We've just finished 'Nougth Week' - the one before the formal start of the new term. In my department, it is also the week when first year PhD candidates give a presentation on what their proposed research idea is. It's part of a formal 'transfer of status' procedure where the proposal is assessed, and where necessary modified, before candidates embark on substantive research in the field (or the library). The process is a bit daunting for the candidates, as in most cases, they are still at a formative stage. But the presentation stage is designed to be supportive and encouraging - an opportunity to get detailed feedback from a range of people in the department with aligned interests and experience.
This week I learned about development banks and their role in sustainable development; about sovereign wealth funds and their role in economic determinism; about investor voting on resolutions as an indicator of their engagement with responsible investment; about the relationship between technology, disclosure and the environment; and about the corporation's changing engagement with environmental issues. This is a small subset of the very many presentations in human, environmental and physical geography that were given and listened to this week.
I appreciate I sound a bit like a chap in need of a cardigan and some slippers, but I love these sessions. In a couple of hours, you get a sense of the promise and potential that the academy brings to often thorny, unresolved, real-world problems. And while there is the perennial challenge of escaping from the ivory tower, the calibre of candidates that doctoral programmes now draw in, and the wealth of life experience that many now bring to their research, has been transformative. Plenty of ambitious research projects on the go, then: good luck to them.