I have just spent a month visiting the Beyond Behaviour Change (BBC) research program led by Drs Yolande Strengers and Cecily Maller at RMIT in Melbourne. BBC fund two international visitors annually, and I also funded this trip as part of my project on exploring expectations and experiences of house size in the UK and Australia and asking why ‘Bigger is Better’ (this is my first research grant as Principle Investigator!).
It was my first time ‘down under’ and I was surprised by how fascinating I found the new flora and fauna – never in my life did I think I would see the famed Kookaburra or gum trees I sung about as a kid and I didn’t really even know what wombats were, a much less mentioned, but utterly adorable marsupial that I am now slightly obsessed with (#spiritanimal).
Besides meeting marsupials, it has been amazing to meet so many researchers with overlapping theoretical and/or empirical interests. It was a real treat to present on my PhD research, organise a session for their Social Practice Theory reading group (on steering practices, discussion questions below), and talk so much about housing and sustainability with others starting from a similar theoretical perspective. I especially enjoyed discussing novel recommendations to shift practices that are not the usual approach of educating or engaging people directly about their environmental values. For instance, Jane Daly recommended that installing woks alongside or instead of BBQs (freely and commonly available in Australian parks) could disrupt practices of grilling meat and potentially lead to more vegetarian cooking in park. Alongside this, Bhavna Middha highlighted how effective installing free microwaves on a University campus and protecting a ‘lunch hour’ are to reduce the need to buy food ‘on the go’, which has sustainability implications in terms of health and waste. Bhavna’s use of ‘food selfies’ as a form of data collection also was fascinating and I’d love to try this with students (check out her article on this here)!
There were three main themes or common areas of interest that I continually discussed during my visit, and I wanted to put down on paper before I get sucked into the start of teaching and forget about research.
Intermediaries shaping perceptions of Necessary Energy Uses
Firstly, a topic I found that resonated with others and that I would like to write about in the future is related to ‘steering’ practices and invisible energy policies. This is the need for energy researchers to look beyond the consumer or end energy user to the intermediaries that shape expectations of necessary energy uses. This was a concluding point from my presentation and it was very affirming when the questions were recommendations to consider how mortgage advisors, television shows, and housing developers impact what householders want from their homes. Indeed, it was also great to speak to PhD students that are investing the impact of these intermediaries on householder’s perception of sustainability and images of a desirable home. I really look forward to reading/hearing what Sarah Robertson and Erika Bartak report on sustainable housing developers and volume builders, respectively. Drs Trivess Moore and Niki Willand and I also want to put together a special issue related to this topic, discussing ‘sufficiency in housing’ and how intermediaries inform perceptions of necessary energy use – so if you are also interested in this topic please get in touch!
Being part of a 'good team'
Secondly, I was struck by how much more can be done when you are part of a ‘good team’ and have found someone with complimentary skills. This was something Alan Pears stressed, what a legend, and that I saw in the incredible community and partnership Yolande and Cecily have created at BBC. While I have certainly experienced and enjoyed what can be accomplished when you are working as part of a team, this is not something I have totally experienced as a researcher yet (i.e. the PhD is more about your individual development and the supervisor-student relationship while collaborative is unique). Visiting BBC has made me want to re-double efforts to find or become part of a ‘good research team’.
Work 9-5 by saying 'no' to research distractions
Finally, I probably owe Yolande, Cecily and Larissa a debt for their advice on surviving in academia. We started talking about this at one of our first meetings because their PhD students had been to a session on how to be ‘effective’ with time and were told they should work 6-7 days a week if they want to stay in academia. Yolande and Cecily were quite surprised and stressed that they do not work on the evenings or weekends, instead they are very careful of budgeting time and producing the best outputs they can in that time. This was a refreshing reminder as I have also received the advice (from my mentor even) that research is done in your leisure time. I always love talking about academic writing and research and appreciated some really practical tips like using ‘out of office notices’ and setting a day or two a week to work from home and protect time for writing. I also enjoyed their ‘shut up and read’ session, where without any planning I read the perfect paper for what I had been writing on, and have been discussing having this in St Andrews. The reminder that focusing on research grants and publications is the safest strategy to secure another position has given me more resolve to say ‘no’ to requests that do not have a clear benefit to securing a permanent position (although now that I’m back I’m already wavering on this…). I’ve spent a lot of time on a sustainability audit, nudging along the development of a Biodiversity Strategy and Policy and establishing a Sustainability in the Curriculum network over the past two years at the University of St Andrews. But this year I am going to try to spend my contracted time not taken up by teaching more clearly on my research and writing.
It was an incredibly refreshing visit and I was inspired by the community of scholars I met. Thank you to Yolande and Cecily for organising the visiting fellowship and being such kind hosts, thanks as well to Larissa, Bhavna, Leila, Paula, Tamzin, Sarah, Jane, Rex, Trivess, Niki, and Erika for all the coffee dates and chats, I’m glad I got to meet you all! Please let me know if you are ever in Scotland (or want to do an exchange at St Andrews!) and I hope to see you in the future!
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