CFP #AAG2018. ‘Geographies of Sex, Sexuality and Sex Work: Myths, Imaginaries and Realities’. New Orleans, April 10-14 2018

 

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Paul Maginn, Erin Sanders-Mcdonagh and I are pleased to announce the call for papers for this year’s American Association of Geographers Conference in New Orleans in April next year (see more details here: http://www.aag.org/cs/events/event_detail?eventId=1258 ).  Although a geography conference, it is a very interdisciplinary event and we welcome submissions of abstracts from all perspectives on sex, sexuality and sex work.  We have run special sessions on these themes for the last few years at this conference and it is always a really engaging and enjoyable event.  We have also been fortunate in the past to secure some contributory funding for sex workers to attend and present from the conference enrichment fund, and would endeavour to do so again.

Do get in touch if you would like some clarification before submitting something.  The deadline is 16th October to submit an abstract.

 

ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN GEOGRAPHERS CONFERENCE

NEW ORLEANS, 2018

#GEOSEX18 CALL FOR ABSTRACTS/PAPERS

 

Geographies of Sex, Sexuality and Sex Work:

Myths, Imaginaries and Realities

In the past decade questions about sex, sexuality and sex work have come to dominate media, political and social debates. These debates have seen the tectonic plates of ‘conservatism’ and ‘liberalism’ collide and sheer against one another. There is considerable variation in the dynamics of such relations across national and international boundaries. In the predominantly Catholic country of Ireland, for example, a referendum on marriage equality saw the LGBTQ community granted the same rights as heterosexual couples. In Northern Ireland (NI), however, the Protestant-dominated local Assembly has thus far steadfastly refused to pass legislation on marriage equality five times. The failure to pass this legislation has been due largely to opposition from the largest political party in NI –the Democratic Unionist Party – who has effectively vetoed the issue each time it has to a vote. And, in Australia the current Liberal Government has prevaricated on the issue of marriage equality by agreeing to hold a non-binding postal plebiscite on the issue rather than letting the Parliament decide on the issue.

On the matter of sex work, some nations – e.g. Canada, France, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – have recently introduced legislation that criminalises the purchase of commercial sex services in the name of protecting (female) sex workers and victims of human trafficking. This legislation was introduced in these jurisdictions following major campaigning by conservative politicians, religious organisations, NGOs and radical feminist organisations often working together. Relatedly, other state actors have sought to prohibit access to pornography by framing the consumption of adult entertainment as an issue that affects social and mental well-being. For example, participants at the 2016 Republican National Convention in the USA suggested that viewing pornography constituted a ‘public health crisis’. In the UK the government has recently sought to introduce age verification mechanisms and regulations in order to prevent people from viewing particular sexual acts online.

All the while, the consumption of online (heteronormative) pornography continues to grow year-on-year as data from one of the world’s largest free porn websites reveals each year. There is relatively little publicly available data on the consumption of non-heteronormative types of porn, although anecdotal evidence points to significant growth in “feminist-porn and alt-porn”. Camming has also becoming an increasingly popular mode of adult entertainment, with an estimated 20,000 performers online in the US at any given time. Even professional adult performers now engage in cam-work (and other forms of adult entertainment such as stripping and feature dancing) as a means of generating supplementary income due to the de-industrialisation of the porn industry in the wake of free online porn hosting sites. New and improved technologies have therefore created alternative possibilities for sex work landscapes.

Sexual and gender identity have also been the focus of much heated debate, especially in the last 5 years as debates about transgenderism have become more prominent. The increasing visibility/audibility of transgender people and issues related to trans rights have, in some cases, resulted in moral panics about trans people being in public spaces and using public facilities, especially toilets. Ultimately, trans folk have endured stigma and stereotypes because of their gendered/sexual identities and have been subject to discrimination and a denial of their human rights.

Advances in digital technology and the ‘app-ification’ of smart phones have had a profound impact on the socio-spatial dynamics of human sexuality and commericalised forms of sexual services. The emergence of dating websites, online escort agencies and personal ad sites, hook-up apps and web-camming for personal and commercial purposes have enhanced the opportunity for direct and indirect intimate and risqué experiences. Similarly, the rise of virtual reality, smart sex toys and sex robots have raised various questions about the future direction of human, gender and sexual relations.

In light of the highly complex and dynamic sexual landscapes that characterize the 21st century, this special session – #GeoSex18 – calls for papers that offer critical analyses on a range of myths, imaginaries and realities pertaining to sex, sexuality and sex work that speak to one or more of the following broad topics:

  • Community, diversity and mobility within the sex industry;
  • Community, diversity and mobility within the LGBT community;
  • Gender/sexual identities and fluidities;
  • Sexual dissidents, activism and advocacy;
  • Human trafficking/migrant sex workers;
  • Human and labour rights in sex work;
  • Gentrification and its impacts on queer spaces/red light districts;
  • Health and wellbeing amongst sexual minorities;
  • Stigma/stereotypes/social exclusion of sexual minorities and the sex industry;
  • Crime/violence towards sexual minorities and sex workers;
  • Production/distribution/consumption of pornography/adult entertainment;
  • Geographies of swinging/dogging/cruising;
  • Digital geographies of sex, sexuality and sex work;
  • Virtual reality, sexbots and human sexual relations;
  • Stigma and social exclusion of/in the sex industry;
  • Policing, criminal justice and sexed spaces;
  • Labour rights, health and safety issues within the sex industry;
  • Policy, politics and regulation of sexual landscapes;
  • Reproductive rights;
  • Liminal spaces/stigmatisation of sexuality, sex work and the sex industry;
  • BDSM/Kink/fetish spaces/communities; and
  • Censorship and sexualisation.

