November 16, 2012, by Matt

A day in the life of a Geographer … Andy Cook

It has been a while since my last contribution and it follows one of the busiest weeks of my year in terms of teaching provision. Despite the hectic nature of this week it has been exceptionally satisfying as a lot of different subjects have been taught, a few new techniques have been used and all in all I feel as though it has been very successful. In addition to undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, the School welcomed Dr Al James from Queen Mary, University of London for a seminar (and a swift post-seminar pint) that explored the ‘work life balance’ (WLB) of workers in the IT sector in the UK and Ireland. I will talk a little bit about teaching, the seminar and how the latter interlinked with some of this week’s MSc work on gender, work and the working body.

The week began on Tuesday with my first lecturing contribution on the second year module Techniques in Human Geography which focused upon how to plan and conduct interviews as well as how to analyse and interpret interview data. Techniques, method and methodology are a vital part of academic life and are central to the production of effective and impact heavy research as well as being vital for undergraduate students who are currently preparing their dissertations for submission next year. One of the main challenges in teaching such matters to large groups of students regards how to engender deeper and more practically focused modes of learning given the obvious challenges posed by the size of the group. To this end, instead of standing in front of the class telling them how to do an interview for the entire 90 minutes (potentially nodding off material) I tried a few new things to liven the session up. First, I encouraged the students to prepare, in ten minutes, a plan for a 10 minute interview on a topic I had provided (relating to the challenges facing academics in the current financial climate). Following this, and with the aid of a random number generator and powerful microphones, I selected a couple of students (thanks Jennifer and Lauren) to interview me at the front of the lecture theatre. The idea behind this was to provide some practical experience for the two students, but also, so that the group could witness what it was that the brave duo did right and what they did wrong. Following this I gave a series of practical pieces of advice that should, I hope, mean that the students will be able to plan, conduct and analyse the interview process as a whole. Additionally, the lecture was videoed courtesy of Claire Chambers and, hopefully, will be available as a podcast shortly. This theme of ‘trying something different’ will be developed further next week and will again involve the audience but in a slightly different way as the focus will be upon questionnaire and survey design. I would like to reiterate my thanks to Jennifer and Lauren who did a great job. It is no mean feat to interview someone well, let alone in front of 80 odd students and a video camera!!!

Further to some undergraduate teaching I have been heavily involved with our human geography MSc students this week, and we have been exploring at some length the links between ‘culture’ and ‘the economy’ and the ways in which our understandings of the economy have been transformed radically by research in human geography over the last twenty years or so. The adoption of culturally inflected approaches to studying economic activity has served to radically rescale the way we think about economic practice – away from industrial location modeling and bid-rent theories, towards ways that explore the ways in which the economy is socially constructed, embedded in a variety of different ways and how things such as regulation, bodily performance, language, behavior and so on are intimately bound up in the ways in which society and the economy are reproduced. Such a focus proved extremely useful as, on Wednesday evening, the School welcomed Dr Al James for a research theme seminar that explored the notion of work life balance within the service sector. This was an extremely informative session as it teased out many of the challenges in implementing successful WLB policies, the impact that successful WLB policies have upon productivity and turnover as well as highlighting some of the very real and existing differences that exist relating to gender, child birth and caring responsibilities that these policies have to negotiate. It was exceptionally reassuring to see a number of our postgraduate community in attendance who will hopefully have drawn much from the research in interpreting the kinds of ideas we have been focusing upon in seminars. It was unfortunate that, due to the Gloucester City Vs. Leyton Orient match in the FA Cup I had to leave the post-seminar drinks early (I have waited 25 years to see Gloucester play in the 1st Round of the FA Cup which is my defence and I am sticking firmly to it).

So all in all a positive week of teaching and some nascent attempts to try out some strategies from my point of view. The next month or so until the Christmas vacation will be teaching dominated and then, I will revert into research mode for the Christmas period and try to finish off a number of papers I have been writing on offshore finance and China’s fiscal policy.

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