Spotlight on... Dr Graham Woodgate

This week we caught up with Graham Woodgate, Teaching Fellow at the Institute of the Americas and Acting Director of the Bachelor of Arts and Sciences (BASc), to hear about his winning the UCL Sustainability Education Award in 2019 - and recent work delivering education remotely.

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am a Teaching Fellow, with my appointment split between the Institute of the Americas, where I lecture on globalisation, sustainable development and political ecology, and co-chair the Staff-Student Consultative Committee, and the Bachelor of Arts and Sciences (BASc). I am currently Acting Director of the BASc, UCL’s flagship interdisciplinary arts and sciences undergraduate degree programme. I teach a Level 5 module on Environmental Sociology and a Level 6 module: Ecosociologies: Theory, Analysis and Action.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I have been at UCL since 2012. Prior to that I was Senior Lecturer in Environmental Sociology at the UoL School of Advanced Study (SAS). Prior to joining the SAS in 2003, I was a lecturer in Environmental Sociology at Wye College, UoL, where I had previously completed a BSc in Rural Environment Studies and a PhD in Political Ecology. At Wye, I was director of undergraduate environment degrees and then the MSc in Rural Resources and Environmental Policy. I also became involved in Wye College’s distance learning programmes, designing, writing and tutoring PGT modules in Concepts of the Environment in the Social Sciences, Environmental Sociology and Sustainable Forest Management.

Tell us about the Sustainability Award you won in 2019 and the work that it celebrated

I was a UCL Sustainability Education Award winner in 2019, in recognition of my teaching of environmental sociology, agroecology, political ecology and sustainable development, and my supervision of Institute of the Americas PhD students working on sustainable development and agroecological research in Latin America. 

Agroecology is a transdisciplinary, action oriented-field of research, scholarship and practice that builds from the sustainable farming techniques of indigenous, peasant and family farms and develops links with social movements for food sovereignty.

Has winning the award changed things for you?

Winning the award has not really changed things for me. Nevertheless, as I said to a colleague at the time, "it’s nice to be recognised for doing my thing"! I have been concerned about sustainability since the 1970s, when I left school and went to work for the Forestry Commission, and have witnessed the ebb and flow of societal concern over environmental limits and sustainability. I guess what the award and the Sustainability Awards more generally mean to me is that UCL is taking sustainability seriously.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list.

I respond to this question on 31 March 2020, in the midst of UCL’s efforts to mitigate the impacts of the novel coronavirus outbreak on its staff and students. As a teaching fellow, with decades of experience in distance learning, I am working on how best to deliver interdisciplinary education at a distance and as Acting Director of the BASc, most of my waking hours are devoted to developing and implementing mitigation measures for BASc staff and students.

Intellectually, I am now fascinated by the contrast between the global response to Covid-19 (a rapid onset disaster) and our response to climate change (a slow onset disaster). If we are to respond effectively to climate change, in my view, we will need to learn political, economic, ecological and sociological lessons from our response to the pandemic.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody 
Film - Avatar (we were once all once Na’vi!)
Novel - The Education of Little Tree by Forrest (Asa Earl) Carter

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

How do you keep an idiot in suspense?
Look me up, take me out for a coffee (once the pandemic is over) and I’ll explain.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Eve Balfour, Berta Cáceres, Alexander Chayanov, Dian Fossey, Masanobu Fukuoka, Greta Thunberg, Nelson Mandela and Karl Marx.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The advice that my humanist aunt gave me: "Your duty is to be happy and to spread that happiness to those around you".

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I was a retained fire fighter for ten years, whilst a PhD student and lecturer at Wye College.

What is your favourite place?

The ancient semi-natural woodlands of southeast England, especially in bluebell season!


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