Rob Hopkins – PhD in human geography graduate

Current employer: Transition Network

Current job title: Catalyst and Outreach Manager

Current location: Totnes, Devon, UK.

What is / was the title of your project?

My PhD research was called ‘Localisation and resilience at the local level: the case of Transition Town Totnes (Devon, UK)’.

Describe your research in one sentence.

It was a detailed look at an initiative I had started in my town, using a mix of innovative research methods to produce a rich snapshot of an experiment in building a more resilient community.

What was the most exciting element(s) of your project (e.g. fieldwork or conferences etc)?

It enabled me to do some good research which was really valuable to both the PhD and also to the initiative. The most exciting bit for me was that my research was not purely an academic exercise, it was rooted in a real project and in producing research that helped it to advance.

What was the most exciting outcome(s) of your project?

The fact that I managed to finish it in the three years, doing it on a part-time basis! It did feel like a real achievement, balancing it with work, with family, and still getting it done. Also my alma mater, UWE in Bristol, gave me an Honorary Doctorate, which I have to say was a lot less work than the one I got from Plymouth!

Tell us what you have been doing since completing your research:

I have continued working with Transition Network, which is now active in 50 countries around the world. I have written two more books, been awarded two honorary doctorates, been part of some great and pioneering initiatives in Totnes, and am now taking a part-time sabbatical to write a new book about imagination.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?

There is no standard career path for what I’ve done. It has been managed by being willing to accept life satisfaction and the warmth and thrill of working with other people, rather than significant economic reward. Everything I have done were things where there was always a pretty convincing list of reasons why I shouldn’t even attempt them.

I would say that everyone who did anything that really led to meaningful change was considered a bit odd. As a friend of mine says “why go out on a limb? Because that’s where the fruit is”. Go for it. Don’t be afraid to experiment, to play around with things, to take risks, don’t be afraid to take your research supervisor on a journey, it’s not all one way, you’re teaching them stuff too.

How did your time at Plymouth University help you?

It helped me to ground my ideas in good research, it pushed me to look at arguments from different sides. As my supervisor was fond of telling me, it made me down off my soapbox. It also made me better at using my time very effectively!

Would you recommend undertaking research at Plymouth University, and why?

I would. Everyone was very helpful and kind, and the library is great. As someone spread so thin, I can’t claim to have made the most of it really, I didn’t have time for social events, networking, seminars, visiting speakers and so on. I’m sure if I had been able to throw myself into those it would have been even better!

Is there anything else which you would like to share with our current students?

Enjoy it. The opportunity to be able to immerse yourself in studying something that interests you is one that probably won’t ever happen again in your life. Enjoy it.

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