Transcript for 1.4 Beth and Udita
Transcript for Sharing things episode 1.4 Beth and Udita
Amalie: You're listening to Sharing things, a new University of Edinburgh podcast from the Alumni Relations team about the University community, which we want to get to know a little better.
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: Hi, I'm Amalie, I'm a fourth-year student and I'm the host of this podcast. In Sharing things I talk to alumni, staff and students about their stories. Guests have all been asked to bring an object as a starting point for discussion and the object can be anything important or significant. It can represent an event, person, decision, experience or it can just remind them of something. Let's see where this takes us.
In this episode, you will meet Beth Christie and Udita Banerjee. Udita works in tech innovation by day, and reviews theatre by night. She graduated in 2013 with a masters in electronics.
Beth is a programme director for the Masters in Learning for Sustainability, and a lecturer in Outdoor Environmental and Sustainability education at the University. She’s passionate about adventure, exploration and arctic landscapes.
We talk about creativity, role models, women in leadership positions and more.
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: Welcome Udita and Beth to Sharing things, how are you today?
Udita: Good thanks, excited to be here!
Beth: Very good, equally excited to be here, thank you.
Amalie: Excited to have you here. I’m going to start by asking you guys what you’ve brought to the studio and why.
Udita: I’ll go first. So I’m Udita, and my object today is an A-Z street atlas of Edinburgh. And it’s quite special to me because when I arrived in Edinburgh for the first time in 2012, the first thing I did was I had to go into a shop to buy a SIM for my phone because I’d just moved from India, and I’d just gotten off the plane and it was a 16 – 17 hour long journey so I was a bit jet-lagged and a bit dazed and it was my first time away from home in a new country. So I went in to get a SIM for my phone and I was chatting to the guy at the shop and I said I’m here, blah blah blah, going to do a degree at the Uni, and I asked him the way to get to King’s Buildings because that’s where I was based and that’s where I had to go the following day.
So we chatted for a bit and then he said: “So when did you actually get here?” And I said an hour ago. And he said “Oh my God, it’s literally your first day in Edinburgh.” And I said yeah so he pulled out this A-Z map – I didn’t have a smart phone back then – so he just pulled it out and he showed me the way to get to King’s Buildings. And he said, “This is how you get there, these are the buses you take, this is how the buses work, you can also walk,” and he basically gave me that and I got the SIM for my phone, and I went to pay and he basically refused to take payment for the maps… book. He just gave me it and he said “Good luck for your time, and I hope you do really well at uni.” So that was literally my first experience of having just arrived in Edinburgh and it was so sweet and just such a nice thing to do for someone in that position. Off I went and yeah, here I am seven years later, still living here, still loving every bit of it.
Beth: I thought I had an object that I was going to bring, and I did up until the start of last week, I had in my head that I was going to bring my running trainers. I love to run, I run long distances, short distances, marathons and so on, and the reason why I run so much is because it’s about understanding the place in which I live. It’s about being close to nature, it’s being out in nature and it’s about physically experiencing the landscape where I live but also in places that I go to see.
And then I thought, I’m not bringing my trainers, I’m going to bring my school jotters – jotters is a really Scottish word for school books [laughs] – so I was going to bring my school books and particularly one from Primary 3 which is maybe about aged seven, and I had a teacher at that time that did a topic on the polar regions – North Pole, South Pole, and I was obsessed – this teacher Mrs B Smith – she was called Beth as well – often you find out your teacher’s first name. But she set me on a path of being obsessed with the North, with being obsessed with remote places and remote in the sense of maybe not having a lot of people there.
So those are two things that I was going to have, and then last week I found myself in Iceland – my trainers took me there because I went there to run, and then my obsession with the North took me there because it was north – I was going up to the furthest north part of Iceland (the Westfjords).
But actually it was education – it was the University – my work and my passion that also took me there that gave me the opportunity to talk about the object that I did bring which is this thing – two feathers from the Icelandic Eagle, the white-tailed eagle. And whilst I was up in the Westfjords my friend that I was there with, who I know through my work, through education, through environmental sustainability education which is the work that I do, here at Edinburgh University – so after graduating I’m still here – senior lecturer here in Learning for Sustainability.
