Intrepid Explorers: sharing experiences and learning from field research

By Kate Baker, Briony Turner , Faith Taylor (King’s College London, UK)

Last week, Intrepid Explorers participated in the 2015 Annual Conference of the Royal Geographical Society, contributing to a session sponsored by the Higher Education Research Group, exploring the ‘University in the Anthropocene: Higher Education and Community Engagement in Environmental Management’ chaired by Rebecca Farnum, King’s College London. The session focused on how learning can be transformed by having multi-tiered education and encouraging knowledge exchange between the University and its community. Tim O’Riordan, University of East Anglia, the key note speaker for the session, described these projects as helping to give students a passport for life equipping them with transferable skills beyond the realms of academia. This holistic view of higher education is something that Intrepid Explorers believes in strongly. As a student led educational activity of the Department of Geography, King’s College London (KCL), we believe that by sharing experiences and learning from field research, it is possible to inspire current and future generations to support and advance science.

Intrepid Explorers started in 2012 when PhD students realised that academics and students, within the KCL Department of Geography, travel all over the world to conduct field research but on return disseminate only academic results, with little spoken about the experiences and stories behind the field research. Intrepid Explorers is a platform set up by, and run by, students to create and facilitate a space for the researchers and guests of the department to communicate life as a field researcher in a manner that is accessible to all. Initially set up as a weekly seminar series, it proved to be successful in engaging students and staff from all research groups, along with the general public. The seminar series has now been running for three years and is embedded within the research activities of the department. In 2015, Intrepid Explorers expanded from a lunchtime seminar series, to a student led platform organizing a range of educational activities including documentary film screenings, evening talks and microadventures. The department recognises the contribution these activities make both internally and externally, providing formal recognition as well as financial support for the activities.

Intrepid Explorers creates a space for conversations between researchers, from different groups, and universities. Collaborations and interdisciplinary projects have stemmed from Intrepid Explorers’ seminars and activities. One example, is a discussion that started after an Intrepid Explorers talk which resulted in a collaboration between the Fire research group at KCL and Zoological Society London (ZSL) – which led to a NERC funded PhD project. The PhD student, Jake Simpson also made use of an opportunity to use drones for research, circulated to research staff and students by Intrepid Explorers.

Aside from research, Intrepid Explorers has engaged with the student community, enabling them to gain the necessary skills, through workshops and microadventures (or simply the confidence!), to venture out on fieldwork. This has resulted in a record number of students in the KCL Department of Geography applying for the Royal Geographical Society’s Geological Fieldwork Grants (GFG).

Engagement with the wider community is becoming increasingly important in universities and is something that Intrepid Explorers supports and promotes through running public outreach events. These events are usually attended by ~150 people and include A-level school groups, learned societies, interested individuals and academics from across London and beyond. Educational material related to these events has been used in six schools as case studies for A-level and GCSE Exams and events have even been repeated. A Head of Geography from Wimbledon High School repeated a replica of one event, which included the documentary ‘Chasing Ice’ with a framing talk by Prof. Mike Hulme.

Participating in the workshop on the ‘University in the Anthropocene’ was extremely useful for Intrepid Explorers. It was valuable and stimulating to hear about other projects that link Universities and the wider community including ‘Bright Futures’ presented by Cherish Watton and the ‘Integrating International Volunteerism’ with Oriel Kenny and Susan Robinson from Leeds Becket University. In addition, Marisa Goulden gave a thought provoking talk on transformative learning in Universities which included consideration of the relationship between field based research and its impact upon the health and wellbeing, particularly the emotional response, of academic staff and students. This is something that the team at Intrepid Explorers has long been interested in, particularly due to inspirational past talks by Lloyd Figgins, Wim Nijssen and Dr Frances Cleaver that have incorporated preparation of, and maintenance of, mental health and wellbeing in the field, so potential for future collaboration!

Finally, the Intrepid Explorers conveners were encouraged by the interest demonstrated by a number of participants during the workshop in starting Intrepid Explorers in their respective universities. We’ve developed a wealth of knowledge from our experiences and are happy to share the branding and guides we have developed so that other universities can hit the ground running! Just get in touch intrepidexplorerskcl@gmail.com.

Many thanks to the chair and convenor, Rebecca Farnum, for an excellent session and to the Higher Education Research Group for sponsorship!

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