Entering the World of Mobilities Research: An Outsider Perspective


 

As an intern working with the Centre for Mobilities Research team at Lancaster University, I was probably the naivest outsider who attended. Although I am no stranger to the world of academia, having recently graduated from Lancaster with a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, my studies have never led me down the path of mobilities before; I had very little familiarity with the broad range of areas that I now understand the term encompasses. Being privileged with the opportunity to work with the CeMorRe staff as an intern meant that I was thrown in at the deep-end, into the middle of the conference, and from this I gained my first real insight into the energetic and innovative world of mobilities. So, what did mobilities research look like to a complete outsider like myself?

What struck me first upon entering the conference centre was how interdisciplinary the event was and how it had attracted such a variety of people from around the world. Surprising connections, collaborations and debates were forming between artists, engineers and academics in every room; the conference was a dynamic microcosm within which innovative research ideas from across the globe were flourishing and knowledge was evolving. Behind one door people huddled with an artist around her work discussing the physical and emotional experiences of cycling, in another a presentation questioning how the city alters itself under the tourist gaze was underway. How had I not come across this diverse body of research before?

Yet perhaps what was most inspirational about the event was realising the significance of much of the research in terms of its potential to change the world or how it was already doing so. From drones delivering blood in Africa to questioning who or what owns the future, I was observing academics report on research that was challenging current perceptions, proposing ideas to shape the world of tomorrow and offering new ways of understanding the past. It was humbling to consider that this was just one research centre’s conference within one university; it gave me a new sense of the scale of what is being learnt and explored about mobilities in universities, companies and academic institutions across the world and how it is working to improve today and tomorrow.

 

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Plenary panel audience

Although this atmosphere was initially overwhelming to me, the collective enthusiasm in the air was contagious. This was the kind of space where the books I had quoted in my undergraduate work were born from; where their authors debated with one another; where their ideas were being bounced around, challenged and understood. Perhaps as an undergraduate I had taken the wealth of academic resources available to me a little too much for granted. Now I was seeing academic work in a new light, not as rows of books and lists of secondary readings but as living, breathing and evolving creations at the forefront of their research fields. As a former undergraduate, to be able to engage with cutting edge university research instead of experiencing it as a student was a unique and highly inspiring opportunity.

Leaving the conference after this was undoubtedly somewhat of a surreal experience. How did no one else on campus seem to know what amazing work was going on down at the conference centre? Although undergraduate students would not have been at the same academic level or as well-informed about mobilities as those attending the event, part of me was disappointed that this lively, interdisciplinary world of research seemed so unknown to students. My experience made me question whether more could be done to offer students who wish to follow a career in academia more opportunities to attend or volunteer at similar styles of events. Perhaps it would allow them to engage with, or at least be more aware of, what research consists of and how they would be expected to work?

Of course, I cannot make any profound or well-reflected conclusion from my time here as this has only been the first week of the CeMoRe internship. However, already I feel myself learning so much about the university, the research team and mobility studies. Hopefully within the next few months I can deepen my understanding of the field and become a valuable member to the CeMoRe team so that they can continue to engage with and produce stimulating and world changing research. Hopefully we can host more events in the future that will be as successful as the Mobile Utopia conference was.