The #GeoSex18 special session series welcomes abstracts/papers from scholars, policy researchers within government agencies, consultancies, NGOs and sex work advocacy/support organisations and research-minded sex work activists from a range of disciplines and ideological/theoretical/methodological/empirical standpoints. If you are interested in taking part in this special session please send your abstract including: (i) paper title; (ii) author(s); (iii) institutional affiliation(s); (iv) email addresses; (v) a 250 word (maximum) abstract; and (vi) 5 key words to the co-convenors at GeoSex16@gmail.com by no later than 16th October 2017.

Co-Convenors:

 Dr Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia (Australia)

Dr. Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire (UK)

Dr. Erin Sanders-McDonagh, University of Kent (UK)

 

Erin also has a new book out this year, entitled Women And Sex Tourism Landscapes, published by Routledge, which may be of interest to potential presenters!   You can view the details here: https://www.routledge.com/Women-and-Sex-Tourism-Landscapes/Sanders-McDonagh/p/book/9781138814547 .

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#AAG2017 – (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance (Boston, USA)

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We (Paul Maginn and Erin Sanders-McDonagh) are pleased to announce our special session at this year’s AAG annual meeting, which is part of the Mainstreaming Human Rights in Geography and the AAG featured theme and also sponsored by the Sexuality and Space Specialty Group.  Please find below the session details and paper titles but I am also taking this opportunity to promote the fantastic new book by Erin: Women and Sex Tourism Landscapes (published by Routledge) which compares female tourists’ interactions in highly sexualised spaces in Thailand and the Netherlands.   Feel free to ask Erin about this during our sessions!

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1606.   (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance I: Porn, Pleasure & Performance (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group)
Room: Room 107, Hynes, Plaza Level  (Paper Session)

Wednesday April 5th, 4:40 pm – 6:20 pm


ORGANIZER(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire; Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University
CHAIR(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia

4:40  Gemma Commane, Dr*, Birmingham City University, Kinktrepreneurship and social media: debates, rights and female subjectivity.
5:05  Joanne Bowring*, Liverpool John Moores University, Stigma in the UK Adult Film Industry.
5:30  Jennifer Heineman, PhD*, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Performing the Whore, Performing the Academic.
5:55  Emily Meyer, Esq.*, University of Cincinnati, The Cam Model: Kinship, Community, and Intimacy.

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2106.   (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance II: 2. Rights, Wrongs and Regulations (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group)
Room: Room 107, Hynes, Plaza Level  (Paper Session)

Thursday April 6th, 8:00 am – 9:40 am


ORGANIZER(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire; Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University
CHAIR(S): Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire

8:00  Laura Graham*, Durham University, The Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry on Prostitution: Is the time ripe for a Human Rights based approach to sex work?
8:25  Emilia Ljungberg*, Karlstad University, The smiling face of the emotional state.
8:50  Elena Shih*, Brown University; Christine Shio Lim, Brown University; Jordan Rubin-McGregor, Brown University; Imani Herring, Brown University, Building a Movement Against Sex Work in Rhode Island: Anti-Trafficking and Academic Industrial Complexes.
9:15  Billie M Lister, Doctor*, Leeds Beckett University, Time for change? : Indoor sex workers experiences of working under quasi-criminalisation in England and Wales and their ideas for legislative change.

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2206.   (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance III: 3. Governance, Policing and Design (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group)
Room: Room 107, Hynes, Plaza Level  (Paper Session)

Thursday April 6th, 10:00 am – 11:40 am


ORGANIZER(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire; Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University
CHAIR(S): Gemma Commane, Birmingham City University

10:00  Nicole Kalms*, Monash University, Sex Shop / Pole Dance / Street Work: Heteronormative Architectures of the Neoliberal City.

10:25  Erin Sanders-McDonagh*, University of Kent, Pushing sex work to the margins: The sanitization of Red Light Districts in Amsterdam and London.

10:50  Paul J. Maginn*, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire, On-street, Off-street, And Online: The Dynamic Liminalities Of Sex Work.

11:15  Alison Better*, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY, Constructing Space and Community for Sexual and Gender Exploration at Sex Toy Boutiques

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2406.   (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance IV: 4. Production, Consumption and Reflection (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group)
Room: Room 107, Hynes, Plaza Level  (Paper Session)


ORGANIZER(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire; Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University
CHAIR(S): Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire

Thursday April 6th, 1:20 pm – 3:00 pm

1:20  Yo-Hsin Yang*, Negotiating/resisting stigma of sexscapes: gay men’s sex moral performances on tour.

1:40  Victor Trofimov*, European University Viadrina, From commercial sex to homonormativity: changing landscape of male street sex work in Berlin.

2:00  Katharine Parker*, Northumbria University, Public Sex Environments in Contemporary Sexscapes: A Case Study from North East England.

2:20  Nick McGlynn*, University of Brighton, Too Fat, Too Thin, Just Right?: Stigmatised Bodies in Bear Spaces.

2:40  Philip Birch*, Western Sydney University, Prostitution and Procuring Sexual Services: Why men buy sex .

