An interview with Billy Tusker Haworth

Name: Dr Billy Tusker HaworthIMG_20180424_071140_647 - Billy Tusker Haworth

Current Job: Lecturer in Disaster Management

Scientific Discipline/Field: Geographic Information Science

Country: England

Pick some letters (L,G,B,T,Q,+, etc.): G, Q


Twitter or other social media handle: @BillyTusker (Twitter + Instagram)

What does your job involve?

My job consists of academic research and teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students in the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute at the University of Manchester. I specialise in public participation in digital mapping and geographic information systems (GIS). My research broadly concerns the opportunities, limitations, and implications of geographic information science, technologies and practices for empowerment of citizens. Some of my work has included making maps with local community members to enhance their preparation for Australian bushfires, and mapping with village farmers in Pacific Islands to assess the potential for geographic information and communication technologies to improve livelihoods in the face of climate stresses. I try to answer critical questions of such activities, such as what their implications are for traditional top-down systems of knowledge production, or how can these approaches give greater public access to science. My teaching spans critical and applied GIS and international disaster management. I also supervise a number of Masters and PhD students with their own research projects.

How did you get to this job (education etc.)?

I was always interested in science, maths, geography and computing at school, but never had a clear idea of what I wanted to do. I completed a Bachelor of Science (majoring in Geography and Geology) at the University of Sydney. I became interested in the science of mapping and geographic information systems (GIS), so then completed a Masters in this area. I worked for a short time after in the commercial sector (updating street maps), but I found this pretty uninspiring. After some years travel I went back to university and completed a PhD in geography in the area of community mapping and disaster management. It was during the PhD that I found my passions for teaching and the pursuit of knowledge through creative and meaningful research. I briefly moved to Western Australia to lecture in GIS, before relocating to Manchester, UK, for some international experience and my current role.

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?

In some ways, but not really. More-so the locations I would consider working/living would be affected. There are various places in the world I would not necessarily feel comfortable or safe living, and therefore would not seek to work there. Similarly, that the UK and Manchester in particular is a relatively queer friendly place was a factor in my decision to live and work there.

Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?

In the past I have experienced some people (in and outside work) expressing surprise when they learn I am gay/queer and working in Science. I think perhaps they expected me to be in creative or arts industries… In terms of my current colleagues, apparently one of them was very excited when they saw I was wearing nail varnish in my job interview!

Did you have any role models growing up (LGBT, STEM, totally unrelated.)?

There were many people who inspired me in various ways growing up, doing amazing things in challenging circumstances, not least my Mum. I always admired people who pursued what they believed would be better for other people in the world, despite how difficult things may have been for them personally. People like Nelson Mandela, for example. As a young adult at university getting interested in science as a career, I found more role models. These typically didn’t represent the stereotypical image of a ‘scientist’ as a man in a white lab coat looking down a microscope. These were outsiders to that norm, which I guess I felt I was too. I looked up to people like my lecturer and PhD supervisor, Dr Eleanor Bruce, an environmental and geospatial scientist, female and mother of two; my PhD colleague Dr Stephanie Duce, a young but exceptionally talented geomorphologist; or Dr Kurt Iveson, who showed me that you can research hip-hop and graffiti and wear rad kicks to work as part of a career in geosciences. But LGBT role models in STEM? I’m afraid I didn’t have any of those growing up (or they weren’t visibly LGBT to me, at least).

What are your plans for the future?

I want to shift my research a bit to have greater focus on indigenous and citizen spatial knowledge production, and queer geographies. I’d like to look at things like the barriers to further use of indigenous knowledge in environmental science or disaster management. And I’d like to research experiences of people from different groups under the LGBTQ+ umbrella in disaster management/humanitarianism. I also have a growing plan in my mind to one day live in a van and just go exploring 🙂

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