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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Q&A: Geography

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Dr Anna Barford 

What is your role at Murray Edwards College and what are your research interests?

Hi, I am Anna Barford. I am one of the Geographers in College. I have been Directing Studies and teaching undergraduate Geographers at Murray Edwards for five years. My research interests range from what it means for young people in lower income countries to struggle to find a decent job, and how ten years of austerity has impacted the UK, to how we can shift economies to be increasingly circular in order to reduce our environmental impacts and hopefully make a positive social impact too. Many of these themes are reflected within the lectures on the undergraduate Geography degree.

What's special about your subject at Cambridge?

Every Geography degree is different, and the content of the course depends a lot upon the specialisms of the people teaching it. In Cambridge, we have a broad range of specialisms, including Glaciology, Volcanology, Biogeography, Atmosphere, Urban studies, Conservation, Feminism, Development, Austerity, Work, Demography, Hazards, Geopolitics, and Polar Studies. This is to name but a few! Do check our website to learn more about what work is done in our department, as the specialisms of the staff very often translate into options for you to study for your degree. Polar Studies is particularly special due to the Scott Polar Research Institute, with its own museum, forming part of the Department. Geography also has links to the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, housed in the nearby David Attenborough Building.

How does Murray Edwards College support its students in your subject?

Murray Edwards is a wonderful College for Geographers. With year groups of 3-6 students, the College Geography community is small enough to remain friendly and close-knit, yet big enough to attract an exciting mix of Geographical interests, personalities, and backgrounds. For example, recent dissertations include a study of the impact of austerity on bus services, research into the gaseous emissions from an Italian volcano, a study of the international trade in waste plastics traced from London to Malaysia, an investigation of air quality at the time of the 2019 Australian bush fires, and a study of the cultural and historical Geography of Singapore's China Town.

Like all Colleges, we seek to support our students as well as possible - this includes regular meetings with the Director of Studies (your academic mentor) and the provision of high quality small group teaching. Given the specialisms of the College Geography Fellows, we are able to teach and support students across a broad range of Geographical sub disciplines. We provide Geography books in the College library, and are well located for the vast range of libraries you can access as a University student (including the Geography and University Libraries).

We offer close support for student dissertations, from discussing initial ideas to offering feedback in our Dissertation Conference when third years present their research to the College Geography community. We hold a Geography Dinner each year, which is relaxed and usually lots of fun. At the end of the year, we celebrate with a dinner at a local restaurant, although this year we are planning to enjoy pizza together via Zoom. In addition, students often organise even more, for example meeting once a week across year groups or sharing advice when needed. Students work collaboratively, supporting one another to enjoy learning and to achieve within their chosen specialisms.

What do you enjoy most about working at Murray Edwards College? 

I have loved Murray Edwards ever since I first visited. The College is distinctive, offering fresh perspectives and dynamic projects, hosting fascinating lectures, and proactively promoting women within the university and beyond. The impressive architecture is situated within the most welcoming gardens in Cambridge. Students and staff are actively encouraged to walk on the grass (not the norm for Cambridge) and invited to pick spinach and herbs from the vegetable beds. Murray Edwards College is filled with a sense of warmth, kindness, fun, intellectual curiosity, political engagement, and environmental concern; this is Cambridge at its best.