____________________________________________________________________________________________2506.   (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance V: 5. Mobilities, Immobilities and Boundaries (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group)
Room: Room 107, Hynes, Plaza Level  (Paper Session) 

Thursday April 6th, 3:20 pm – 5:00 pm


ORGANIZER(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire; Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University
CHAIR(S): Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University

3:20  Rachel Wotton*, Sex workers who provide services to clients with disability.

3:45  Alison J. Lynch, J.D., M.A.*, Associate Instructor, Mental Disability Law and Policy Associates, Sexuality, Disability and the Law: Beyond the Last Frontier?

4:10  Bella Robinson*, CoyoteRI; Elena Shih, Brown University, Policing Modern Day Slavery: Sex Work and the Carceral State in Rhode Island.

4:35  Laura Connelly, Dr*, University of Salford, Caring for and controlling the subaltern body: Politics, policy and practice within a rescue industry.

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I will be hopefully writing up a blog post after the sessions as usual for those who cannot make it.  Please follow the hashtag #geosex17 and #aag2017 for live tweets!

Academic Interviews: #2 and #3

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Picture from https://www.pinterest.com/gbmcd/funny-interviewjob/

So I’m a few months into my new(ish) job, which I started at the end of April this year.  Recently, a few of my friends have been applying for academic positions and we’ve been having some great chats about the interview process, so I thought I would add to this post https://ecooper2site.wordpress.com/2015/02/21/my-first-academic-interview/ and talk about my more recent interviews.  That blog post also contains some links to some good blogs/websites I found useful for tips, so give it a look!   Warning: this will be a long post!

So far, my career pathway has consisted of the following:

  1. Graduate teaching assistant in Human Geography at Lancaster University (2009-Feb 2014)
  2. Researcher at Ascentis (May 2014 – December 2014, done alongside my PhD/teaching)
  3. Senior Teaching Associate in Human Geography at Lancaster University (Feb 2014-January 2015)
  4. Lecturer in Human Geography at Northumbria University (January 2015-April 2016) (this is the interview that the above blog post is talking about)
  5. Lecturer in Human Geography at UCLan  (April 2016-present)

Whilst in my position at Northumbria, I also underwent an interview for the permanent version of that role, so I will discuss this process first.

 

Interview #2: applying for the position you are already doing

This was a really strange experience for me, as you a) feel a wally for having to stand up in front of colleagues who already know you and try and promote your achievements, and b) you don’t quite know how much to push the detail, as the panel (in my case anyway) generally have a really good idea already of what you do.  I decided to go for it and pretend I was still a new colleague.  The danger of not doing so means you potentially lose the enthusiasm and the examples, which definitely matter in setting yourself apart from other candidates. My presentation task was exactly the same format as in the blog post above (15 minutes on ‘my research and teaching contributions to Geography at Northumbria’), with the odd obvious tweaks to also show what I had already done/made changes to regarding teaching content and research culture – and what I intended to do for the next year.  Here is an example of how I adapted the teaching slide:

slide 2

 

This all went well (so I was told!) and some of the questions from the audience (of about 10 colleagues) were:

  • Aside from UK-based research councils, what other sources of funding can you target with your research? Would bigger players, such as EU money, be a possibility? My answer was yes, perhaps a little later in my career, but that the topics I research – such as sex work – are important for a variety of disciplines and therefore research funding is possible from health, legal, social and humanities perspectives/pots
  • Would you be wanting to investigate issues such as human trafficking in your research? My answer discussed briefly the need to debunk the common assumption that sex work = trafficking, and so it is implicitly part of my research at the moment, but not a key direction for the immediate future
  • What are the policing tactics in Blackpool regarding the brothels – how much do they intervene? I outlined this briefly, but *shameless plug alert* see my new paper for more details: http://sex.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/05/27/1363460715616949)

 

A panel interview then followed, which lasted around 30 minutes.  Preparation for this part of the interview had largely been writing lists of everything I had achieved so far in the department, including:

  1. a) research advances (writing up papers from my thesis; getting involved in the research group in the department; building networks inter and intra-faculty – with specific named examples)
  2. b) teaching achievements (introducing peer reading groups; making slight changes to module assessment; introducing a student Twitter competition; being nominated for ‘best lecturer’ from the student-led teaching awards.  Again, it is important to justify the changes, to show you are a reflective teacher)
  3. c) additional roles undertaken (e.g. I was ethics rep for the department; started a Twitter account in order to promote research/teaching activities; took part in open days)
  4. d) how I had developed as an academic (what skills have advanced; what would I like to improve on, e.g. PhD supervisor training)

Here were some of the questions asked (I won’t put my answers for all of them):

  • Why do you want the job; to continue your career here? I gave 3 reasons – one, outlining how I felt I had carved my own place in the department, but had still slotted into the research and teaching roles effectively (I gave a couple of examples about why I felt I had done so quickly); two, I briefly discussed the networks I had built for possible research collaboration and a little about the projects I had in mind with such colleagues; three, a personal reason
  • What is unique about you – why should we give you the job? This was probably the most tricky question for me, as I didn’t want to come across as arrogant.  I discussed the social media presence I had built and the new ways I had tried to get students to engage with the department and module content (e.g. a Twitter competition, with a prize for the best tweet about the fieldtrip module content); and my push for more independent learning skills being built into the programme.  I also discussed my additional roles (that I had voluntarily worked open days, and taken on admin roles such as ethics rep etc).
  • What would you say your best paper is/the paper you are most proud of? I changed my answer from when they asked me this last time, to discuss a new paper I was working on
  • Could you tell us about your next journal article submissions – why these have been targeted? In the end, the journals I was planning for submission were not deemed high quality enough for me to secure the permanent contract, according to the measures they were looking at – the Web of Science journal citation list – so be wary of this
  • What key issues does your research speak to, or your future research? Think about discipline-specific issues, plus wider relevance, and show that you have done your homework on potential impact at a variety of scales (give examples of how your work has begun to tackle said issues, or has the potential to – and why)
  • Where would you target funding applications for the projects you are currently planning (and why)?
  • Can you give an example of your proudest achievement from your teaching experience? What have you contributed so far?
  • What skills have you developed as an academic while working here? I was *very* stumped on this at first, so think about it! I think I discussed the ability for me to know what a journal expected regarding publication, now that I had been through the process once

