Future trajectories and life after research
My undergraduate dissertation represented a real turning point in my interest in geography. Based at the University of Sheffield, I explored youth subcultures and nightclub spaces in Sheffield, which involved a thoroughly enjoyable research process frequenting regular club nights! I loved gaining a real insight into a fascinating subject matter, as well as finally being able to get really stuck into areas of theory and literature. As it happens, I was quite disappointed with the mark for my undergraduate dissertation. However, for me, its real value was the way it galvanised my interest in geography and conducting geographical research. Indeed, from these unassuming beginnings of knocking about the pubs and clubs of Sheffield, my career as a geographer has led me to conduct research in Kenya, Indonesia and Sri Lanka through a Masters in International Development and, subsequently, a PhD in Human Geography. The latter involved nine months of living, working and researching in Sri Lanka as I explored the long term legacies of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
So what has been gained from undertaking these geographical research projects? On a personal level it has equipped me with some very useful life skills: improved organisation; good time management; an ability to critically interpret, understand and synthesise data; experience of living and working abroad; the list could go on. Conducting geographical research has really allowed me to ‘get under the skin’ of the locations I have studied. Spending extended periods of time intensely studying places has been a fascinating process, allowing me to encounter multiple worldviews and opinions, not to mention being the catalyst for some wonderful, lasting friendships with people I have met along the way.
Doing geographical research has also helped me to understand my place in the world. For me, engaging with geographical theory and applying it to ‘real life’ has been a way of unlocking the complex and dynamic world we live in and a way of beginning to make sense of it. It has been a way of exploring its overwhelming challenges, inequalities and disparities, as well as highlighting moments of hope, resistance and positive change. Indeed, in the years I’ve been ‘doing geography’ my worldview has shifted radically and, while I still have so many unanswered questions, conducting geographical research has made me feel better equipped to comprehend and confront the multiple challenges that the world faces. Importantly, my research has not been all about me but also had benefits for some of the people I have worked with. As well as numerous positive encounters during the research processes, my Masters research has been used by a local NGO to inform their work. As I disseminate my PhD research, I am hoping it will have a similar positive impact. This is not only important to me to ensure that my research is not a completely extractive process, but seeing my work have a tangible impact is one of the most rewarding aspects of undertaking these projects.
Will Wright has recently completed a PhD in the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield exploring the ongoing social and cultural legacies of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Sri Lanka. Will’s broader research interests include postcolonial theory and the politics of knowledge production, social and cultural geographies of the sea, and critical tourism and development studies. He has also taught at undergraduate and postgraduate levels at the University of Sheffield.