Monthly Archives: January 2014

PhD top-tips…


Thank-you everybody who attended and contributed to the Landscape Surgery session last week on top-tips  (21st Jan 2014).

It seemed like everybody had lots to say, and we have a set of topics stored up for the next top-tips session which will be after easter.  In the mean time, here is an attempt to collect together all the great resources and tips that came through in the session and that people posted on twitter and e-mailed me.

Here is a link to the storified tweets ( thanks Simon and Laura for pointing me towards this)

Thanks all for your contributions…

Please keep adding via the comments function below or reposting


Dealing with those reviewers….  you know- the ones that never agree…. 

Steph Morrice’s  advice would be:
*Conflicting reviewer comments can be daunting. ie. One reviewer suggests you shrink the theoretical section and expand the empirical, the other suggests the opposite. You need to make a reasoned decision as to which, if either, you agree with and make an argument for why. In the past, I’ve asked the editor for guidance with this.
*Realise that you do not need to make changes to your paper in response to every single reviewer comment. If you don’t agree with a reviewer’s suggestion, explain why. Remember that you are entitled to a good argument.
*Response letters should be clear and well-numbered, first addressing any major issues raised by the reviewers and then followed by a more detailed comments. I normally start by creating a basic two columned table. On the left, I copy all the comments from reviewers (one per box) and on the right I summarise and explain my response.
*In my experience, the entire submission/resubmission process can be quite lengthy, but the general advice I would give is:  not to be discouraged by “major revisions”. If an editor asks you to resubmit, this is still a positive outcome. And to try not to be disheartened by negative comments – it can be frustrating having your hard work critiqued, but I would recommend keeping an open mind – and giving yourself a day or two, even a week, before tackling the comments.


I’ll do that later…tomorrow… next week… procrastination:


When it all gets a little bit out of perspective…

Practical tips for working… 
Search 25:  Lets you search all libraries in London for resources at once.
 Book Darts are great:


Do you ever think one day everybody else is going to realise you don’t belong here? 

 Imposter syndrome…
Maybe this is a function of the neo-liberal academia?
Other great things to read:
Also a huge list… thanks Amy and others
 how and why imposter syndrome can be seen as a good thing (opposite of complacency, etc.):
Kirsty Rolfe “Avoiding the bears”- an amazing cartoon blog, check out these…


Academia, PhDs and depression/ anxiety: exploding the tyranny… 

You know how it goes… you are so lucky to be here… it is amazing chance… you should love every second of it… of all the different myths perpetuated within the academy it seems the one where we all pretend we are all ok and things are going great, and that we are superhuman and can do everything is perhaps the most dangerous.
Here are a set of resources collected from a number of surgeons that help explode the tyranny of silence around how tough this process can be.
the key message:  you are not alone, please come and talk to us if any of this strikes a chord
Online ebook, Advice to a Troubled PhD Student
An incredible honest and intellectual exploration of Depression as a public feeling, that begins from the personal experiences of the author: Ann Cvetkovich, Depression: A public feeling (2012) Duke University Press
 I can not recommend this book enough.
Academic Mindfulness:
blogs and articles:
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Self-Portraits of a Surgeon – My Affair with Cultural Geography

ImageIt was never meant to happen. I was just curious; experimental. I mean, it was my first year at university – this is what you’re meant to do right? I was just messing around but I knew where my passions really lay. Yet before I realised, something changed – my flirting was no longer just harmless, tangential fun. It meant something. I had to be honest with myself – I no longer liked what I used to, I was into something different and it was exciting.

Starting my undergraduate degree at Plymouth, I was an ardent physical geographer. My experience of geography up till that point had told me that human geography was pretty boring and it was in the physical sciences where it was really happening. Indeed I remember being quite taken aback during sixth form when someone suggested that I must favour the human side of discipline. I could not dispute their reasoning (based on my very social science/humanities A-Level subjects) but the conclusion almost repulsed me. A similar feeling of steadfastness was experienced in my first lecture at Plymouth when Dr Richard Yarwood ‘guaranteed’ that the majority of us in the room would favour human geography by the end of the degree.

