Infographics: An Introduction

For the 2014 RGS-IBG Conference held at the Royal Geographical Society I will be presenting in the poster session ‘Visualising Economic Geographies’ with a poster that focuses on the global impact of the temporary staffing industry. I have become interested in various forms of data visualisation, more recently the use of infographics. To go alongside my poster I have produced a short guide to infographics including a brief overview of what they are, how they are used, some tips for producing effective infographics, an introduction to platforms for making infographics as well as a short guide on how to make them using Microsoft Publisher and Inkscape.

If you’d like to find about more about using infographics, or how to use infographics in research do come along to the poster session ‘Visualising Economic Geographies’ at the RGS conference – Thursday 28th August, Session 3 (14:40) in the Drayson room.

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A new podcasting platform for PhD and early career researchers in the social sciences

I have written before about how useful I find podcasts for teaching and for broadening your geographical mind, and more recently I have discovered a new website which hosts podcasts from PhD and early career researchers: Viva Voce Podcasts.

VivevocepodcastsThis website acts as a platform for researchers in the social sciences to present podcasts up to 4 minutes long about their research project. Updated frequently this is an excellent portal to find out about research projects recently completed or being carried out now.

Some podcasts currently on the website include:

There’s even a podcast by yours truly about the temporary staffing industry in Europe.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 17.43.49The website covers a range of subjects within the social sciences: anthropology, economics, education, geography, history, international development, linguistics, philosophy, politics,  sociology, and urban planning.

  • For secondary school students it’s a useful resource to find out about a whole host of areas of different research across the social sciences.
  • For undergraduate and postgraduate researchers it’s useful to find out about different ways of doing research – topics, methods, approaches and theories.
  • For researchers and anyone with an interest in what’s happening in the world its useful to find out about a plethora of different up to date research projects, and new researchers too.

So to find out more about up-to-date research, check out VivaVocePodcasts.

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Reflections on Academia 2.0: Challenges of impact, communication and relevance

This is the first of a series of posts related to a recent event I attended at the University of Manchester, Academia 2.0 challenges of impact, communication and relevance. The event organised by Dr Gale Raj-Reichert and was supported by the British Academy and the Hallsworth Endowment at the University of Manchester. The event covered issues related to:

  • Communication: how academics can reach different audiences
  • Challenges of impact
  • The relevance of academic research

Academia 2.0 event flyerThe programme had a mix of academics from across the social sciences but also from different career stages and it was extremely useful to hear about their experiences. The event was a great opportunity to meet with other early career researchers and explore these issues which are now so crucial to a successful career in academia. Rather than work through the discussions of each presentation this post identifies some of the key issues and ideas that I drew from across the event.

One if the introductory speakers  highlighted that the British Academy in addition to their post-doctoral fellowships they also have the opportunities to apply for small grants, and that these are a good way to get a bit of funding to extend a research project (for example continue with issues brought up in your PhD research). A successful application for a small research grant would also provide good leverage if you then applied for a larger grant in the future (if you can use the small grant efficiently and show you are worth funding).

You can find out more about the British Academy Small Research Grants (and their other funding opportunities here.

Something that was highlighted, and was reiterated on several occasions was that the landscape for new academics has changed, and that there is a need to think beyond journal publications, or a monograph – but to the wider relevance and impact agenda of research.  While this might seem challenging I actually think it presents a lot of different and interesting opportunities.


It is something that some academics have shied away from but also something that has been embraced wholeheartedly by others. It was mentioned that engagement, while is seen by many as just an outlet for research, can actually be a stimulus for research, it can be used as a two way interactive process. I’m really keen to engage with other audiences. I’m particularly keen in trying to help bridge the gap between secondary and higher education (and I will write about the specific ways I’m trying to do this in a future post). I’m  currently in the process of setting up a website to explore different aspects of economic geography in a more accessible manner – and to highlight that it is interesting! It’s currently under construction but can be found at:

However, there are a couple of good examples from physical geography websites which have sought to bridge the gap between academic research and the public:

Websites, are just one way of engaging with a wider audience, but there are also a whole host of opportunities to engage with other groups in face to face situations. I am diverging a little from the purpose of this post so return to the main focus, the key messages I have taken away from the event:

  • It is important to think about alternative ways of disseminating your research to a wider audience.
  • It’s important to think about alternative formats of presenting research findings.
  • It’s important to think about the impact of your research – who could this research reach beyond the academic sphere.
  • That it’s really important to evidence your activities and which piece of research they relate to.