She gave me the opportunity to go with the environmental agency for Iceland to see these sea eagles in their natural habitat, these Icelandic white-tailed eagles, and the point was to go to research them. To look at the numbers that are there, to look at the nesting sites, to take the young chicks that were there who hadn’t fledged yet so we were able to lift them down, to attach rings to their legs, number them, take blood samples, measurements and so on. And what was interesting about doing all of this was that just the whole experience of being there brought all of the strands of my life together and the work that I do here at Edinburgh together, but it was also to see the flourishing of the species in Iceland, they’re a really protected species in Iceland so we aren’t able to give the location away of where the nesting sites are. But in 1913 in Iceland they were able to bring in an environmental protection law which meant that the species are protected so the numbers have risen again and this year we set a record in terms of the numbers of breeding pairs that we have, so it was fantastic to be part of that and to be able to get that unique experience, which I see as sort of bringing all of the things that I’m passionate about together but it’s also part of the work I do here at Edinburgh as well.
Udita: Did you know you were going to end up in that field when you started out at Edinburgh Uni?
Beth: No [laughs] I remember taking... at school I wanted to do something that was practical, that was physical because I like being physically active, I wanted to do something that involved being outdoors. I was working as a volunteer countryside ranger and I enjoyed doing that interpretive work, landscape work and working with people. I didn’t want to be a school teacher, I didn’t want to be indoors all the time.
And it just so happened that the work that I did, the career kind of unfolded in front of me, with the policy in Scotland that I’ve been a part of, helping to develop the research around outdoor learning, to develop research around sustainability education, and so partly my work has helped to create that path but it’s also… I’ve been fortunate to work with extremely good colleagues who have helped to create that path as well. And perseverance! [laughs] Sticking with something that I thought I’m passionate about. And I think that’s what’s wonderful about Edinburgh University is that opportunity be able to pursue research in the field you want, the flexibility to support that.
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: Both of you are women in leadership positions, what would you say is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt?
Udita: So I currently work in technology innovation at RBS, which as most people know is one of the biggest banks in the UK, and I’ve been in a leadership position for the last couple of years. And technology fundamentally is quite male-dominated, so you’re definitely in a minority if you’re a woman, you’re definitely in a minority if you’re non-white, and also if you’re young, there’s not a lot of young people – and by young people I mean below the age of 40 – people in leadership positions within either technology or banking, right, so it’s hard to find role models and that is a bit of a challenge because it’s not something that affects you directly or it doesn’t affect you day-to-day, but when you think about it, it does seem to become this mental hurdle when you think “Oh, I’ll never get that job, I’ll never get to that position,” because you don’t ever see yourself reflected in like plus 15 years’ time so I would say that that is a bit of an issue.
The flip side is that I see a growth in engagement of diversity, not just gender diversity but just across the board – diversity in tech because a lot has been done with in terms of policies and you know, putting a lot of things into practice to encourage more and more people from different backgrounds to get into it. But it’s a work in progress and when I talk of role models, it’s something that if you set in motion now you’ll see the results in like two decades’ time, because those are the women, or those are the people from other ethnicities who will make it to leadership positions.
And as we know in banking, one of the reasons, one of the contributing factors to the financial crash of 2007, was the fact that there was no diversity across the board, there was no difference of opinion, and there was nobody saying, “No, we shouldn’t do this and here’s why.” And also there’s now research to show that businesses that are more diverse are actually more profitable. So I think I would say that a lot is being done but there’s a way to go there still and that would be probably one of the challenges that I faced.
Beth: I can pick up on that about this idea of role models and the challenge I think that I felt in my career of going into conferences and perhaps being the only female there, the only erm... not having that reflection in the room, not seeing someone in a similar position, whether it’s with children, whether it’s age, whether it’s gender, however, just not seeing that reflection there and to have that role model. And one of the things that I’ve found that’s been so important to me is to have those networks, to seek out people who are doing similar things as much as I can.
So my friend I talked about, Helena in the North, spending time with someone who’s doing something similar to me that I can have these discussions with in and open and honest way and get support from that too. And trying to find those networks is difficult – it’s an absolute challenge, when you’re not - it’s not easy to find the women who do the same things or people who do the same things as you or feel similar to you.
I had the unique opportunity last year to go to Antarctica so – I’m slightly obsessed with the North but I’ll slip in that I’m obsessed with the South as well! – So I had this opportunity to go to Antarctica with 80 other women who were leaders in their fields from across the world. And we were selected, I was one of the women from Scotland who went, there was another women who was there from Scotland too, and we were there together chosen because of our positions of influence or leadership in whatever way that was – early career right the way through to people who were established in their careers as well – people who were interested and focussed on sustainability in whatever shape or form that may be. And also the gender aspect as well, about being female, that was part of it too.