 

Interview #3: Applying for a lectureship as an external candidate

The application process was again very similar to the outline in my first blog, with a cover letter (included in ‘supporting information’) of a very traditional academic application form, which just asked for CV information, and no additional statements.  If anybody would like to see a copy of my cover letter, please do ask!  When offered an interview (another victory dance ensued!!), the letter stated that the format would be:

–          A 5 minute (this was SO difficult!) presentation on your research as if part of a lecture for first-year geography students

–          A panel interview

–          A final interview with the Executive Dean at the end of the day

The presentation

After some assistance from a colleague (the fab @planographer) – and do see if you can get some peer feedback wherever possible! – the 5-minute presentation format was as follows:

Slide 1.  I introduced myself, and explained that the point of the presentation was to discuss my research interests and projects to date. I also said that: ‘But another key take-home message is the diversity of geography as a subject to study and its ability to understand and tackle a variety of social issues’

Slide 2 – I then presented my research interests around these three said issues.  Here is the slide:

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The rationale for the set-up here was that the power of 3 is difficult to beat, especially for first-years, and that I situated myself as a social geographer; predominantly interested in the connections between society, and space and place.  I then explained how my research slots into these 3 themes and then gave a very quick summary of my findings (slide 3), with some photos and a slide (4) on ‘what’s next’ (keeping this to two boxes – and taking care to relate this back to why geography is a great subject to study).  Again, if anybody would like to see the full thing then please just ask.  I was only asked questions from the audience about the research itself, relating to how many parlours there are in Blackpool, and policing strategies.

 

The panel interview

This included the associate head of school, the head of geography, a lecturer from a different school and a HR representative.  Here are as many of the questions (and answers!) that I can remember:

  • Why do you want the job? (a commonality across all 3 – so prepare this one well!) – again, I gave 3 reasons.  Always name particular research clusters/people you want to work with, identify modules you can contribute to, and I also included reference to how I really felt the ethos of the University spoke to my personal feelings regarding academia and education – such as being committed to widening participation at University (e.g. foundation courses are offered).  Another key thing to not forget is that they want to know what *you* can do for/bring to them, as well as what *they* can do for you (this will certainly be important in later questions).
  • Why should we give you the job/what makes you stand out from the room full of candidates out there in the next room?  I think I gave three reasons again here – one, that I felt that my research complemented several research clusters and would connect geography more readily with other UCLan researchers, both in its own Faculty and outside of it (and how/why this was necessary). I initially just mentioned the research clusters, but they prompted me to give more specific examples.  As part of my preparation, I had already identified 2 individuals who had interests in sex work and community dynamics – so I discussed research projects that had been previously done at UCLan and how my work would be relevant to them/contribute to them. Secondly, I discussed my social media focus, and how I had noticed that the department didn’t have a strong web presence in this regard – and what I had done at my previous institution to improve theirs. Thirdly, I mentioned my past work experience – my CV includes several roles in University administration and I said that I therefore had a good understanding of how Universities work operationally, plus was very aware of the importance of excellent teamwork across the various administrative and academic teams.  This also sent the message that I had juggled several different roles while completing my PhD; something definitely worth mentioning if you have also done so (voluntarily or paid).
  • How is your research impactful? I made sure that I discussed both the local context here – i.e. my doctoral research uncovered some intricate detail about relationships between various agents in the community, and how these relationships could be improved; and the issues with localised regulation of sex work and what can be done to address these) and the national/international context (i.e. contributions to sex work regulation; theorisation of community dynamics more broadly). Looking back, I should have mentioned the ways in which this impact should/could be disseminated going forward (e.g. I am now considering training events, and finding ways of incorporating better quality outreach services to existing organisations)
  • What will it bring to the Faculty/what projects are you working on?  Here, I returned briefly to the previous projects conducted at UCLan, and mentioned my next steps for research (plus what funding I intended to go for, and why).
  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years (this then got changed to 5 after my initial answer)? What contributions do you want to have made in your field? I always struggle with such questions – and I found myself blurting out that being in a temporary contract made it very difficult for me to think as far ahead as 10 years (this is when they switched it to 5!).  What this did do, however, was make me feel like I had made a bit of a personal connection with the panel (or more of one).  So when this got changed to 5, I discussed how I did not think about what I want for the future in job titles (e.g. ‘I want to be a Reader by the time I am …’).

1) I said that I wanted to have a paper out (or at least in press!) in Progress in Human Geography.

2) I hoped that I would be nearing completion of my next big post-doctorate project (I reiterated the details briefly of what project this would be)

3) I hoped that I was continually inspired by academia and the value of geography as a subject– so my final goal was to have carved my place at UCLan as a respected teacher, and to have seen off 5 rounds of happy, enthusiastic and successful geography students.  A little cheesy, but genuine!

