Job Title:

Professor in environment and development

What exactly is that?

I work as a professor at a University in Leeds in the north of England. I’m involved in doing new research on environment and development issues, as well as lecturing to students studying for their degrees.

How did you get there?

I didn’t have a grand plan to become a professor, it just kind of happened.

I got decent grades at school and then studied geography at university. After my degree I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I stayed in education and did an MSc in Environmental Monitoring and Assessment in Drylands. It helped that I was awarded a bursary to cover my costs.

During the MSc I applied to do a PhD in Geography as I found I was really enjoying the research side of things. After the PhD, I had a couple of jobs as a research assistant (where you do the leg work on someone else’s project), then as a research fellow (where you design and execute your own projects).

I then applied for a lectureship in Leeds and worked my way up the career ladder there.

To become a professor you have to demonstrate that you can lecture (including designing and delivering your own curriculum). You have to publish research papers in scientific journals and show some kind of leadership (in my case I was Director of the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds). You also have to be successful in winning research grants.

It’s a collective effort though because I work with a big team of people all over the world in my research. I couldn’t have got to where I am in my career without those networks.

I don’t want my research to just sit on a shelf and gather dust. I want it to make a difference. As such, I also work with a lot of “research users” – the people who can benefit from the new knowledge that I’m generating.

In my case, this involves a lot of fieldwork with farmers in Africa, working with them to help them manage their land in a more sustainable way. I also work with the United Nations feeding my research findings into their policies.

Describe a typical day in your life

I normally get up around 7am. I’ll have a shower, eat a bowl of porridge with plain yoghurt and blueberries, drink a pint of water, a pint of tea and then head into work on the bus (30 minutes then a 10 minute walk).

Sometimes I’ll call into the sports centre at the university and swim 40 lengths to wake myself up.

I normally have a few skype calls with project teams all around the world (juggling the different time zones so that no one has to get up too early/stay at work too late can be challenging!). Then I’ll give a lecture to my undergraduate students.

After lunch I’ll respond to emails, meet with some of my PhD students and review a grant proposal or journal paper.

I travel a lot in my job so I’ll probably email the travel agent with a request for flights or trains to somewhere obscure. Then there will be a lot of back and forth in trying to work out what visas I need etc if I’m going overseas.

Around 6pm I’ll leave the office and get the bus home. It depends what day it is as to what I do in the evenings. I might meet up with friends at someone’s house, go out for dinner, go to a pilates or zumba class or phone a few family members to see how they are.

I like to say I go to bed early-ish around 10pm but in reality that’s just when I start to think about going to bed. It’s nearer 11pm after sorting my things out for the next day that I actually get into bed.

What’s the best thing about what you do?

The travel and the amazing people I get to meet, the fabulous landscapes I get to see and the new friends I make along the way. I really enjoy learning too so my job suits me well!

What’s the one thing you would change if you could?

I’d speed up the uptake of research results as this is a daily frustration I face. Sustainability problems like climate change are truly urgent and really need sorting out much faster than politics and human behaviour allows.

We only have one planet so we need to act now to do what we can to look after it.

Humans in general don’t like to change their behaviour. But if we don’t do something soon it will get more and more expensive to sort out the mess we are making and it’ll leave a terrible mess for future generations.

What did you want to do for  living when you were at school?

When I was really little I wanted to be a giraffe when I grew up, but at that time didn’t know that such things weren’t possible!

For ages I was going to be a concert pianist as music was my main hobby when I was at school. When it came to applying to university, I decided to do geography rather than music. That way I could keep music as a hobby and something I enjoyed rather than it being pressured as my form of income.

I took the advice of professional musicians in making this decision when doing work experience with the BBC symphony orchestra. They alerted me to the lack of job security in the music industry and said if I was good at anything else and enjoyed any other subjects I should consider those for a career. I am glad I listened!

Tell us about one thing you were insecure about when you were at school

I was worried people thought I was a music geek. I didn’t do anything about it though as I enjoyed playing the piano, flute and violin and realised that it didn’t matter what other people thought. In fact, many of the people I’m still in touch with now from my school days are friends I met through doing music.

What advice would you give yourself at 18 years old if you could?

Be authentic to yourself. Don’t do things because other people think or tell you that you should. You are responsible for your own decisions and actions and have the power to create the path in life that you want.

What’s your favourite thing to do in your spare time?

I like hiking out in the countryside, skiing, visiting friends and baking in my spare time.

What’s the title of the last book you read?

I was recently on an expedition to Antarctica so actually, the last book I read was a field guide to birds in Antarctica! I can’ t remember the exact title and I didn’t read it cover to cover, but I spent a long time working out what I’d seen that day. You can read more about my recent Homeward Bound project here

Please share with us one beauty tip you have learned

Less is more. There are so many beauty products out there that claim to do x, y and z but ultimately the best thing you can do to look beautiful is to smile.

Share with us a money tip

Live within your means.

Share with us a life lesson you have learned

Be courageous and don’t just dream about what you want to do, find a way and make it happen.

Tell us about your favourite recent purchase for £25 or under

I recently bought a picture frame for some art I bought in Africa. I’m mid-way through renovating my house at the moment so I’m excited about it being finished so that I can put the picture on the wall.

Whats the best way for people to contact you for more info?

Email is probably the best way to contact me:

or via my work website:

GDG E-book, Life after Lessons available now!

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