Academic beginnings

My first published article was in the St Andrews Geography Society magazine – funnily, it is about drink… but  whisky. You can read it below – just remember it was tongue in cheek and my very first piece of public writing.

I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I “grew up” – unlike many wannabe journalists I wasn’t doing English at university.

I had always been interested in politics and the world around me, so at St Andrews I had studied history, geography, economics and politics courses before I specialised in Geographical Studies for the Honours part of my degree.

It then became clear that journalism would be an interesting career … but I wasn’t on the student newspaper and had no relevant work experience, so it seemed a long shot.

However, DC Thomson took a punt on me and within six months of graduating I’d started as a journalist on The Dundee Courier. The rest is history.

But this is where it all started:


As the thoughts of Third Year Geographers begin to wander towards summer pursuits, such as croquet, tennis, cricket, putting on the Himalayas and Pimmes Parties, with that Methodology essay handed in, those Cartography practicals behind them and the Stats and Computer exercises completed, a certain urgency surrounds the finding of a Dissertation topic.

There are those who can complacently sit back with their project in mind. Others, due to various reasons, have to find a viable subject in a limited amount of time.

The perfect project will require as little brain power as necessary to produce 10,000 words, but be of enough scope to hold one’s interest until January and preferably will be based in an area of cheap accommodation (very often one’s home with long suffering parents).

Perhaps a more perfect subject would take that Honours student around the hostelries of Scotland – “The Spatial Distribution of Inns in Scotland” sounds a Geographical enough title at least … and what fun it could be! It would entail visiting all the pubs under discussion with travelling expenses paid, of course.

Would the Prof, one wonders, make a little contribution for out-of-pocket expenses for those drinks one felt obliged to buy, having picked the brains of the inn-keepers for relevant information? What better way of going around the country that one is studying in and of getting a flavour of that nation?

This topic might however be considered too wide by one’s supervisor. Instead, how about a “Socio-economic Study of the Scottish Whisky Industry”? All those distilleries waiting to show people around, and then allowing them to taste the malt. How could this fail to hold one’s interest till Christmas, especially with generous financial arrangements from the Geography Department? Maybe not so appealing for those who do not particularly like “usquebaugh”.

For the more sober-minded, golf courses or castles might be suitable topics of consideration. A golf fanatic could perhaps play rounds at Turnberry, Gleneagles and naturally the Old Course, on some geographical pretext.

Oh pity those poor Physical Geographers who suffer, having to hide themselves down some remote valley, or even on a far away glacier in order to study one mind-boggling phenomenon for three weeks.

Meanwhile, we Human Geographers dream up a wide range of topics which all allow us to remain in contact with civilisation and have some fun into the bargain, putting “Social Geography” into practice.

An S.H. under the effects of Fieldwork