  • What stage are you at with writing up publications from your thesis?  Bear in mind the panel often has your CV in front of them, so make sure you know what dates you have put down as predicted submission!! This was a straight forward question – but one paper had been delayed since submission of my application and so I was also honest about the reason.
  • You had a lot of teaching experience at your previous places of employment seemingly, with some considerable responsibility – how did you find managing the teaching load? This was a fairly generic managing workload question, so I mentioned my strategies for doing so, including: lots of colour-coded lists with deadlines on them, ensuring good working relationships with GTAs and the rest of the academic staff by having regular meetings and making use of the VLE, and setting myself small goals on a daily basis.  Anything novel for managing deadlines/workload is worth a mention – especially if it enables a bit of humour!  I love stationery shopping and so I’m sure I mentioned this obsession.
  • What teaching content would you introduce here? Always go prepared with material you could potentially contribute to what already exists – and what new module content/modules you would introduce and why.  Remember, key things on the minds of departments are employability and research-led teaching!
  • What do you do to make your classes interesting? I discussed my in-class quiz questions, my strategy of ten-minute intervals (i.e. every 10 minutes, I switch the tone of a lecture, ranging from me talking, to them thinking about a question, to having a two minute break, to getting them to work on something in pairs etc), and including guest speakers/little snippets of research stories.  I also said my general teaching ethos is do ‘anything to make the material relatable’ (which has involved me, rather embarrassingly, dressing up as an example!)
  • How do you incorporate research-led teaching into your modules/sessions? I always make a point of including research examples from staff in-house in my teaching, as well as my own, and I invite guest speakers working on key research projects.
  • What sort of support do you feel you would need from HR/the University in order to succeed in your academic roles? Rather a personal question, but I said that I would appreciate guidance on applying for research grants as I haven’t been a PI on a post-doc project yet.  I also mentioned that I would want some training on being a PhD supervisor.

Finally, the interview with the executive dean was largely, I was told afterwards, to clarify the research plans I had and to see if I was somebody that would fit into the Faculty/department.  I’m happy to say I got the job!

 

Tricky Trickster Questions

As an additional contribution to the bank of potential interview questions above, I did a bit of a social media survey on ‘what is the trickiest question you have been asked at interview?’ from my colleagues.  Here were their responses:

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Another response to my call was: ‘I asked a question to stump the panel’ – this candidate had done some homework on a relevant new government circular, and they asked what the panel thought this might mean for the area (the panel hadn’t heard of it!).

Many thanks to all who contributed! I hope this post has been helpful rather than terrifying for potential candidates, and do ask me for any additional clarification 🙂

Here’s hoping I’ll be seeing lots of victory dances from successful candidates in the near future!

 

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Gif from http://giphy.com/gifs/dance-fresh-prince-of-bel-air-IJBIpMtVD7yla

‘Being an Early Career Feminist Academic: Global perspectives, experiences and challenges’. New edited collection (Palgrave MacMillan)

I’m very excited to announce the impending publication of this fantastic edited collection, put together by Dr Rachel Thwaites (@REThwaites) and Dr Amy Pressland (@a_pressland).  Here is a description of the content taken from Palgrave’s website:

‘This book highlights the experiences of feminist early career researchers and teachers from an international perspective in an increasingly neoliberal academy. It offers a new angle on a significant and increasingly important discussion on the ethos of higher education and the sector’s place in society. Higher education is fast-changing, increasingly market-driven, and precarious. In this context entering the academy as an early career academic presents both challenges and opportunities. Early career academics frequently face the prospect of working on fixed term contracts, with little security and no certain prospect of advancement, while constantly looking for the next role. Being a feminist academic adds a further layer of complexity: the ethos of the marketising university where students are increasingly viewed as ‘customers’ may sit uneasily with a politics of equality for all. Feminist values and practice can provide a means of working through the challenges, but may also bring complications’.

Dr Anna Tarrant (@dratarrant) and I contributed a chapter to the collection, entitled: Exposing the ‘Hidden Injuries’ of Feminist Early Career Researchers: An Experiential Think Piece about Maintaining Feminist Identities.  Our chapter covers some of the difficulties we have faced as early career feminist academics in the current academic climate, and how we have collectively found positive ways to navigate though these and ‘heal’.  We are among great company – the contributions are fantastic.  Find out more details here: http://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9781137543240#aboutBook. The flyer with all of the chapter information is also attached below.

Being an Early Career Feminist Academic flyer (1)

Many thanks to Rachel and Amy for being such supportive editors!

 

 

 

 

 

RGS-IBG Geography and Employability Event, 19 May 2016

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Due to marking season, it’s been a few days since I could sit down and write a blog about the fantastic ‘Geography and Employability’ event that was organised by the RGS-IBG (http://www.rgs.org/OurWork/Research+and+Higher+Education/Research+and+Higher+Education+events.htm) for those that couldn’t make it.  I was hopeful that the day would provide some good tips for how to embed employability into degree schemes/extra-curricular activities for our undergraduates and postgraduates – and thankfully the event provided several of these.  I was also lucky enough to bump into the fantastic Prof. Fiona Tweed (@ProfFionaTweed) from Staffordshire University, who was invited to do a presentation at the event (more info to come later) and she kindly agreed to co-write the blog post with me.  So what follows is a collective summary of the event from both of us.

 

‘Geography is in good health!’

