Boomerang back to Roehampton | Jonathan Karkut

When casting my mind back to when my journey to and through Roehampton (then known as the Roehampton Institute of Higher Education) first began, I now have to double check my mental arithmetic. Yes, it was almost a quarter of a century ago that I grasped the opportunity to take a new step forward and enrol on the rather verbosely titled postgrad course ‘MA in the Anthropology and Sociology of Travel and Tourism’. I never did manage to construct a snappy acronym to compress that title, and trying to summarise my Roehampton experience into a few words is equally challenging. This place is certainly distinctive, particularly for a university based in a city that has so many higher education options. But what is it that makes it stand out? Immersed in a cultural setting of historic buildings, alongside a natural environment of parks, trees, ponds and birds, I found it the perfect location to be inspired to learn.

Southlands Wimbledon Parkside

Back in the 1990s, anthropology was taught out of Southlands College on a small campus situated just across the way from Wimbledon Common. I remember the grounds being secluded from the hurly burly of London, but still active and vibrant with students based on campus as well as commuting in from the City, as I did at the time. The course I took was a groundbreaking look at issues affecting travel and tourism as considered through the social sciences, rather than imagining it as being a purely economic activity.

As a geologist and an anthropologist, field work is the component that motivates me the most. Reflecting on the course at Roehampton we certainly took advantage of the opportunities afforded both in London itself and the breadth of options one has to head out of this truly connected world city. Our study trips stretched from Tower Hamlets to Tunisia. While, thanks to a helping hand from a career development loan, my dissertation research on sustainable tourism was conducted over six weeks in the Seychelles. Yes, there were a lot of envious students (and staff) eyeing my choice of research location – and no, this didn’t help the sometime perception that the anthropology of tourism is just an excuse to go on holiday under the guise of academic study!

Leaping forward a couple of decades, once again I arrived at a moment when I felt the need to top up my knowledge and skills in order to equip me for my next career step up. Finding the right PhD research subject and questions is no easy matter. I knew that to remain confident and motivated throughout this marathon, I had to find an area of study that lay and remained at the centre of my interests. This I eventually found thanks to the emergence of UNESCO global geoparks, which neatly bridged my winding career path through both earth and social sciences. When it came to selecting an institutional platform from which to conduct this research, however, the choice was far easier. I already knew the University of Roehampton, saw how it provided me with a strong academic grounding and fond memories. But since my MA studies, Southlands College had upped anchor and moved to join its sister colleges on one central campus around Roehampton Lane, while anthropology is now located inside the department of Life Sciences at Whitelands College. Almost uniquely in the UK, this brings the social and biological strands of anthropology to sit together, and in so doing allows an exciting cross fertilization of teaching and research to take place.

PhD hand-in

Particularly as my research wasn’t fixed solely in the field of anthropology, but flowed around and engaged with aspects of geology, philosophy and policy studies, I found during this second phase at Roehampton there was a comfortable embracing of such an interdisciplinary approach. This was expressed in a number of ways, not least in the delivery of the Research Student Development Programme (RSDP). Comprising a broad suite of skills and training sessions to support and complement your research, these drew upon staff and subjects from across all ten university departments. Always involving a practical element to embed the theory, they also allowed me to hear and connect with other PhD students involved in research from dance to education, creative writing, arts and humanities. In so doing, a real sense of openness and opportunities to break beyond disciplinary boundaries were provided. A further expression of that outward facing ethos came in Roehampton’s involvement in a consortium called TECHNE, which pools seven London and South East universities with a focus on doctoral student research in the arts and humanities. I benefited directly through attending a number of the biannual congress events and was happy to lend a helping hand when Roehampton hosted one of those events earlier in the summer.

Helping hand at events

That’s my potted history of a now lengthy association studying in this leafy corner of south-west London. Perhaps it’s the combination of culture and nature, working hard in a relaxing environment, or the friendly and professional atmosphere. Maybe it’s about being inside London, but outside the fast lane that can sometimes present an overwhelming array of choices. Whatever the essence of this place is, I always find it easy to boomerang back to Roehampton.

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