Academics are often being asked to show their ‘impact’. The underlying reason for this is that researchers are often using public money and therefore need to justify the use of it. However, as was highlighted at the Academia 2.0 event it should be seen as a chance to demonstrate what research does for those not engaged in the research community. While there may be concerns that the effect of increasing pressure to take into account impact from the very beginning will have an impact on funding decisions, it should be remembered that most social science disciplines are founded in the expectation of research that will drive change in society – so identifying potential impact shouldn’t be too difficult.

Some of the other key points raised about impact were:

  • Impact is a long term factor to be considered – it is not a ‘quick fix’.
  • Impact will be greater if you take a consistent approach.
  • It is possible to combine impact with research and use the impact agenda to add diversity to your research.
  • It is important to use the impact agenda creatively – it’s not just another box to tick – it provides an option to expand and reinvigorate the role of academics in public life.
  • It is important to build impact into your CV as an academic – essentially it is about building a corpus of evidence.
  • It is important to consider engagement with different groups and stakeholder communities not as an add on to research but as a potential source of ideas and insights, even if you do not directly use this as a source of data. Present your findings in a non-academic area to interested parties (such as practitioner forums ), and use social and traditional media to try and spread your key ideas. Along with this it is a good idea to monitor your presence in social media.

As a consequence of the discussion at this event I am now in the process of setting up a database template to record my research activities and anything related to them. This means I will be able to search for activities related to different projects as and when necessary. There will be another blog post about the details of this in the near future.

A new publication from sage, explores many of these issues in more depth:
The Impact of the Social Sciences: How academics and their research make a difference.

Communicating Research

Moving on, several of the sessions talked about how to communicate your research (beyond the traditional peer-reviewed journal platform). The importance of effective use of social media was highlighted on many occasions. An online presence is important in today’s academic world. However, there are a whole host of ways you can develop your online presence, and for some this can seem quite daunting. Some of the key ways to start creating your online presence were discussed at the event:

Twitter: I have been a user of twitter (@jennywrenwatts) for a long time (or at least what is a long time in terms of social media), and while initially I started it as just another social media that was more for personal use, I soon began to see the benefits of using it as a tool to develop my own Personal Learning Network and generally interacting with a much wider spectrum of people. I have used twitter in a number of ways:

  • To interact with other educators (and later other academics)
  • To interact with other people at events I attended. The use of the hashtag (#Acad2point0 for the Manchester event, but most conferences will now have one – #aag2014 #gaconf14 for example).
  • To share interesting news with others (it also acts as a way for me to record articles that I may want to go back to later)
  • To share aspects of my work, either links to written articles, to my blogs.

There is a strong academic community on twitter. Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega started a hashtag #ScholarSunday to try and help people identify the interesting and relevant people that are now using twitter. You can find out a bit more about this one of his blog posts here.

Blogging (either via your own blog or guest blogging): When I first started blogging in 2009 I mainly used my blog as a way to write about things that interested me – often related to travel, or geography teaching that I was doing at the time. It was more of a personal writing portal than a tool to raise the profile of what I was doing. However, blogging in academia is now quite common and it is a good way to disseminate what you are doing to a wider audience, and provides good practice in writing for different audiences too. My blog at present still hosts a lot of ‘non-academic’ related posts, but the new ‘exploring economic geography’ blog that will be launched properly soon should hopefully be more research focused. In terms of how to go about producing blog posts, first you might want to think about whether you want to host your own (it’s easy to set one up on wordpress) or if it’s possible to write a post on another blog (often there are departmental or research group blogs). Then there are alternatives such as guest blogging on places like Huffington Post, or writing a post for The Conversation (a kind of news platform that uses academic research).

Research Gate and Academia.Edu: Social networking platforms where you have a profile displaying all your academic credentials, publications etc, and you can connect with other academics, take part in discussion forums. In some ways, they are a bit like facebook for academics.

Google Scholar citations: If you register for this you will be able to monitor your citations over time. It’s another way of boosting your rankings in google too. In terms of monitoring where your publications are being cited, this could be very useful.

Mendeley: A reference manager (much like endnote) but it also allows you to collaborate with others and has the benefit of online accessibility –

There are a couple of really useful publications that are useful to read as a starting point for those wishing to engage with more social media.

These are just some of the interesting ideas that were discussed at the Academia 2.0 event (I have more to write up but this blog post already far longer than I had originally intended – there will be another one soon). I would at this point like to thank the organisers and presenters for such a thought-provoking event which no doubt will have a long lasting impact on my research in the future.