I was tempted within two weeks.

The introductory lectures in human geography were nothing like what I had experienced hitherto – they were exciting, intriguing and seemed to be about real life – about people, places, the world. In comparison, the physical lectures seemed dated, dull and if I am going to be honest – too sciencey for me.  I was slowly being seduced by human geography. I found it fascinating that you could use poetry in geographical enquiry, that a coastal walk could be cutting edge fieldwork. By Christmas I was a fully-fledged human-geography-convert when I was introduced to Yi-Fu Tuan. Assigned an essay about my sense of place, I discovered the idea that peoples’ feeling, emotions, actions, thoughts and opinions about things really mattered, in life and in geography. What a revelation that was, since that point I haven’t taken a single physical geography module – I was a human geographer and proud.

The remaining two and a half years at Plymouth were spent finding my feet, I was still cagey in this new ground; unsure of what human geography really was, what held it together and what type of human geographer I was. I was definitely having a crisis of identity, struggling to articulate to my family and friends what it is I was studying and how it all related to geography. Unfortunately this is not a story of epiphanic realisation or how I became a born-again cultural geographer. Truth be told, I still have the same difficulty – sometimes I say I am a cultural geographer, sometimes a social-cultural geographer, sometimes a human geographer, sometimes a geographer and sometimes just a researcher. I have a fuzzy academic identity but I know I have found a home in cultural geography.

I ended up at Royal Holloway, studying the MA Cultural Geography, not because I decided I was a cultural geographer (in fact I had never had a cultural geography lecture before I enrolled) but because so much of the geography that really excited me was coming from here. If I have assumed the label of a cultural geographer because of that, I am ok with it because I feel cultural geography and me are well-matched. In my first seminar here we discussed what culture and cultural geography were. We concluded that we did not know. The concept of culture is too difficult to pin down, the remit of cultural geography is broad beyond compare and cultural geographers come from such diverse disciplinary backgrounds – there is no archetypal cultural geographer.

It appears that cultural geography is also very fuzzy. While I may struggle to explain at a party what I do and why I do it in a catchy sound bite, I am happy to embrace all this fuzziness and run with it – the results of which are enthusiasm, excitement and fascination. While I recognise the jack of all trades, master of none argument, I am not concerned by it. I prefer to think of cultural geography, not as a list of researchable topics, but as a disposition and way of thinking. To me cultural geography explores how spaces, places, people and things are, how they become meaningful, how they are experienced, and how they are perceived, imagined and practised by different people / things. It is about how we live our lives, the places we live in, how we create meaning and the affects/effects of such things and yes, that is very broad but also of incredible importance.

I am curious about the world, and cultural geography not only accommodates this widespread concern but actively encourages it; constantly questioning, challenging and pushing me to think in different ways, research in different ways and see the world from different perspectives. 3 years 4 months ago, I would not believe it but: my name is Simon Cook and I am having an affair with cultural geography.

Simon Cook (M.A Candidate)

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21st Jan: The helpful session…ask the audience

This Tuesday sees the first Landscape Surgery of  2014.
Alongside the general introduction and news-round — we are running a ‘helpful session’  but with a twist.
We are going to ‘crowd source’ both the topics people want advice on,  but also top-tips from you all. 
We are looking for people to share the top-tip ( or maybe tips)  with the group.
It could be that you just want to share personal experience, or maybe that you have found some great readings, blogs or other resources that you think others would benefit from. 
Some topics to get you started: 
Reading/ engaging with literatures
Fieldwork and access
The writing up process
Convening sessions 
The publishing process
Public engagement
Managing your supervisor
Don’t feel restricted to these, if there are things you think are important for us to add either email them to me (, or tweet them with the hashtag #landscapesurgery and we can address them in the session. 
 I will also be starting to tweet some of my favourite resources so please do join in. 
I will be collecting all the resources people share in a later blog post . 


Landscape Surgery Spring 2014


Happy New Year Surgeons

I hope everyone has had a relaxing and productive start to 2014. 