Led by Stephanie Wyse and Catherine Souch, we began with a very positive discussion about the popularity of geography in relation to uptake by GCSE/ A Level students in recent years (which was also picked up by the media – e.g. see http://geographical.co.uk/rgs/news/item/625-geography-student-numbers-increase and http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/13/the-guardian-view-on-geography-its-the-must-have-a-level).  Geography at degree level also typically does very well in NSS scores relating to student satisfaction and, according to evaluations (e.g. see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationpicturegalleries/9852535/Ten-recession-proof-degree-subjects.html?frame=2472759), seems to demonstrate a recession-proof strength in relation to employment figures post-graduation.

 

Key findings in recent employability studies

We then discussed the changing policy context for geography and employability – including the well-publicised white paper and Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – and some recent findings in employability studies. We won’t list them all, but here are some key points:

  • Careers advice needs to be tailored to subject; career options introduced early in studies and reinforced throughout the course
  • Responsibility for improving employment outcomes needs to be shared between HE providers, employers and students – this should be a partnership (both Wakeham/Shadbolt 2016)
  • Many students/graduates are, from the employer’s perspective, unable to make themselves stand out from a crowd
  • Employability offerings by HE providers are considerable and diverse, but students are dissuaded by some offerings (e.g. certain sectors/recruitment channels), and take-up needs to be more strategically timed (early/throughout degree) and targeted by subject/course
  • Employers have relatively limited engagement with HE providers but messages conveyed by employers carry more weight for students (all 3 IEW/IFF Research/QAA 2016)

Of course, the workshop participants also recognised the issues with data capture strategies and, as outlined by the organisers, there is an urgent need for improved longitudinal data about graduate employment.  One of the key messages to come out of the later discussions was that, for geography in particular, routes after graduation often involve the individual becoming a ‘global citizen’ (e.g. by undertaking voluntary roles). Therefore, a significant proportion of geography graduates may not have chosen traditional graduate routes, linked to graduate salaries, which are the measure of success in the alumni capture methods.  Some other key factors affecting the outcomes post-degree are:

  • The potential disparity between student and employer views of ‘graduate preparedness’
  • The changing graduate labour market (regionally and nationally) and the changing nature of employment, alongside the processes by which graduates are matched with graduate jobs
  • The role of universities as intermediaries (before and after graduation): subject-based support, careers services, other interventions

After some discussions of graduate attributes more broadly, we moved on to how geographers specifically are more employable.  Answers from the room included: diversity of contact time (fieldwork, lectures, lab work, seminars) and diversity of assessment (exams, traditional essays, data visualisations, oral presentations, reflexive journals, etc); a breadth of transferable skills (alongside subject-specific skills); a holistic understanding of world issues, which draws on several disciplines; geography is an ethical subject – graduates therefore leave University as global citizens as well as graduates.

 

Developing employable geographers

The event then moved on to a series of presentations offering a range of different approaches by various institutions, which are focused on enhancing employability. We haven’t included everything – what follows is a summary of some of the key messages from each presentation.

‘Re-chartering our employability offering’ – Jonathan Potts (University of Portsmouth)

Jon outlined a series of actions that have been embedded into the geography schemes at Portsmouth as a result of a multi-faceted, applied approach (involving academic and non-academic staff).  Key parts to this plan include:

  • An employability working group, including academic staff, technical staff and students (to brainstorm and roll out strategies)
  • A professional advisory group (consisting of external organisations and alumni students)
  • Employability resources embedded in all units and at all levels of study, including:
  • Introducing new placement (sandwich) degrees for 2016-17
  • Introducing a new ‘Employability for Geographers’ unit at L6 (feedback from students suggests this is also desired at L5). Assessment includes a reflexive journal and a portfolio
  • A dedicated Moodle site (feedback from students did, however, suggest that this was not particularly useful – and so a more social media-based strategy is to be adopted)
  • Guest speakers in units – former students (again emphasising the importance of alumni) and professionals
  • Monopolise key research skills and research contacts of staff!

 

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Related to the final point, another important message – and problem – that was mentioned is that it is often not just the issue of trying to engage students to think about employability that presents barriers; sometimes staff are difficult to get on board.  Similarly, educating employers is also key – so involve them in such strategies wherever possible.

‘Employability day’, or, as they called it (and I really enjoyed!), The ‘Bath Spa Treatment’ – Becky Schaaf (Bath Spa University)

Becky introduced the presentation by explaining why they had introduced an employability day; namely to try and get students to think about what they want to do after their degree and figure out what values are important to them early on (at Level 4).  This was a non-compulsory day (although, as attendance was outlined as an issue, making the day compulsory is being considered).  Below are some of the activities included:

  • A reflective skills/values audit with paired discussions
  • Discussions around what is possible in their subject, and from students as individuals
  • Relatedly, making students think about the ‘you-shaped’ hole in employment opportunities; what is unique about them and how to sell this in applications and interviews
  • A creativity/enterprise activity involving being given data from a local council to develop an idea to improve the community – with a prize for the best idea. This activity encouraged students to use data in a creative way (and enables creativity to be seen as more than just art and design – including how to apply this to a professional environment) in order to solve problems. This idea was then mapped out onto a business canvas and pitched back to the group; another key skill
  • The feedback was very positive, with all participants saying they would recommend the event
  • Issues – this was not subject specific, so the presenters discussed the possibility of making this solely a geographical-based event

‘Alumni Networking Events’ – Kean Fan Lim (University of Nottingham)