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104 Books in a Year

It seemed like January disappeared really quickly. I had intended to write this blog post in the first week of the year but alas the month sped past. I like to set challenges for the year, and this time I decided it would be book related. With more commuting time this year I have set the challenge to read at least 104 books in the year – so on average around two a week. I’ll post the titles here, sometimes with a short review if I think it might be useful/interesting. I’ll update the post as I read more as a way to track my progress.

The books I have read this year so far:

  1. The Second Angel – Philip Kerr
  2. The BRIC road to Growth – Jim O’ Neill – a good brief overview of the progress of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and an even briefer introduction to the new rising economies, the MINTs (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey). You can also hear about the MINTs on a series of BBC documentary podcasts where the author talks in more depth about why these countries have the potential to be much more important in the global economy in the years to come.
  3. Hitler’s Peace – Phillip Kerr
  4. The Ghosts of Berlin – Brian Ladd
  5. Esau – Philip Kerr
  6. The One from the Other – Philip Kerr

You may notice at this point there are quite a few Philip Kerr books. A few years ago I discovered one his books while at an airport on the way to Berlin, If the Dead Rise Not, a detective novel set in Berlin in the 1930s. After this book I was hooked on his writing have since gone to read many of his books, with a particular highlight being the Berlin Noir trilogy.

So, at this stage in the year I am a little behind schedule but I currently have several books that are partly read, and will hopefully get back on track soon.

Update –  12/03/13: I currently have an absurd number of books currently being read. I am making an effort to finish some of them off. Recently finished titles include:

7. A Man Without a Breath – Phillip Kerr. Another Bernie Gunther novel this time focused around events in Katyn Forest.

8. The Prince of Mist – Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I got knocked over by a cyclist in London and so my husband buy’s me a book to make the day seem a bit better! I devoured this in a couple of hours of commuting. A book aimed at the teenage market, but I found it gripping, even if it was slightly scary in parts.

9. From Recipients to Donors: Emerging Powers and the Changing Development Landscape – Emma Mawdsley. This book I had to read for work, a fascinating topic. I have taught in the past about the increasing activity of China in Africa, but this book provided a whole new perspective on the way countries position themselves in the world through aid and development co-operation.

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UNESCO World Heritage Challenge: Frontiers of the Roman Empire

The Roman empire in the 2nd century AD stretched over 5,000km from the Atlantic coast of northern Britain, through Europe to the Black Sea, and from there to the Red Sea and across North Africa to the Atlantic coast. The 118-km-long Hadrian’s Wall (UK) was built on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian c. AD 122 at the northernmost limits of the Roman province of Britannia at the time.It is a striking example of the organization of a military zone and illustrates the defensive techniques and geopolitical strategies of ancient Rome.

Hadrians wall 2

In the modern day it is an impressive landscape and is definitely one of my favourite areas of the country to visit. Hadrians wall

This section of the wall is known as the ‘Sycamore gap’ and for those of you have seen Robin Hood Prince of Thieves you may recoginse it from there. Sycamore gapThis UNESCO World Heritage site is actually actually transnational in nature, which is not really surprising given the Roman Empire at it’s height covered three continents. In addition to Hadrians Wall seen in some of the images here there was the Antonine Wall further north, but also frontier walls in what is now Germany.

For more information on this site visit the UNESCO website here.

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Broadening your geographical mind

In the past I have written about how podcasts are a great way for students to explore other areas of geography. This post is really an update with another suggestion along similar lines.

I’ve recently discovered the London School of Economics (LSE) Public lecture series. The LSE has a very active public lecture programme which covers a whole range of issues relevant to geographers. While it may not be practical for students to attend a lecture in London, many are made available online both in audio and video format, and some even have transcriptions. It’s a great opportunity for students to explore their subject, learn about different areas they perhaps haven’t covered, and introduce them to current debates in the field.

Some of the most recent events:
The Next Global Development Agenda: from aspiration to delivery – Helen Clark – Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and current administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.

The Rise of the Global South: Towards an Agenda for a New Century – a series of panel discussions

From Empire to Republic: China’s struggle with modernity? -Isabel Hilton

I would highly recommend keeping an eye on future events, or subscribing to their podcasts, they have a very good line up for the coming months.

