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Department of Geography


Conducting research at a distance

Conducting research at a distance

When one door closes (quite literally!)... there is always a window.

University of Cambridge PhD Students, Fleur Nash and Charlotte Milbank introduce their new panel and workshop series on conducting research at a distance. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, these sessions will explore how to conduct remote research, build off adversity and seize opportunities to explore novel insights and methodologies. All sessions will be documented here as part of a new blog, 'Conducting Research at Distance'.

All those working in research have had to rethink their plans during the COVID-19 pandemic – in Geography it is no different. The global reach of geographical research from the postgraduate and undergraduate community at Cambridge is far and wide, creating a diverse spectrum of collaboration, partnerships and ideas. With the current travel restrictions within and between countries, many of us are now having to be creative in how to continue such research. Although this can be daunting, this can also be a great opportunity to explore new ways of conducting research, as well as take the time to reflect on the principles and values of research and the notion of fieldwork in the first place.

Last week the Geography community at the University of Cambridge came together to share our concerns about research during this time, as well as stories of hope for our individual research plans. Sharing a sense of disappointment that we might have to let go of our expectations on what our research would have been was strangely comforting. Reassurance that others are in the same boat, and rapidly drawing up alternative plans , offered a sense of solidarity and connection – two feelings much needed in this time of uncertainty. Running through our discussion was the ability (and need) to reframe the current situation as an opportunity rather than a setback – an opportunity to learn new skills, reflect as a research community and personally reflect on what research means to each of us and those we are working with. Ideas were suggested for further discussions and workshops around creative methodologies, rethinking ethics, and scenario planning during the pandemic. Having researchers at different stages of their careers come together offering to share and learn from each other felt like a rare and special moment in the notoriously lonely academic world.

This blog series will document the informal and formal discussions and workshops that take place in the Cambridge Geography research community around conducting research at a distance. In doing so, it aims to bring that community feel to other researchers in similar situations, despite our geographical distance. We hope that by sharing these ideas, we will generate wider conversations with others in similar situations, or just offer a source of comfort and maybe inspiration for other researchers having to be flexible within the complexities that a global pandemic brings.

As Constanza (2000) says "Holding on to the vision and being flexible about the path is often the only way to find the path".

If you have any ideas of discussions and workshops you would like to see, or would like to offer to lead one please get in touch with Charlotte ( or Fleur (