The Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER) is a teaching and research group focusing on cultural and social aspects of environmental issues. AUSCCER’s expertise and research is wide-ranging. Each month we’ll introduce a new academic or PhD candidate to give greater insight into AUSCCER’s work.
Eliza de Vet is completing a PhD with AUSCCER. Here she answers questions about her research.
You’re a PhD candidate with AUSCCER and you’ll be finishing your thesis soon. What is the focus of your research?
I’m interested in everyday weather and what it means to individuals in their day-to-day life. So much climate change discussion has revolved around statistics and broad geographic settings. Yet, how climate (change) translates into the daily life of individuals is not well understood. In order to comprehend how individuals experience and respond to climate, it is first necessary to examine the tangible, the amalgamation of climate – weather. This is where my research comes in. Over the past three years I’ve worked with residents in Darwin and Melbourne, exploring the role of weather in their everyday practices. These practices relate to household chores, work, leisure, travel, food, domestic comfort etc. It’s been fascinating to observe how tropical and temperate weather creates different daily challenges and luxuries, how willing and proactive participants were to staying weather connected, and the degree of tolerance participants expressed during less-than-comfortable conditions. These and other findings show promise for individuals capacity to adapt sustainably to future environmental change.
Why are you interested in the weather?
Who isn’t? That’s been one of the intriguing elements of my research – everyone has their own experience and everyone has their two cents. Climate change is such a huge issue and I wanted to start at its roots – everyday micro-scale expressions of climate change. It’s captivating to observe how local weather infiltrates individuals daily life. How they feel, think and respond to weather. Perhaps mundane, I know, but what better subject to study than the first thought of a morning – what’s the weather doing today?
What’s been the most challenging aspect of your PhD?
There have been numerous challenges throughout my PhD, but the most would have to be managing heavy workloads. Fieldwork was always crazy. Within nine months, I made five trips to Melbourne and three to Darwin. These trips were always intense. I remember doing up to four hour-long interviews in one day, traveling in-between by public transport. All the while, you’re responsible for cooking for yourself in unfamiliar kitchens, gathering daily weather related media, conducting participant observations in the city, writing blog posts, exploring library archives, and organising future meetings. They were crazy times. Once I completed these crazies, there were a new set to contend with – teaching, writing and presenting. You’re always reviewing a thesis chapter or journal article, writing a new one and eyeing off the next one in your calendar. Throw in a good handful of presentations and a few classes and you’re bogged, but always in a good way. I’ve always found the heavier the workload, more efficient I become. These were great challenges, but only possible by some decent downtime.
And what’s been the most rewarding?
The most rewarding would be surviving a challenge and travelling. There’s no better feeling than coming out the other side of a hectic session of fieldwork, writing, presenting, or marking and knowing you’ve been highly productive and achieved your goal. Fieldwork was particularly rewarding. It was a buzz being on my own for so long, finding my independence and confidence, constantly meeting new people and exploring new places. But it was also the little things that were rewarding. I’d never been to Darwin before and my first trip was scheduled during the Build-Up (the least comfortable time of the year). Eager to get a feel for tropical living, my aim was to avoid air conditioning. And I did. It was encouraging to find just how adaptable my body and actions could be. In the first few days of my stay, I found my work, sleeping, eating, and exercising routines naturally transform. Becoming hot, sweaty and sticky was not an avoidable sensation, but something you simply had to relax into. The rewards and pleasure associated with moving with the weather was one of the reasons why I fell in love with Darwin.Travelling has also been extremely rewarding. I’ve seen some amazing places, encountered new experiences (such as cyclone Carlos), met some really lovely people, spent quality time with colleagues outside of work and have realised how independent I can be. And at the end of it all, your own bed never felt so comfortable.
What made you decide to go down the path of human geography?
It wasn’t until late in my undergrad degree I decided on human geography. I actually started doing Environmental Science, until I realised chemistry and I didn’t get along. So I changed to a Land and Heritage Management. Here I got the best of both worlds – rocks, climatology and biology, while exploring social impacts on the environment and land and heritage management. It wasn’t until Gordon Waitt’s inspiring third year Space, Place and Identity that my career path became human geography focused. From there I completed a directed studies subject and Honours with Gordon. After having researched the (dis)abled body and (dis)abling spaces for nearly two years, I wanted something new. An advertised PhD on weather and culture was exactly that. It’s given me the opportunity to continue with human geography while reconnecting back to my love of physical geography.
What advice would you give people who are interested in a career/future in human geography?
Human geography covers such a vast array of subjects and you’re rarely restricted to just one. Most human geographers I know are researching multiple subjects – shark attacks, bushfires, festivals, domestic comforts, cultural economies, plants, and so much more! You can never get bored.
And what words of advice do you have for people in the early stages of a PhD?
My advice would be to plan, don’t refine your research too early and take and make opportunities. I’ve always been one for lists and calendars. Planning my time carefully, taking into account work related commitments and goals, personal obligations and downtime, played a crucial role in keeping me relatively on track and less stressed. Relating to research focus, like most people, my thoughts were always evolving, but I didn’t refine my research scope until after fieldwork. By retaining a broad and open mind while in the field I have been able to chop, change and refine my research on numerous occasions. While I’m only using a small portion of my original data, I’m working with the best parts. This approach worked for me, but may not suit everyone’s project. Lastly, as a PhD candidate I was only required to submit a thesis (and a couple of other small tasks), however, I wanted more out of the experience. Attending conferences and seminars, doing extra field work, teaching, giving lectures, planning conferences, making connections, even eating lunch with colleagues, made for a more fulfilling experience.
What’s next for you after your PhD is complete?
That’s the interesting question, without an interesting answer. I do plan to lay low for a few months, taking time to unwind and write a few publications. As for the next stage, I have a few ideas, but will know it when I see it!