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Top 10 Books for Fieldwork and Research in Human Geography

It’s the beginning of the academic year and lots of students will be returning to university. For those of you who are about to embark any fieldwork or research in human geography, this post points to the books I have found the most useful over the years. In no particular order:

1) Fieldwork for Human Geography – Richard Phillips and Jennifer Johns

10Any good geographer realises the importance of fieldwork and this book gives a great overview of the different aspects of research in human geography. It highlights the important stages of fieldwork including planning, data collection, analysis and reflection and in particular discusses a range of issues which require consideration. If you’re looking for a good introduction to how to approach fieldwork in human geography this would be a good place to start.

2) Politics and Practice in Economic Geography – Adam Tickell, Eric Sheppard, Jamie Peck and Trevor Barnes

T9This book was recommended to me by my former PhD supervisors and it became one of my favourite methodology books for my doctoral research. Don’t let the title put you off, its not just about politics or economic geography, if provides discussions about the research experiences and the issues that stem from them from a range of established academics. If you intend to use interviews in your research this should be high on your reading list. There is a chapter which likens interview participants (in particular those considered ‘elites’, such as businessmen) to pufferfish, an image which stuck with me during the research process.

3) Philosophy of the Social Sciences: An Introduction – Robert Bishop

T8This is not a geography textbook as such, but it is important nonetheless. It is important that research in human geography (and the broader social sciences) has clear philosophical and theoretical foundations. These ideas may influence whether you collect qualitative or quantitative data, and contribute greatly to how data is collected and interpreted. Considering your ‘approach’ is an important part of the research process and this book really helped me get to grips with all the different approaches, and associated terminology. It’s a book that can be read as it is, but is also a great reference guide.


4) Key Methods in Geography Nicholas Clifford and Gill Valentine

T7A good general textbook for both physical and human geographers. As an edited volume it contains lots of short chapters on different aspects of geographic research – good as a reference guide.

5) Methods in Human Geography: A guide for students doing a research project – Robin Flowerdew and David Martin

T6A good comprehensive guide to undertaking research in human geography, covering all aspects of the research from the theoretical foundations of research, to choosing a topic, to illustrating the final report. This can act as an introductory guide to methods used by human geographers but also as a handbook for the research project more widely.

6) Practising Human Geography – Paul Cloke, Ian Cook, Phillip Crang, Mark Goodwin, Joe Painter and Christopher Philo

T5This book was indispensable at the beginning of my Master’s research project. The chapters are divided into two sections: Constructing Geographical Data and Constructing Geographical Interpretations. It provided a lot of guidance around the issues of data collection and the implications this had for analysis. It covers a wide range of data collection methods and data types and as many of the books in this list would be a good reference guide even if it isn’t all applicable.

7) Dictionary of Human Geography –  Derek Gregory, Ron Johnston, Geraldine Pratt, Michael Watts and Sarah Whatmore

T4As an undergraduate I was faced with many terms I was unfamiliar with, or didn’t understand. This book helped me deal with this. It’s a great reference guide providing short introductions to terms, issues, topics and approaches. It then provides suggestions as where to go next for further information. I now have an ebook version of this and still use it as a reference guide – even as an experienced researcher I still need a reliable guide I can turn to. This is probably one of my most well used geography textbooks.

8) Conducting Research in Human Geography – Rob Kitchin and Nicholas Tate

T3I used this book quite a lot of the beginning of my Master’s research (although is perfectly accessible for undergraduates) and it provides a good overview of the different elements of the research process for human geographers. It’s a clear accessible guide which considers theory behind methods, research in practice, and processes of data analysis.

9) How to do a dissertation in Geography and related disciplines  – Tony Parsons and Peter Knight.

T2For many students doing a dissertation is a daunting tasks. I often recommend this book as it asks a lot of questions about the dissertation process and can help students think about what they want to do and how to achieve it. It even has a chapter titled ‘Help! It’s all gone terribly wrong. What can I do?’ Whilst most research does not go terribly wrong, it often doesn’t go to plan so it’s important to think about these things. While doing my PhD research I got stranded in the USA by an Icelandic volcano ash cloud – that definitely wasn’t in my initial research plan.

10) Qualitative Research Methods in Human Geography – Iain Hay

T1If you’re thinking of using interviews, focus groups, participant observation or other qualitative methods then you should have a look at this book. It considers the place of qualitative research as well as its theoretical issues, and implications for data analysis.




So there’s my list of top books on research and fieldwork I have used over the years. There are many more that I have used and have relied on, but if I wanted some places to start, the books in this post would be good choices.

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