Professor Mary Gagen is a broadly-trained physical geographer with a research specialism in climate change. She is interested in exploring how environmental change impacts our planet’s forests and the elements of the carbon and water cycles played out in forests, and in the records of past global change that ancient trees contain. She currently carries out research in the northern Boreal forest areas of Fennoscania and in lowland tropical rainforest in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Her research is funded by Research Council’s UK, National Geographic, the European Union and Welsh Government.
Professor Gagen has a particular passion for taking academic research out of the university and working with school children and members of the public to involve them in research. She teaches key skills for scientists and runs a work placement module for geography students. She runs Swansea’s College of Science outreach programme, S4, funded by the Welsh Government’s National Science Academy.
“I was not a strong student in school, I am quite unusual as an academic in that respect and it’s something I talk about with school students a lot. I got BBC in my A Levels, and got a solid 2:1 degree, not a first; I am by no means an A* pupil! I think it’s really important to let students know that science isn’t ‘just for the brainy kids’ - we project such a narrow view of science and higher education sometimes. That’s not to say that education and science are easy, you have to work hard and there’s some luck involved. I happen to be quite good at sideways thinking and problem-solving, and I’m good at getting diverse groups of people to work together, so I have some particular skills that are useful for being a scientist and an academic but I am in no way ‘the brainy kid’!
I did absolutely love geography in school though. That was partly as a result of having a very inspirational geography teacher when I was quite young and also because I was a very ‘outdoorsy’ kid. I just wanted to be outside and outside was where the geography and geology was, so those were my favourites!
Having the range of a geographer allows me to connect with many different people from many different walks of life. That’s really important so that we can connect science and research with a more diverse section of the population, geography is a great ‘gateway’ subject like that, someone could find they were really inspired by a little bit of geography in school and it takes them off into their own journey and into some entirely different career. I love that I meet ‘geographers’ all the time using their geographical skills in a huge variety of ways.