We are finalising the programme for this coming semesters Landscape Surgeries as I write, while we wait I thought i would just give you a sense of what is coming up and also let people have dates for diaries. 

We start back on the 21st January, with a welcome back session and some crowd sourced top-tips!  I will be in touch with what prep this entails. Moving into February we will have a seminar on the 4th from Prof. Mona Domosh who is visiting RHUL from Dartmouth in the US.  Mona is also doing the Gordon Manley Lecture the week later on 13th Feb.  Mona will also be part of other events in February to make the most of her visit. 

On the 18th of Feb Mia and Phil have organised an extended session on place, materiality and photography with special guests from Goldsmiths.  Please note the extended time, 1-4.30 pm.  

Jo and Leonhardt take the lead on the 4th March with a session on doing research in the German context, and we close out the term  on the 18th March with a session led by Laura  ( of wonderful christmas cookie making fame!) and Clarisse on International academic exchanges. 

Looking forward to the post-easter period,  we will resume sessions on the 6th May, and reserve the session on the 13th May ( yes only a week later i know) for the PhD first year presentations. Get ready first years… 

I will post the full programme in the next few days




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Self Portraits of A Surgeon – Me as a cultural geographer



Do you ever get that very particular kind of brain-ache when you think about unfathomablequestions like “If the universe is everything there is, but it is expanding, what is it expanding into?” That’s what thinking about my relationship with Cultural Geography as an academic often feels like. So most of the time, I just try not to think about it.

However, when I do force myself to think about it, I’m not able to come up with a neat and succinct answer. As someone who shunned the second year undergraduate course in Cultural Geography because I thought it would be ‘too fluffy’, only to embark on an MA in ‘Cultural Geography’ two years later, my relationship with the subject has never been clear-cut. Over my academic career so far, I’ve felt like a geographer; a human geographer, a social geographer, a cultural geographer and a historical geographer. But on reflection, I’m not sure this confusion is too much of a problem. Given how interdisciplinary the subject seems, does the label matter anymore?

I have often joked that Geography is the magpie of academic disciplines, stealing whatever it fancies from other disciplines. Although the process is more of a sharing than a taking, I don’t think it is an inaccurate analogy to make. I was recently at a seminar given by a Historian in which she said that she was using geographical ideas for her analysis because they were the most useful and appropriate. Apart from making me feel a bit smug, this also reinforced a thought that I’ve had for a while: the boundaries between academic disciplines are artificial, and often arbitrary. Does it really matter what I am so long as the research I am doing is well-informed, detailed and original? (The merits of these qualities in academic research can also be questioned, but I think that is a question for a future session of soul-searching!)

However, it is useful to know that I am a Geographer. It tells you a bit about the academic background I have come from, or the types of writing I am likely to be familiar with. But knowing I am a Geographer gives no indication whatsoever as to which topic I’m studying. In fact, people frequently ask me how my topic (historical contentious politics in London) counts as Geography. If I were a more coherent and confident speaker, this is the response I would give:

“My topic is geographical because of the manner in which I approach it. Geographers study the same things as everybody else, but from a different perspective, with a slightly different focus. So for me, defining Geography isn’t about drawing lines in the sand between what we can and can’t study, it’s about articulating a way of thinking, a thought process focussed on space, place, networks, scale, and other ‘geographical’ concepts.”

So I am proud to call myself a Geographer, despite all the quips about colouring in that I still face! One of the main reasons I like the discipline so much is its breadth. One of my highlights of the RHUL Geography Department calendar is the Postgraduate Symposium during Welcome Week, because it brings the whole department together in a way that is quite rare the rest of the year, and it reminds me just how wide an umbrella ‘Geography’ is.  From glaciers, peat bogs and cave men to art galleries, Iranian restaurants and graffiti, Geography can be anything, and this is one of my favourite things about the subject. I am a Geographer because of the particular set of tools and techniques I use to study a topic, not because of the topic I choose to study.

Hannah Awcock (Phd Candidate)