Hearing from our Fellows: Rosamund Portus
When I was in the midst of finishing my MSc and figuring out whether I wanted to go forward into a PhD I was unsure of what kind of opportunities I might be offered as a doctoral researcher. I was particularly concerned that it would turn out to be an isolating experience (as a fair amount of the advice I received warned me this might be the case). However, I never envisioned that I would have the chance to be part of something as inspiring, invigorating and progressive as the Under her Eye fellowship. I certainly did not imagine that, so early into my PhD journey, I would have the opportunity to collaborate in the planning of so many exciting and impactful projects. If I had, any initial doubts I had about academic isolation would not have been a concern.
*Photograph I took of Professor Julie Doyle discussing effective ways of communicating about climate change.
I was offered the opportunity to join the Under her Eye fellowship through the generosity of my funding body, the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities. I first applied because I believed that the fellowship would stimulate my own research by enhancing my understanding of how people are bringing arts and science into communication with each other to find new ways of tackling climate change. My own work, as a postgraduate researcher at the University of York, centres around studying the role of the arts and creativity in responding to and influencing upon the potential extinction of bees. My work looks at the potential extinction of bees as a multifaceted and complex phenomenon, and I specifically study how people are using artistic and creative methods to narrate, experience, respond to and resist the decline. Therefore, having the chance to go and work with an organisation such as Invisible Dust, that explicitly encourages collaborations between artists and scientists seemed like an opportunity too good to be true. However, although my original reason for applying was due to the relevance of the fellowship to my academic interests, having attended the training weekend I feel that I have gained far more than I initially expected. The weekend not only enhanced my research, but also offered me an array of new skills, challenged my ideas, and fostered some wonderful new relationships and support networks.
The fellowship programme brings together artists, humanities-based researchers and scientists, with the aim of fostering new collaborations that can help communicate the issue of climate change to a wider audience. Promoting interdisciplinary collaborations, to find new ways of communicating about and engaging people with climate change concerns, is imperative for driving forward climate change action. There is a tendency to assume the problems associated with climate change can only be influenced by scientific research or policy driven changes. Furthermore, problems associated with climate change can feel incredibly disconnected from our everyday experiences. The images we see of polar bears or forest fires, although they might have become part of our discussions and awareness, remain somewhat invisible to us due to their separation to our personal experiences. Yet, not only has climate change begun to shape our everyday experiences, the publics role in supporting climate change action is deeply important. One example of how climate change is already shaping our day to day lives, that relates closely to my own research, is how the decline of bees, creatures that we consider as relatively common, is inextricably linked to concerns around climate change: the adverse weather effects means that, firstly, bees are less likely to survive in the hive and, second, the times at which plants are flowering no longer correlate with bees’ natural pollination schedules. By demonstrating more clearly how climate change matters are beginning to impact upon our own personal experiences, we might be able to connect the near with the remote and start to inspire action. It is imperative that we begin to find ways of communicating scientific research in accessible ways that both engages people with the concerns and emphasises the importance of their input in climate change matters.
Another defining aspect of the weekend, and fellowship programme in general, is that all the attendees were female. I believe this was an important feature of the training weekend for three reasons. Firstly, it is vital that we emphasise the role that women are playing, and will continue to play, in the increasingly urgent issue of climate change. For me, learning about the wonderful work of females tackling climate change issues inspires me to believe that I might add my voice to present and future narratives surrounding climate change. Celebrating the work of women will encourage younger generations of females to become involved the conversation. Second, although the issue of climate change is universal, the outcomes of climate change will disproportionally impact on females. This is especially true for women in developing countries. As the individuals most likely to be relied on to provide food, medicine and care, the impact of unusual or hostile weather, which might flood crops or kill livestock, will directly hinder the work of many women first. As such, it is important that we encourage females to be part of the climate change dialogue. Third, by tailoring the fellowship towards female researchers Invisible Dust helped us create an environment in which I personally felt much safer in discussing my vulnerabilities and concerns as a young female postgraduate researcher. This was a feeling that was reiterated to me by many of the other fellows. For instance, the workshop we had in public speaking explicitly discussed the barriers we face as women, and how to gain the confidence to overcome this. Furthermore, as part of this workshop we all had to challenge ourselves by each giving a small speech on our research. I believe that without the supportiveness of an all-female environment this experience would not have been nearly as transformative for me.
Overall the fellowship training weekend helped to make me feel that I have the confidence to input my voice into the conversation around environmental change and, most importantly, be heard when I do. The fellowship is a wonderful demonstration of how bringing together voices from the arts, sciences and humanities can result in fantastic new collaborations that will drive forward the issue of climate change in hopeful directions.
I want to finish by saying that it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with such a wonderful, creative and considerate cohort of female researchers and artists. Thank you everyone who made this fellowship possible, it has been a transformative experience so far and I cannot wait until the Under her Eye Summit and Arts Festival.
Rosamund Portus is a doctoral researcher at the University of York, working within the environmental humanities. Her research studies the role of arts and creativity in responding to and influencing upon the recent decline of bee populations. As part of the WRoCAH led extinction network she shares a website with two other students researching similar topics: www.extinction-network.com.
Her twitter account is: https://twitter.com/rosamundportus.