The power of small actions

Professor Christina Hicks of Lancaster University

Small actions can create change, says an environmental social scientist as she is promoted to professor in recognition of her “phenomenal achievements in a short space of time”.

Professor Christina Hicks, an expert in small scale fisheries, pays tribute to her convention defying Kenyan grandfather in helping her get where she is today - one of the Lancaster Environment Centre’s newest, and youngest, professors.

“My mum comes from a remote village, in the mountains, on the Kenya-Uganda border. She was one of 35 kids and would not normally have gone to school, but my grandfather had an early belief in education for all.”

Her mother went on to work in educational development, where she met and married Christina’s British father.

“A decision my grandfather made has enabled me to sit here, which is an indication of how quickly we can make changes. We can feel we are up against immovable challenges, but small actions can produce fairly rapid changes,” said Christina, who spent most of her childhood in east Africa.

Christina, has nearly 50 peer reviewed papers to her name, many in high impact journals. Last year she won a €1.5 million European Research Council grant to investigate how small scale fisheries can help prevent malnutrition in Africa.

She gained her PhD in 2013 in Australia, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, and moved on to the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University. Three years ago she moved to the Lancaster Environment Centre to provide a social science perspective for Lancaster University’s growing expertise in marine science.

Professor Philip Barker, director of the Lancaster Environment Centre, said: “Lancaster Environment Centre seeks to create space for brilliant individuals to thrive and achieve great things. Christina has achieved a phenomenal amount in a short space of time.

“Christina has also put a great deal back into the department. She has challenged us and helped us grow together as a community of people striving to make a difference.”

Christina sees her appointment as both a recognition of her academic achievements, but also as an opportunity to change people’s view of who can succeed as an academic.

“Being a visible female minority professor in the department sends a subconscious signal to students that it’s no longer an exclusively older, white, and male establishment, I’m quite excited by that leverage.”

A great believer in the power of working across disciplines, Christina sees her promotion as a validation of the role of social science within a department and a field that is currently dominated by the natural sciences.

Christina is the department’s lead for Athena Swan, an award scheme focussed on recognising and encouraging the advancement of women in academia. She is also working with colleagues to raise the profile of equality, diversity and inclusion more generally.

“I worry that at times, what we do in good faith may be inadvertently perpetuating inequalities and injustices. So we need to think more broadly about who we teach, how we teach, and what we teach, as well as where, what, and how we research.”

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