Research Spotlights

Life as an academic nomad

By Ksenia Chmutina

Many people find international travel for work tiring and time-consuming. For me, international travel is a doorway to new opportunities.

As an early career academic, the opportunities I have had so far as a result of travelling the world are opportunities that I believe I may not have had otherwise.

My research area is sustainable and resilient urbanism. We live in a rapidly urbanising world and the way in which cities are planned, built, operated and redeveloped is ever challenged by social, environmental and economic factors. Sustainable solutions are needed, and there is so much innovative thinking coming from teams of talented researchers around the world. By travelling overseas I get to meet these people and collaborate with them. I get to hear their ideas and share my own.

I also get to experience new cities; more importantly though I get to see the challenges these cities are facing first hand. I get to see the work that is being done in action, and meet the local stakeholders and decision makers that can help make new ideas happen.

In the last year, I’ve travelled to over 12 different countries, chasing the excitement of new opportunities, and I can’t wait to see what opportunities my travels lead to in the future.

12 - 13 January | Starting in Europe

My first trip of the year – Brussels for a European project review. I’d been a researcher on a project looking at the dimension and complexity of the concept of security in the EU and its neighbours. It was a great collaboration, with various institutions from Europe. Hopefully – despite Brexit – there will be more opportunities for us to work together.

23 - 30 January | South East Asia

With less than 10 days back at home, I flew out to Manila in the Philippines to attend a Newton Fund Researcher Links workshop. Organised by the British Council, these events are great for meeting career researchers from the UK working in a similar field, as well as local researchers. During the workshop we developed an idea for integrating climate change adaption and disaster risk reduction in policy. Although it was just an exercise it allowed us to work in transdisciplinary and international teams, which in my view is always a valuable opportunity.

12 - 20 February | On to Indonesia

The following month I headed back to South East Asia for another British Council workshop, this time in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. This had been organised by an academic from Coventry University, who I met in Malaysia the year before. He invited me and another participant, Dr Jo Rose, to share our experiences in resilience research. During this trip Jo and I discussed our research interests, a conversation which led to a research grant for a joint opportunity in the future.

12 - 16 March | Urban dreams

Another month, another British Council event! The opportunities they provide are just too good to miss; particularly as this one was in Astana, Kazakhstan. The city is an urbanisation researcher’s dream, as it is very rare that you see a city developed from scratch. 

30 March - 12 April | Two weeks in Barbados

But not for a holiday as it sounds! For the past four years I have been a visiting lecturer at the University of the West Indies (UWI), teaching a public policy for renewable energy module, which was developed as a result of my PhD. I’ve published a number of papers on disaster risk reduction in Barbados – an area not many people are publishing in – which led to the establishment of a new collaboration with the University’s campus in Jamaica.

16 - 24 May | Back to the Caribbean

The aforementioned collaboration was the reason for my trip the following month, to UWI’s campus in Kingston. Thanks to Secure and Resilient Societies Challenge funding, myself and a colleague, Dr Julie Fisher, spent a productive week at the the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Centre, developing a proposal on gender vulnerabilities in disasters – which we hope to submit later this year.

30 May - 3 June | Conference time!

At the end of May I headed to Tampere in Finland for a CIB World Business Congress Conference, to present a paper. I also attended a group meeting for the CIB working group for Disasters and the Built Environment, for the first time. I’d met some members before but it was great to reconnect.

9 - 15 July | Always learning

July brings another conference, but this time a WEDC (Water, Engineering and Development Centre) conference, in Kumasi, Ghana. Whilst here I ran a capacity development workshop on Disaster Risk Reduction for the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector, to develop thinking about some achievable strategies for disaster preparedness and prevention. WASH is a new area for me so I attended various sessions at the conference to learn!

3 - 11 September | New Zealand

In September I attended the annual Building Resilience Conference, in Auckland, New Zealand. The disaster risk reduction research community is pretty small, so it was great to see lots of people I’ve previously worked with. I’ve exchanged numerous tweets and emails with some but never met in real life so it’s great to put a face to the name. 

24 - 29 September | First of many trips to India

I am a co-investigator on an ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) project SMArt CitIES Network for Sustainable Urban Futures (SMARTIES Net), which is a collaborative partnership that aims to establish a multidisciplinary consortium of researchers specialising in a range of fields including engineering, social science, urban planning and heritage. As part of the project we will be visiting various Indian cities to run workshops with local stakeholders, including Chandigarh, Kolkata, Visakapatnam, Kochi and Delhi. 

21 - 23 November | Passport not needed

So not a trip abroad, but what a great event! I was invited down to Cambridge by the Royal Academy of Engineering to run a session on Resilience development at their first Frontiers of Engineering for Development Symposium. All participants were given the opportunity to bid for seed funding. Myself and Dr Jo Rose, who joined me for my trip to Indonesia earlier this year, were awarded £20k for a research proposal aimed at developing a more resilient built environment in Nepal.

January 2017 | Starting a new year in Nepal

As a result of the funding we secured in November 2016, myself and Jo headed out to Nepal at the start of the new year, the first of three trips to the country for 2017. We’ll be working closely with local researchers and decision makers, and I’m excited to see where this opportunity leads. 

Ksenia Chmutina

Lecturer in Sustainable and Resilient Urbanism

School of Civil and Building Engineering

Ksenia joined Loughbourough University as a Research Associate. Her main research interest is in synergies of resilience and sustainability in the built environment, including holistic approach to enhancing resilience to natural and human-induced threats, and a better understanding of the systemic implications of sustainability and resilience under the pressures of urbanisation and climate change.

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