Although we all go through our careers doing the best we can, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, the day-to-day rarely changes anything for us. But every now and again, there are moments when something clicks and someone inspires you or changes your mindset so fundamentally that you remember that moment for the rest of your life. I hope this post doesn’t get weird, but I just wanted to highlight some of those moments from my life, and to thank the people who altered my thinking (even though they probably didn’t realise that they did/have).
Alan Carter was my geography teacher at secondary school. It’s pretty safe to say that I wouldn’t be working in the environmental applications sector if it hadn’t been for the teaching and opportunities I got from him. But the specific moment that was important to me was the lesson when I was 13 and he introduced me to climatology. From that point on I understood the importance of a global climate, and how small changes in it can have huge impacts. It made me want to find out more – I wanted to be a climatologist!
Obviously I never made it to be a climatologist, despite choosing my undergraduate degree specifically to focus on climate in the context of physical geography. I was diverted by this shiny, (then, comparatively new) remote sensing and GIS thing. My next moment was whilst having lunch with Kevin White and Geoff Griffiths (University of Reading lecturers) during a summer placement I was working on, looking at SAR imagery and soil moisture in Niger (n.b. the data covered Niger, we were still in Reading!!). I only had vague ideas about what to do after my degree, but this lunchtime conversation helped me decide on a generalised MSc followed by a specific PhD and gave me the grounding for my career. It also gave me confidence in my abilities, knowing that Kevin and Geoff were sure I could do it.
During one of my postdoc positions I helped provide a MapInfo training workshop (look it up kids!). One of the attendees was Markus Neteler. We had never met at this stage. During the workshop, I noticed that he wasn’t running MapInfo, so wet to see why. He introduced me to Linux and GRASS, and the concept of open source. That moment has change my life in so many ways, but having it demonstrated to me that ‘free’ software could easily obtain the same outputs as the software the training was designed around really impressed me and made me want to find out more.
Then, when I was starting to take on management responsibility and team leadership as part of my role at a company I worked for (Apem Ltd.) Stuart Clough taught me that being confident in my “plate spinning” would be a better way to approach the myriad of tasks I had to deal with, rather than concentrating on one, or approaching all in a timid way. That conversation with Stuart, and his approach of building up to a “gold standard” product or service by starting at bronze, still sticks in my mind as something that transformed the way I looked at managing a complex job.
Early on in running Geoger, I went to a meeting in Oxford that brought together a wide range of people. I can’t remember what the topic was, other than something to do with sustainability. The meeting itself was unmemorable, but one moment will stay with me. The whole thing was being framed in the context of economic growth i.e. we should all be making more and more money, but one person – Paul Jepson, who at the time was at the University of Oxford – stood up and challenged this notion. His argument against economic growth was eloquent and impassioned, and really resonated with me. Now, in a time where building back better and green new deals are being regularly raised, it seems nothing special, but back then I latched on to it and have regularly thought back to that moment. There is (or should be) an alternative to economic and financial growth – we just need to decide we want different, more meaningful methods of growth (or even just contented stability!).
Finally, I want to mention Helen Gavin (University of Oxford) who has made me see things in a different way on multiple occasions but one moment stuck with me. Again, relatively early on in running Geoger, I managed to secure multiple contracts and was trying to bid for more. The whole thing seemed like an insurmountable wall in front of me. How could I deliver all of this? Helen showed me that by breaking every issue into a logical series of smaller steps nothing is insurmountable. I use this life lesson so often.
The great thing is that these moments were complete surprises when they happened. I know that more will come, and look forward to having my opinions and thoughts challenged. What moments do you remember in your career?