Co-coordinated with the careers office, Kean outlined the alumni network events that University of Nottingham run for Geography. He mentioned how key the events team were for promoting such events (weekly bulletins), and that the Geography society were also involved in promotion.  The events are run as follows:

    • Informal setting, usually in a pub (and with a budget – for one drink on the house!)
    • 7-8 alumni students from different sectors and at different career stages are invited
    • Speed-dating set-up, with students moving round each visiting alumni
    • Informal setting meant that students felt relaxed, could talk honestly and openly about their experiences, and ask questions
    • Around 70 attendees at the last one, indicating a positive response

 

‘The Geography Undergraduate Research Assistantship Module – Fiona Tweed (Staffordshire University)

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Fiona outlined the introduction of a research assistantship module into geography degree schemes; this module originated as a research-engaged learning exercise. While it still operates as such, she emphasised the benefits of such a module as an employability tool– enabling students to gain valuable research assistant experience, to ‘demystify’ the research environment for them, and to make them stand out in an interview panel.  Fiona also noted the broader benefits for academics – such a process boosts research culture in a department and makes students feel more included.  A brief overview of the format is below:

  • The module is for Level 6 (3rd year) and totals 150 learning hours, which can be spread over one or two semesters
  • Assessment comprises an oral presentation and a reflective report, including a work diary
  • Projects are advertised and students apply for them, providing a CV and cover letter. Students’ skills and aptitudes were assessed against the requirements of the post, as they would be in an ordinary employment situation. Interviews then take place, should decisions not be made from the written process alone.

A more comprehensive outline can be found in:

 

The journal article (Tweed and Boast, 2011) also discusses how the module was evaluated – namely by two key measures: student performance and student/staff/client feedback.  Students generally perform very well, with upper second and first class marks gained for the module – and, most significantly, excellent research outputs are often produced.  Feedback contained a plethora of very positive responses from students relating to the depth of the knowledge in specialist subjects gained; the research, presentation and organisational skills that were enhanced; and their belief that the module had enhanced their employability.  Staff reported that they felt the assistantships allowed the reinvigoration of their research, plugged a gap in resources and acted as a spring-board for future grant applications.  Client feedback included in the article described the impactful student projects, the more effective consolidation of working relationships between academia and external clients, and enabling clients to conduct research where only limited resources are available.   Overall, the module has multiple benefits for multiple stakeholders.

 

‘Bristol Q-Step Degrees’ – Rich Harris (University of Bristol)

Rich began by highlighting that, generally, quantitative analysis aptitude is poor for social science students. Bristol Q-step is, he outlined is, ‘part of a £19.5 million initiative designed to promote a step-change in quantitative social science training in the UK. A set of three (B.Sc.) and four year (M.Sci.) degree programmes are offered, with a shared cross-disciplinary pathway designed to boost confidence in analysing, presenting and interpreting quantitative data, as well as promoting understanding of quantitative social science’.  Examples include BSc/MSci Geography with quantitative research methods – with the latter deliberately being tagged in the degree title to emphasise its presence.  The QAA statement for Geography, he stated, clearly emphasises the need for numeracy and numerical skills, for attention to spatial statistics and scale, and to being able to use a range of statistical data collection and analysis strategies.

Rich outlined that students are taught there is more to quantitative geography than ‘just numbers’; they are shown how to turn quantitative data into useable formats, to do creative things with it, and to communicate it effectively.  Importantly, this strategy is also very much about employability – Rich draw from this report http://www.niesr.ac.uk/publications/state-nation-review-evidence-supply-and-demand-quantitative-skills#.V0iGzWf2aUk which reviewed the evidence on current levels of demand for quantitative skills (QS) from employers the UK, and the extent to which this demand is matched by supply. This clearly showed an increase from 1997 to more recent years in the levels of which more advanced maths/stats skills are considered essential/important for candidates. Rich was not making a case for quantitative methods to be the only relevant aspect of a degree; rather he was highlighting the need to reinvigorate them in geography degree schemes, keeping the view of the holistic discipline that covers several methodological bases in mind.

 

Finally

The event finished with a series of very short, sharp presentations on what the RGS-IBG offers to complement such strategies in degree schemes. These include:

 

The appendix of the handout also contained an executive summary of the fabulous project undertaken by Dr Anna Laing (@AnnaFLaing) while she was a Research Associate at Northumbria University, entitled ‘Embedding Employability in the Geography Department’.  This included several tips for departments to research the effectiveness of their employability strategies, alongside some important findings.  Contact Anna for more information.

Overall, the event was a great way to share ideas and best practice, alongside prompting some really positive discussions about why we all think Geography is such a great subject to study and teach. It was thoroughly enjoyable and we highly recommend similar events.

Fostering Student Engagement

Bkso1eZIQAAlnU3I have been working my way through the Certificate in Academic Practice (CAP) qualification this academic year, which has involved a portfolio of reflective exercises and pieces of coursework.  The main piece was a written critical review to summarise the main learning experiences, and I chose to structure mine around the multiplicity of roles a teacher has, and how these are managed (or not, as the case may be!). One of these roles is seemingly the most obvious – to be an educator – but also, for most keen lecturers, they aspire to be an effective and engaging educator; one that students can relate to, learn from, and enjoy being taught by. This brings in the important issue of student engagement: what this means, and how to ensure it occurs.