And we came together, and what that gave me, apart from this fantastic experience of Antarctica and the people that I met along the way, but what it’s left me with is this network of women that I would never have met otherwise who are doing fantastic work across the world in different fields, and so interdisciplinary work suddenly becomes a lot more possible – I can physically get in contact with them to establish research to just say, “I’m feeling challenged by this, how would you react, what would you do?”
So there’s a range of conversations that you can have. But what’s important about that is not just that that influences me, is that I can then look at students that I’m working with, I can recognise in others that perhaps they need to be connected to this as well, so the network isn’t just for me to feel connected to others, it’s actually about what can I do then when I’m in this position to support others. So whether it’s, you know, understanding what it’s like to juggle children and study and part-time study and work or whatever experiences I’ve had, if I can help in my leadership position that I have to support others and to connect them into this then I think that’s something I can do to try to mitigate the challenges that I’ve faced, personally I’ve faced.
Udita: How long were you away for?
Beth: Erm… it was a month, from start to finish, to leave from home to go there.
Udita: Right. And then… how did you get there?
Beth: So from here over to Ushuaia, so the southernmost tip of Argentina--
Udita: Right, yeah.
Beth: And then all the women came together there, we had two days together. So we'd worked 12 months online developing research projects and getting to know one another, thinking about how we would be when we were away as well. I had my own thoughts about what it would be like to be in a small ship with 80 ambitious women—people—how that might be.
And so we were talked through all of this. And then when we met there in Ushuaia and then from there we were two days to cross the Southern Ocean - Drake Passage - through Antarctica and then we had 21 days over there travelling. The furthest south we got to was the Rothera Base Station, on the mainland.
Udita: That’s fascinating.
Amalie: So what sparked your interest in the North, and in Antarctica and everything?
Beth: [Laughs] My teacher from Primary 3! My schoolwork, my creative writing stories went to rescues on ice, I was ice fishing up in the North… I was rescuing from-- in Austria and avalanches and chalets.
Now I've lived on the east coast of Scotland, I have not been to these places before my parents took me on holidays Inverbervie and Tayport and places like this to go camping and it’s not as if I was brought up with that as a backdrop to my life, but it's something that just was there.
Amalie: So you would say that being creative about the North almost was very important to you actually going there?
Beth: Yeah and it’s interesting that you picked up because actually to get there I had to put in an application to go, to be selected, to be part of the team. And it was… the majority of the women who went were scientists and terms of working in STEM subjects and I was there in education and I thought, “I may be a bit left field here” but when I had to create a short video, to do a two-minute YouTube video, and I talked about well, if you don't have education there's no point in having this cognitive aspect - all of the information in the world if we cannot communicate that in a way that inspires and moves and that's the role of education and if we cannot get that passion aspect across, not say that scientists can't do that but I think education plays a huge role in that communication side. How do we tell the story of Antarctica, how do we communicate that to move people to action? And so creativity was hugely important there.
Amalie: How important is creativity to you?
Udita: You always think about work as like this defining part of your identity obviously and it is, but when I'm not working I review theatre. So I review for a couple of publications during the fringe festival in Edinburgh but also outside of the fringe as well so I've always liked to read a lot and write blogs and stuff like that and I've kept at it for a long long time, just in my free time as a hobby and when I moved to Edinburgh obviously it was a perfect opportunity to get involved in the art scene, right? Because there's such a rich cultural aspect to Edinburgh that you sometimes miss even if you live here. So I got involved in that about five years ago and I've done it every year since.
So August tends to be a very full on month for me and I really love doing that and, I love the fact also that it's very different from my day job so it engages a totally different side of my brain - still using all the creativity and all the, you know, when you actually get into the festival mindset things have to be at a certain deadline, you have to turn reviews around in 24 hours and all of that good stuff. But yeah, it’s-- I do like to get involved in creative pursuits in my free time as well.
Beth: What kind of films, is there a particular…?
Udita: I think I would say probably about 60 per cent of my, the theatre that I watch is stuff I'm interested in. And so I'll typically go for things that are of a science-y background, or classics, or plays that are being redone and stuff. But I would say about 40 per cent are things that I wouldn't normally watch, but I would go and see them because they're just available, right? So I’ll watch a bit of comedy and I'll watch a bit of dance or circus stuff. It's such a great opportunity to get involved in something that you wouldn't normally do.
So I feel quite privileged to have the opportunity to do that and also my friends always rely on what I've already seen so they get a curated list and they're like oh did you like this, this and that and so we'll go and watch only the ones you like best or whatever. So it's quite amusing from that point of view is that you feel quite responsible because if your friends don't then like a show they're like, oh, why did you send us to it?
