By Georgina Smith, Rhys Bolt, Robyn Plummer, Alan Monk and Eleanor Wright

students

A group of five second year students have been set the task of investigating how people use fertilisers and pesticides in their gardens and allotments and the impact on soil fertility as part of a 20 credit real-life environmental consultancy module on the BSc Environmental Science and Geography degree programmes. This study will focus on the Earley area, which is located within the Loddon catchment.

How will this research help the wider community? This is an ideal opportunity for residents to get their soil tested for free. Phosphorus, nitrogen, pH and organic matter will be measured.  All factors are important for plant growth, and therefore knowing these soil properties will help residents understand their current soil fertility to inform their choices about the amount of fertiliser to apply.

How will students use the data?  The data obtained from the door-to-door survey and the analysis of soil samples will provide the students with information to produce quality analysis of soil in gardens in Earley and further information on the level of fertiliser and pesticide use.  Soil fertility will be compared to soil samples collected from the University of Reading farm at Arborfield to see if gardens are more or less fertile than farmers’ fields used for crop production. It is important to stress that all data will be anonymised and presented as aggregated values for the area, as strict data protection procedures in place.

“This is an exciting project as we know almost nothing about soil fertility, fertiliser and pesticide use within people’s gardens and allotments” says Dr Joanna Clark, module convenor.  Many urban areas were not mapped when the Soil Survey produced soil maps for England and Wales. Gardens and allotments are not subject to the same regulatory controls as agricultural land.

The project is being run in collaboration with Hampshire and Isle of Weight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) who host the Loddon Catchment Partnership (LCP).  The LCP is part of a national network of Catchment Partnerships established to enable communities to take action to improve the quality of their water environment.

Please get in touch with Dr Joanna Clark (j.m.clark@reading.ac.uk) if you live in Earley and would like to take part in the survey.

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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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Professor Danny Dorling

Professor Danny Dorling

Our first speaker is Professor Danny Dorling who is a social geographer well known for his popular social science texts on injustice, inequality and population. He is currently the Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford and has previously worked in Newcastle, Bristol, Leeds, Sheffield and New Zealand. With a group of colleagues he helped create the website www.worldmapper.org, which shows who has most and least in the world. Much of Danny’s work, which concerns issues of housing, health, employment, education and poverty, is available open access (see www.dannydorling.org), and his recent books include “Population Ten Billion”, “The Social Atlas of Europe” (with Dimitris Ballas and Ben Hennig), and, in 2015, “Injustice: why social inequality still persists”.

His talk – “Cohesion, sustainability, equality and education… is geography the missing link?” – is about ideas inspired by pictures, graphs and world maps. Through trying to answer the question – what is it in the differing nature of the economy of cities and regions which results in different outcomes? – he explores why social cohesion and trust is higher in Japan than in the UK and questions how we can make cities more sustainable in general.
His presentation will look at some summary statistics for 25 affluent countries and thus for the largely urbanized populations within them. The UK and Japan are very different states in that household income inequality is very low in Japan and very high in the UK. An updated version of these statistics are presented and then the relationships between economic inequality and over consumption of goods, of meat, of food in general, of water, of clothes, or air flights and of gasoline is considered.

Finally, he compares the education outcomes of countries and argues that it is hard not to conclude that, at least statistically, the UK comes out of any comparison poorly when it comes to cohesion, sustainability, regional inequalities, and city planning, and general educational ability. Japan (again as a comparator) appears similar to other more efficient and more equitable countries. However, even in Japan people consume too much and do not trust each other enough. If everyone in the world behaved like an average citizen of Tokyo we would still need two planets to live on. If they behaved like an average citizen in London we would need nearer four planets.

He will be speaking in the Sorby Room, Wager Building from 13.00-14.00 on Thursday 21 January.

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