Geography, Earth and environment at Brighton

Paul Gilchrist head shot
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Dr Paul Gilchrist

Dr Paul Gilchrist teaches across our geography undergraduate courses.

Tell us about the subject area(s) you teach at undergraduate level?

I lead the research methodology aspect of the undergraduate curriculum, convening the second-year Research and Field Skills module which provides training on how to undertake research and design a dissertation project which students will complete in their final year. I am also module leader for Cities and Social Change, an optional first-year module which covers urban geography. I have developed a whole suite of day trips around Brighton and to coastal towns around Sussex to help students put their learning into context. My particular favourite is the trip we make in the spring to Bexhill-on-Sea where we look at the juxtaposition of Oriental and Modernist architecture and investigate its contribution to the town’s heritage tourism strategies.

What are some examples of activities that students in your subject area participate in during their studies?

All geography and environment undergraduate students take the second-year Professional Practice for Global Challenges module. The module helps to prepare students for graduate-level jobs by helping them to write CVs, compose LinkedIn profiles, and connect with alumni who have gone into a range of different fields of work.

An important part of the module is the Consultancy Project where students work with an academic to respond to and action a consultancy brief. This is modelled on the type of work a graduate student might expect to be doing early in an entry-level professional role. We work through how to operationalise the brief, how to tailor the plan to the client’s needs, and students then scope and investigate the problem at hand. The group submit a final report and this includes a fully costed proposal either for future research or an innovative business idea.

We know that when our students apply for jobs that they refer to this exercise and the types of transferable skills it develops. It has made so much difference to the prospects of our students at interview and many have gone onto successful internships, placements and permanent jobs as a result.

Are there opportunities for students to be involved in your research?

My research interests are in the geographies of sport and leisure and I typically supervise any dissertation project in this area. Recent projects have included the regulation of the grime scene in London through to the political symbolism of banners and flags at Watford FC as an expression of local and transnational identities.

I work with students on projects that have investigated cutting-edge developments in the provision of new sport spaces. One project evaluated the reduction of anti-social behaviour in the recently refurbished skatepark on The Level in Brighton. Another looked at the expansion in provision of new trampoline and gravity centres as indicators of the ‘indoorisation’ of new commercial family-oriented leisure spaces.

These projects are informed by the types of social and leisure theory that I work with in my own published and funded research on new outdoor leisure spaces.

Find out more about Dr Gilchrist’s research.

What support is available to undergrads at Brighton?

As well as our range of support and welfare services, the field trips on the geography, earth and environment courses offer a more informal space in which to really get to know students. I’ve found that simple conversations, just walking along the street and having a chat, can open up what motivates them, what inspires them and what they hope to gain from their studies. With this information we are better able to tailor our learning to students’ needs and aspirations.

What do you enjoy most about teaching at undergraduate level?

I enjoy the coaching element involved in being a Personal Academic Tutor. Coming from a working-class background (my father was a factory worker and my mother was a cleaner) I am all too conscious of the gulf between working-class lives and the normative expectations of learning in a middle-class environment surrounded by middle-class students and academics. There is an importance to sharing with undergraduate students the ways I experienced a life of restricted means and forms of social exclusion and how these challenges can be thought about and navigated.

There are many services the university provides to support transition to a new environment, from Student Support and Guidance Tutors to mentoring schemes, but I believe it is essential that academic staff speak up with pride and insight about their backgrounds, histories and the challenges they also faced – it does make a difference to know we might share similar origins.

What’s your favourite location in Sussex and why?

My happy place is a corner of the William Daly Recreation Ground in Polegate. I’ve spent countless hours there with my family on Sunday afternoons riding on the miniature trains around the railway run by the volunteers of the Polegate and District Model Engineering Club. It’s fabulous! They’re fabulous!

Which three people (alive or dead) would you invite to your dream dinner party?

I would take any person in the street. I’ve always prided myself on being a man of the people. I’ve learned that everyone has a story to tell and I would love to share time with whomever I meet so that I can learn more about their lives and their loves.

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