But on a more serious note, yeah, I try to mix and match what I see. But typically it's quite nice to go for the safer options where you think, I'm going to really like something about Rabbie Burns, or Shakespeare or one of the Greek classics that have just been redone and stuff like that, so yeah it's good to be-- to have that opportunity.
Beth: And how did you get into that?
Udita: I kind of fell into it because I’d obviously watched a lot of theatre, just as a normal customer of the arts I would say, so I've been doing that for a few years and then what happened was I… I’d always been really good in English when I was growing up, all languages but particularly English when I was growing up in school. And for a while I toyed with the idea of studying English literature instead of doing engineering but--
Amalie: Two very different things!
Udita: Two very different things! The only thing that links them both his creativity I think. And when the time came to pick and I sat down with my parents and we kind of-- it was a choice between do you want to do English or do you want to do maths and I picked maths because I felt it would provide a more solid career option and tech was always going to be around no matter what.
And so I picked that and I'm glad I did. But when I was living in Edinburgh and I was working I was chatting about all of this stuff with mum and mum said well why don't you study now? And this is why you should never listen to mothers--
Udita: I lie, it was actually a very good idea! And so she pushed me into doing an English literature degree which I did from the Open University part time, just on the side because it's something that I always thought of but never actually done and it was quite a challenge studying something part time with a full-time job. But anyway I did that, and then that kind of got me interested into the whole art scene.
So long story short I saw an advert for reviewers being wanted and somebody, one of the editors who I still work with, Richard Stamp, decided to give me a chance to do something that I'd never done before and I said “Look, I'm really interested, I don't know if I'll be good at this,” but he offered to, you know like, review my work before I put it in and stuff like that, so somebody decided to give me an opportunity and I went for it. So yeah one thing leads to another doesn't it?
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: You mentioned role models earlier, what are your role models? Who?
Beth: [Laughs] It's very difficult to pick a particular person but there's two females, authors, environmentalists. Passionate fantastic women I always return, their work, and the first one’s Rachael Carson. Early environmental-- you can almost describe her as being the originator of environmental education in lots of ways because of the what she's done and her classic book ‘Silent Spring’ and so on. But it’s the way in which she wrote one of her nicknames was ‘a gentle subversive’ so she was able to write and with her writing and with her motivation and her passion to bring people along with her in a way that just appeals to me, that we don't have to maybe be the loudest, the strongest, the noisiest in the room but we can still bring people with us. And I really relate to that as a way to help people to move to action, to do that in a conversational way perhaps, in a more of a subversive way – in a nice way, not subversive in another way. And some of her quotes, the way in which she talks about, it's… one in particular I keep returning to - is that it's not half so important to know as to feel. So we can have all the knowledge in the world but we need to feel that too.
So that really appeals to me the cognitive, the affective, that we have to work their heads but our hearts, our whole bodies as well, these two things. So all of that side - absolute role model for me in that philosophical outlook that she has.
The other one is a lady from Aberdeen, so East Coast where I'm from, Nan Shepherd who spent… I don't know if you know…
Udita: Yeah Nan Shepherd is quite a famous person.
Beth: Yeah, and her work as a writer, you can talk about her too, you know her work as an English teacher but also, she spent so much time outdoors in the Cairngorms and it was her approach to being outdoors that speaks to me as well. So she talked about, at the time that she was spending a lot of her time in the Cairngorms Park and around the hills there, it was at the times sort of Munro bagging was starting to go and people were talking about climbing to the top of summits and it was the race to the top.
And she talked about going into the mountains, “Well I just going to spend time, I maybe go in and I fall asleep, and I come to know these mountains by being in these mountains” and that stuff about that relationship with nature is not to conquer - it's not to summit nature, to stand above nature, it’s actually just to be in and with and sleep and feel and all of that - that speaks to me too. So I think they're my two top role models for just now. For today. Ask me tomorrow!
Amalie: What about you?
Udita: I think I would really struggle to pick. I think I've had different role models through different parts of my life. Like when I was at uni, it was certain teachers who were really able to bring things to life and inspire a love for whatever topic they were teaching. I worked for an amazing boss who's been in the industry for a long, long time, for about 30 years, and he's very inspiring and encouraging and comes from a completely-- he's from here, so a completely different culture to mine.
