Rural Women – Experiences of an Early Career Researcher

Starting a Geography undergraduate course in 2007, I never thought I’d end up as a rural geographer. I embarked on my course determined to be a glaciologist (on odd choice for someone that definitely does not like the cold). I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I decided to ditch the ice core for leather elbow patches, but reading Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ definitely had something to do with it. Her eloquent and yet remorseless description of the damage humans were doing to the planet reoriented my interest: humans as change agents.

The rest is history as they say. Progressing through my undergraduate studies and onto my PhD, I developed an interest in understanding the behaviours of lesser researched groups, particularly farmers’ wives and children. I’ve met loads of inspirational women along the way; farmers wives who claim to ‘just help out on the farm’, who are actually doing a 40 hour week, working part-time off the farm, and looking after the children! Grandmothers in their 90s still out on the farm every single day, come rain or shine. And farmers’ daughters absolutely determined to be the farm successor, despite the strong gendered expectation surrounding intergenerational farm transfer.

Hannah presenting SUFISA research findings

As well as drawing inspiration from research subjects, I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by some great female colleagues. I think academia can be a challenging environment for women, particularly those working in STEM, which tends to be very male dominated. But I do think this is slowly changing; there is a very vocal movement on social media. I think the CCRI is very lucky as it has a good gender balance throughout the team. I draw inspiration from working in an Institute where the Director is a woman, and so are many of my senior colleagues. I am also lucky enough to work on an EU funded H2020 project where the Co-Investigators are both women – it makes me think ‘that could be me in a few years’.

Whilst the particularities of rural research are often a great source of inspiration, I think it is important to recognise some present a unique and challenging prospect for the young female researcher out in the field (e.g. the geographical remoteness of farm holdings, the strength of tradition in farm families and the male-dominated nature of the agricultural industry). To counter this, my colleague Dr Rebecca Wheeler (University of Exeter) and I, published a paper which draws on our fieldwork experiences and presents a practical protocol for addressing the issues we collectively faced. The paper is available for download from the University of Gloucestershire repository.