I recently attended a fantastic event facilitated by the Organisation and Educational Development department at Lancaster University, called the “Sharing Practice Event: Fostering Student Engagement” (see here for the abstracts http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/hr/OED/spday/prog.html).  Departments from across the University came together to discuss these issues, and to offer suggestions as to how their department encourages students to take ownership of this engagement process, and make it more of a two-way experience.  Part of my problem this year – as a new lecturer – was that I felt this responsibility to be solely on my shoulders, and in rather superficial ways (are they writing in lectures, or is their body language suggesting interest? – as examples). These are valid points, but, as I am learning, student engagement is much more about “giving students the tools to self-regulate and have agency” rather than “telling them what to do” (LUMS, 2014) and thus being mainly responsible.  An engaged learner, as defined by Exeter et al (2010) is “one who is a ‘deep’ learner, seeking to develop his/her knowledge, reflecting on the facts and details presented in the lecture related to their own experiences and ‘the big picture’” (p. 3).  By contrast, the disengaged student typically takes notes during the lecture and memorises facts and key points in order to obtain a ‘pass’ for the course; they are therefore just “passive learners” (Hover et al, 2010). This is not to say that students who write furiously and pay attention in lectures/seminars cannot be effective learners; rather that student engagement is not just confined to the classroom. It must be when conducting independent study-related activities – such as critical thinking when reading journal articles, or collecting dissertation data and having to make key ethical on-the-spot decisions – and also in employment (Krause, 2007).  Thus, it has a temporal as well as spatial facet.

As such, one of my suggestions for my own teaching next year is to make use of some more formative methods of feedback – conducting short, (hopefully fun) quizzes for example, providing research ethics “scenarios” for students to provide their thoughts on, or finding appropriate formative methods of collecting student feedback rather than relying on end-of-module feedback forms.  These are obviously not exhaustive suggestions – any more are welcome!

Another suggestion by Gill Burgess and Sharon McCulloch from the Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) in their paper on the Student Engagement Day was given via their discussion of their Academic Writing Zone.  Postgraduate students are given the opportunity to have shared writing slots with Undergraduates in a specified zone, in order to improve writing skills, but also to make writing a social practice.  One of the issues that many of my Undergraduate students have been facing is that they have a lack of confidence when it comes to writing; making this a social practice therefore hopefully allows them to see that they are not alone in this, and allows open discussion and shared practice with peers.  What LUMS also find is that the PhD students benefit greatly from this; not only in relation to career-related experience for their CV, but also because their own writing confidence and aptitude improves. There is no better way for improving one’s own subject expertise or writing style than by communicating it effectively to someone else. They also become more effective at being a fair but assertive self-critic.

One of LUMS’ other main messages was to “involve students as co-creators of learning development” – consult them and find out what will support their learning experience and make them partners in ensuring this “depth” to the learner identity.  After it was expressed by several students that the mathematics skills support was limited, LUMS began consulting with students to discover what additional mathematics provision can be provided by the department – again, with the hope that both postgraduate and undergraduate students (of all backgrounds) can come together to make learning a social practice (learning with and from each other).

Finally, one of the most uplifting sessions of the day, I felt, was the presentation by Dr. Saskia Vermeylen about teaching a second-year Geography field trip to Tunisia (exploring colonial legacies, inequality and injustice).  This trip unfortunately could not run because of political unrest and therefore an in-house residential had to be run at Lancaster with obvious changes to the assessment methods for the course.  Upon recruiting someone from the Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Arts (LICA) one of the assessment methods selected were propositional objects. It was decided that these were the “more appropriate tools to allow a deeper understanding of multiple narratives related to post-colonial theory, but also use critical reason as a mechanism to explore and experience agency in the hope to transform or change a world characterised by injustice and equality”. Giving students the ownership to decide what “object”, how it was to be performed or presented, and what this represented for the community in question – as opposed to a traditional essay for example – allowed them to step into the colonial legacy and communicate it to an audience, and thus generating this “deeper” experience.  Although the method of assessment was initially met with some concerns from students – due to its more open, less prescriptive format in relation to assessment criteria – the fantastic coursework produced was incredibly moving; it was, as she described in the presentation “magical”, and it was felt that this was a far more appropriate method of assessment.  Students produced work ranging from works of art, to a board game, to creative (dramatic) presentations.  See her abstract also for some interesting references to border pedagogy.

What I have taken from my teaching experiences in using non-traditional assessment methods, the CAP course, and from the student engagement day, is to understand the term “student engagement” and the practice in relation to its temporal complexity, the importance of encouraging this “deep learning” experience, and the importance of students in this process. They have fantastic ideas – involving them in designing and facilitating support to provide this depth is mutually beneficial, and experimenting a little with the collection of student feedback, and in designing assessment methods (where available/appropriate), is welcome practice. Going out of both teacher and student comfort zone in this latter regard is evidence of the importance in prioritising the “deep” learning identity and learning outcomes of the course (and their longevity) over course or teacher popularity sometimes!   

References

Exeter, D., Ameratunga, S., Ratima, M., Morton, S., Dickson, M., Hsu, D. and Jackson, R. (2010).  “Student engagement in very large classes: the teacher’s perspective”. Studies in Higher Education 35 (7), pp. 761-775

Hover, J. and Hartle, M. (2010) “Read/Write Lectures: Fostering Active Participation and Increasing Student Engagement in the Lecture Hall”. 10th IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org.ezproxy.lancs.ac.uk/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=5573171 [09/07/14]

Krause, K. 2007. New Perspectives on Engaging First Year Students in Learning. Brisbane: GriffithInstitute for Higher Education.