- Job title: University Academic Fellow in Smart Travel Behaviour
I have been Chair of the Transport Geography Research Group of the RGS-IBG since August 2016. This research group has been around for more than 40 years, and its founder members are still active, so I have big shoes to fill. My main task is, with the help of several other committee members, to provide an effective forum for transport geographers to maintain the sub-discipline, wherever they find themselves, from Undergraduate level upwards. Our main conference venue is the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, where we usually have at least 12 sessions, including the annual Hoyle Memorial Lecture, given by an invited speaker. We are also affiliated to the Journal of Transport Geography.
My ADAPT project, funded by the EPSRC through the LWEC challenge, is investigating the effectiveness of the arguments typically used in travel behaviour change communications. So far we have built a database of more than 100 individual communicative items from around the UK and analysed their argument structure. Patterns are starting to emerge, which enables us to move on to the next phase of research which is to run experiments to learn whether the effectiveness of particular argument schemes is related to an individual’s attitudes and personality. Understanding this will enable us to develop and test message algorithms for travel planning tools that people use on their Smartphones (that is the persuasive technology bit).
I recently realised that I have always been interested in transport. Aged 4 I was given a little bit of money to spend, and I chose a Hornby railway set. As a Philosophy and English Literature undergraduate, I bought the full railway timetable for the UK every time a new one was issued. Yes, I did read it (though I had it to organise my travel, in those pre-Internet days). My post-doc rationalisation is that transport uses so much energy and is so dependent on fossil fuels that it is a key sustainability issue, and I like to work on practical problems.
I have an unusual career path for an academic, having spent time after my first degree ‘out there’. Philosophy degrees weren’t sought after in the late 1980s, so my initial working life was built on my secretarial qualifications. However, this means I’m quite computer literate and have excellent keyboard skills which are very useful. I worked in administrative officer positions in the Scottish public sector for more than a decade and realised I really wanted to get a more relevant qualification so that I could progress. However, having gone back to Uni to do a Masters, I felt so at home in a University setting that when offered the opportunity to do a PhD I grabbed it. Although it has been very tough with a young family and challenging personal experiences in my life, my partner is very supportive (and is now retired), so having been very lucky to win a 5 year Personal Fellowship award from the EPSRC, we decided it was now or never for my career, post 50 yrs old. The long-distance commuting isn’t fun, but I have settled into a routine in which the journeys themselves are proving to be quite productive, not to mention providing relevant context for my research.
I stepped forward to be E&I coordinator for ITS because I felt that I had something to offer. I have faced challenges and developed insights as a result which I hope will make me an effective contributor to promoting equality, inclusion and diversity.