By Craig Jones
I’m a Lecturer in Political Geography here in Newcastle and I’ve been here with my wife, Caitrin, for just over a year and a half. Life here is good. I’ve got beautiful views to the east and on a clear day I can see the North Sea. Today is cloudy, but my spirits are high because writing this feels like I’m reconnecting with you all at UBC, and that always brings a smile. I have few complaints and lots to be grateful for, not least my health. The transition back into UK life and work was surprisingly straightforward and despite having spent nearly nine years in Vancouver, in many ways it feels like I never left. Caitrin insists that my accent is become more British by the week, to which I incredulously reply, “I am British”. We like it here. Newcastle is an understated post-industrial city that seems to make the most of its fairly recent – and still felt – decline. It is understated, eminently walkable, comparatively cheap and is full of friendly Geordies who more than live up to their stereotype. It’s also surrounded by some of the most stunning countryside and coastline in Britain, much of which feels ‘untouched’ compared to many places in the South of the country. I sometimes even feel a vague and confused sense of northern pride. To the locals, I may as well be from Cornwall, and Caitrin, of course, is automatically a Trumplander.
There is no such thing as a day in the life of a Lecturer here at Newcastle – much like anywhere else, I suspect. Weeks and months have a certain rhythm, but during term-time the days feel like organised chaos. We are contracted to teach and do admin for around 60 per cent of the time – and the remainder 40+ per cent is spent on research. Student numbers are high, as are tuition fees, so there is a parallel responsibility not only to ensure ‘Teaching Excellence’, but also to create student satisfaction. The latter has a seemingly insatiable appetite, and one’s work is never done. One big difference between the UK and Canadian systems – so far as I can tell – is that here in the UK we do a lot of team-teaching. This can mean several people teaching on an individual course (or ‘module’ here). It also means that it is common to teach across and ‘drop in’ to several courses for the odd lecture. This has both benefits and drawbacks but one thing I have particularly enjoyed is the co-creation of lectures and knowledge and learning from many different pedagogic styles.
By Amy Thai
When we’re young and someone asks us, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” it’s an easy answer. “A teacher!” “A doctor!” “An astronaut!” And maybe these days we’ll also hear, “A YouTuber!” When I graduated from university, I thought I wanted to go into “community-based environmental outreach”. I wanted to teach everyone how to be green and save the world. But I’ve now realized that what I want to be when I grow up is a moving target (as well as the definition of when we’ve “grown up”). Each job I’ve had has been a lesson in what I like and dislike when it comes to a career, and I’m still looking for that sweet spot.
Modelling my “instrumented bicycle” that I rode to collect data for my Master’s thesis
I completed my B.Sc. in Environmental Science (2005) with a minor in Physical Geography at UBC. My undergraduate education exposed me to a variety of sciences, including chemistry, biology, and physics, but it was the Department of Geography that stole my heart, hence the minor because I took enough geography classes for UBC to officially recognize my affinity for the department. I loved the small classes, passionate professors, and homely permanent temporary building that never seemed to change despite all the futuristic glass and reclaimed wood structures popping up everywhere else on campus. It reflected the department that it housed: a humble and unassuming powerhouse. Geographers were kind, intelligent, and a little rough and quirky. Those classes in GIS and meteorology made me feel like I had just scratched the surface of something so much bigger, so I applied to do my M.Sc. in geography. I wanted to be part of that gritty yet brainy plaid- and fleece-wearing community. I didn’t apply anywhere else because there was nowhere else I wanted to study. I already felt at home here. Despite those cautions of putting all of your eggs in one basket, I got in. For two years, I worked under Ian McKendry and my thesis focused on air pollution along bicycle routes. It was only after I was accepted to the program that I learned he was an avid cyclist too: I saw it as another sign I was in the right place. I had a pretty awesome time collecting data by cycling around the city, my handlebars laden with scientific equipment that was worth orders of magnitude more than my bike. To me, undergrad was a taste of university, but in grad school, I could really gorge on the university experience. I loved learning how to formulate my own hypothesis and designing a study to test it out. Chasing knowledge was a lot more rewarding than sitting in a lecture hall and having it handed to me. I graduated in 2007, and was off into the real world.