Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Taking the long route - how I got here...

by Kirstie O'Neill

As you can see from reading through this GEESology blog, geography is indeed a broad discipline covering all manner of exciting areas.  The ways which each of us GEESologists have come to this are equally varied – so here’s my version as a social geographer! 

1970s singer Kenny Loggins
I always loved geography, and reading maps – I had great teachers at school which really helped, although sometimes the singing was a drawback (‘footloose’ by Kenny Loggins sticks in my mind!).  

I knew I wanted to do geography at A-level and did better than expected so was able to study it at University too. I got a place (unexpectedly) at Newcastle University.  Studying geography at University was different to school, and we got to specialise in areas that hadn’t even come up at school – rural geography appealed to me, I just seemed to enjoy and ‘get’ it.  But, I couldn't believe our first fieldtrip was back to West Cumbria and my old school's barn (below) - no exciting field trips anywhere exotic unfortunately!

Bakerstead Barn, Eskdale, West Cumbria - on a rare sunny day!

After university I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, but knew it would be geography and rural based – luckily, the rural community council in Cumbria, Voluntary Action Cumbria, had Lottery funding to train up rural community development workers.  The interview was a baptism by fire, a whole day with the other candidates and being ‘interviewed’ by the staff and trustees all day.  But, I got the job and needed to quickly buy my first car to do the job, and enjoyed a few years back in my native Cumbria doing rural community development.  But all good things must come to an end.

Over the next six years, I moved to Durham County Council, Yorkshire Rural Community Council and finally North Yorkshire County Council all doing rural development stuff.  I was working for North Yorkshire County Council when I saw a PhD advertised – I’d been thinking of doing one for a while, although didn’t realise you could actually get funding to do one.  The one advertised was funded, and was a collaborative research project with the local council – so I had a chat to the people at Hull University.  It sounded really exciting – local food was an area I was really interested in, and the opportunity to learn Italian and getting to do research in Italy didn’t sound so bad either!

               Researching rural development and local food in the Abruzzo region of Italy

So, in 2007 I also gave up my job and went back to University full-time (fieldtrips have improved!), I passed my PhD viva in 2012 (my thesis is available here) and have been lucky to get postdoc positions after the PhD too – I’m about to start a new job at Lancaster University looking at food and whether peoples’ decisions about what to buy include any consideration of sustainability.  This brings my PhD work (food) and my post-doc work (low carbon, green entrepreneurs, sustainability) together and hopefully I’ll get to write something about it soon...

I’d like to continue researching green building (here) and food (here), both of which are really important in relation to sustainability, but as ever, it all depends on what’s around at the end of the next short-term contract!

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