Congratulations on the new position! How do you feel about becoming the new Head of School?
I’m really excited! It’s a big job and I’m looking forward to it very much.
How long have you been at QMUL?
Since 1999—so fifteen years. I previously worked for 5 years as a lecturer at the University of Southampton. I did my undergraduate degree at Cambridge, and my MA and PhD at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver – all in Geography.
So why Geography?
Geography is an incredibly fascinating subject. It’s relevant, interesting, and engaging. There is so much to learn about the world, the people within it, and how they both affect each other. There’s enormous scope for doing research in many different subjects on local to global scales. The scope and relevance of Geography makes it a great subject to teach.
What are your main areas of interests?
I’m fascinated by the idea of home, from domestic to global scales, and how ideas and experiences of home change as people migrate. How does home come to be reimagined when you have moved somewhere else? How does home travel? How and why do people have multiple and co-existing ideas and experiences of home?
My early work was about women and imperial travel, particularly Mary Kingsley who travelled to West Africa in the 1890s. Building on that, my PhD focused on imperial domesticity in British India. Then I wrote a book on Anglo-Indian women and the spatial politics of home, thinking about home on domestic, national and transnational scales for this community of mixed descent in India, Britain and Australia both before and after Indian Independence.
What other projects have you done?
A recent project called ‘Diaspora Cities’ focused on the city in a diasporic imagination. We studied four small communities from Calcutta and their migration to London, Toronto, and various cities in Israel and found that these minority communities felt a stronger attachment to the city rather than the nation as home. I am now working on a new project called ‘Home, migration and the city,’ which explores the relationships between home-making in the city and ideas about the wider city as home, particularly in East London.
Like many other colleagues in Geography at QMUL, I also do a lot of collaborative work with museums. I co-direct the Centre for Studies of Home, a partnership between QMUL and the Geffrye Museum of the Home in east London. I co-supervise a number of PhD students doing collaborative projects with the Geffrye, and also with the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green on a programme called ‘The Child in the World.’
My research is directly tied to what I teach – and equally, discussing ideas with students raises questions that then inform my research. I am excited about teaching on two first year modules this year. I am part of the team teaching a new module, ‘Global Worlds,’ and my lectures will focus on home, diaspora and identity. I’m also looking forward to teaching about feminist and postcolonial geographies on ‘Geographical Ideas and Practice.’
How do you think you’re going to change or make a difference in the department?
The School runs incredibly well as it is, and is a great place to work and study. My role is to ensure everything runs effectively and successfully for students and staff, and in particular to ensure that all students feel that they are a central part of the School from the day they arrive at QMUL. As part of this, we have an exciting new project for all first year students in Week 1, working with an organization called Geography Collective to explore green spaces in London as part of the wider idea of London as a National Park. The week will end with a ceilidh (Scottish dancing) in the Octagon, which will be a great opportunity for students and staff to meet and get to know each other. I’m also looking forward to working closely with GeogSoc, Springboards and course reps to ensure that our students have the best possible experience during their time at QMUL.
How do the School help their students to find work after they graduate?
We take employability very seriously and are committed to doing all we can to help our students find work once they graduate. Dr Emily Lines is our Careers and Employability Officer. Emily and other colleagues work very closely with QMUL Careers and our alumni. We include employability as part of our curriculum in lectures from the first year onwards, and also provide support in tutorials and via online resources. We also run events where students can meet with alumni working in different fields. One thing to stress is that the substantive content of what students learn as geographers and environmental scientists, together with their advanced skills training, provide very strong foundations for finding work after graduation.
What kind of advice would you give to a first year student?
Enjoy learning new things, meeting new people, and being fully involved in the life of the School! I remember my undergraduate tutor telling me that there are 24 hours in a day: 8 hours for sleeping, 8 hours for working, and 8 hours for everything else! Make sure you attend all of your lectures, tutorials and practical work, and be well-organised in terms of time and keeping up with reading and coursework. We’re a very friendly and supportive School, and please ask your tutor, lecturers or me if you have any questions or have anything you would like to discuss. The School reception desk is open every day, and Eleanor Schreiber will also be able to answer a lot of your questions. Make the most of the opportunity to read, write and talk to people, and find where your passion lies in Geography or Environmental Science! Also be actively involved in the life of the School, through GeogSoc, Springboards, and perhaps signing up to be a course rep or Geography Ambassador. Geographers are always interested in where they are in the world, so get to know this part of London. London is a fascinating city and there is so much on the doorstep! Most of all, enjoy your time in the School and at QMUL. You will find new experiences, new opportunities, new friends, and you will achieve great things.