So Alan for him to be able to relate to me is a big ask, but despite not having that exact connection he’s still able to inspire and give me the opportunities to succeed and go into different things. My family – both my parents mum and dad – are, you know, really strong individuals. I'm an only child so even though it's always been really hard for them when I moved out, they kept pushing and they never held me back from whatever it was that I wanted to do. So I think it's… it's a mix of… it’s a mix of people and they've each contributed to a certain aspect of my life and at different points their support has been really, really important and so like when I was at uni would probably be my parents and my teachers and stuff like that. So it's an evolving relationship with all of them, so yeah, a mix of role models there.
Amalie: Have your parents visited you here in Edinburgh?
Udita: Oh yeah, yeah yeah yeah. The first time they came was when I was still studying. I was still at uni and they came during the summer actually, that was the last hottest summer that we had, the summer of 2013, it was awful for me because I was writing my thesis at the time because when you're a master student you write your thesis over the summer and I was really, really busy and I was trying to juggle a lot of different things. But my mum and dad came for the first time then and obviously they loved it and they loved having the opportunity to have a base in Edinburgh and being able to see other parts of Scotland.
And Scotland in terms of tourism has just taken on so much in the last few years, that I've had lots of visitors since, friends and extended family and they all want to come and see Scotland. And they all tend to come in the summertime and I always say this is-- you need to come back in the winter guys, it’s not the same! [Laughs] But yeah, everyone really enjoys that aspect of me being here.
Amalie: Do you still use the map when you go around Edinburgh?
Udita: I do sometimes occasionally which is why I've held on to it and it's quite nice because when I'm reviewing at the fringe, you wouldn't believe… Fringe venues are in all sorts of closes and weird places and nooks and crannies of the city. It's another beautiful way to find out more about the city as well, trying to find Fringe venue. And Google Maps isn't always very helpful because sometimes it doesn't tell you what level you're on, because Edinburgh is obviously built up on at least two different levels, and sometimes you're on like… like the first time I was on George IV bridge I was actually looking down from it and I was like I need to literally be on the… on the other level!
So, I do still use the map and it’s nice to have something that you can thumb through and again, back to your point, maps are quite a nice way to connect the physical with your surroundings. So being able to see the streets and what levels they’re on and a set of stairs that will take you from one to the other that are that are not on your tech-driven maps or whatever, is very nice.
It also gives me ideas as well on how we can improve technology to kind of, you know, to be able to include all of these things and how do we improve it to make it accessible to everyone. For example, when I'm coming back from somewhere like really late at night I maybe don't want to go through, a dark alley or a close with no lights. And that might be a personal preference but tech doesn't always help you in that all the time so there's opportunity there to improve that as well. So it's just engaging different parts of your brain really.
[Sharing things theme]
Amalie: I have one last question for you guys. So if you could associate your object with one word what would it be?
Amalie: Adventure? Why?
Udita: Because that's what Edinburgh was when I moved here. I didn't know if I was going to stay, I didn't know… for a period of time I thought I was going to do my degree... I was very fortunate in that my degree was funded by the UK government, so I thought I'm going to do my degree and then maybe I'll go somewhere else, or maybe I'll go back to India. And I didn't really know… but what Edinburgh has ended up being has been a massive adventure. I came with an address on a post-it and now I have friends, I met my partner here, I have like a whole community of people. I have my career, my work, my work pals and I've built a life here and it's all been a massive adventure and it’s been a really, really amazing story for me.
Beth: I was going to say adventure as well so I'm with you with adventure but maybe I’ll say curiosity. Because it's curiosity that's kept me driven, I think, throughout my career. Being curious about why this, why that, why has this happened, what's the story behind this what's the story that I can then tell others. Now I know, how can I communicate that work as well.
And so I think it's curiosity that inspired me in the beginning when I think back to my jotters and my school teacher, it was curiosity that took me from that topic, one simple topic at school, that took me off into a career, curiosity that made me say yes when my friend Helena said do you want to come over to the Westfjords this summer and I said yes, curiosity when she said, “Do you want to come and go on this adventure to see these eagles” I said yes, straight. And curiosity again when you sent this email to come and do this podcast I thought - of course I do! What is this? I've never done this before!
And again it's just that passion and I think it's driven by a curiosity and if there's one thing that I think I can do in the career that I have, if it's to inspire a curiosity in others to be passionate about what they do, to want to tell stories and share stories, then that's a wonderful thing.
Udita: It really is.
Beth: Thank you.
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: Thank you for listening to Sharing things. Make sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Spotify or Google Play to catch our next episode.
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