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Helping students to write dissertations for a greener Bristol

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Ola Michalec is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a member of the Bristol Advisory Committee for Climate Change. Before that, she was based at the University of the West of England (UWE), where she completed her PhD on co-production approaches to climate policy making in cities. Ola is keen to help future generations of sustainability students and researchers by sharing her experiences of collaborating with the local sustainability practitioners. In her recent handbook, she outlined advice on writing excellent dissertations for sustainable Bristol. The document is free to download here and it would be of use to undergraduate and Master’s students as well as university lecturers.

For the past 4 years, I was lucky enough to research future climate policies in Bristol. I said “lucky” because I can’t think of any better place in the UK to connect with sustainability professionals. There is no shortage of green-minded consultancies, charities, businesses, research groups and politicians here! Most importantly, they are committed to collaboration and sharing through the Bristol Green Capital Partnership. Since its establishment in 2007, the Partnership mobilised over 900 organisations, created best practice guides like the Bristol Method and coordinated the creation of the recently-formed Bristol Advisory Committee for Climate Change.

Researching sustainability in Bristol led me to two conclusions. First, we have a wealth of resources and energy from which we should draw from. Second, the same perception of abundance can make some feel overwhelmed and stuck on finding ‘their’ niche to contribute something new and useful. This is particularly true to the students, who often lack the pre-existing professional networks and years of experience under their belt.

Acknowledging that undergraduate and Master’s students can devote only a couple of months to their research project, I decided to compile and list of ‘top tips’ which could help them get their dissertations started. My handbook is based on 4 years of PhD research and a series of interviews with lecturers at UWE Bristol. In this resource, I tackled questions like: How to plan my research? How to choose a research question? How to find relevant literature? In addition, I provided information on two key areas related to local sustainability: co-production and secondary data.

Co-production is about working with local practitioners and residents. It’s about knowing how to build and nurture relationships and being aware of “who is who” in the local sustainability scene. Researching through the means of co-production could help students to get to know the city better, find potential future employers and make their work applicable to those who need it the most. In my handbook, I contrasted co-produced methods with traditional approaches, outlined benefits for you and your collaborators, compiled a mini-directory of the green organisations and listed further reading.

However, not all research questions can be answered through the means of co-production. I, therefore, highlighted the need to research using publicly available secondary data. Both the local and the national government share exciting, fine-grained and up-to-date information about all things green: transport, housing, energy, green spaces – you name it! Knowing how overwhelming it might be to navigate through the secondary data sets, I provided some tips on geographical scales, data management and freedom of information requests. Finally, I curated a list of the most relevant datasets to sustainability in Bristol.

This handbook is completely free and can be accessed here. Download your copy now and spread the word among the students and lecturers within your circles!

If you would like to get in touch with Ola, contact her on aleks.michalec@gmail.com

Public & School Education, Blog, Skills Bridge
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