Jan 15 2019

Professor Jay Mistry, Department of Geography, has recently been awarded a £10 million long-term research investment by Leverhulme Trust for her collaborative research centre idea looking at, 'Wildfires, Environment and Society'. We recently caught up with Jay to understand more about her role within the Department of Geography, and her latest research.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role within the Department of Geography?

I’m a Professor of Environmental Geography. I teach on environmental system, sustainability and community participation. My second year undergraduate students work directly with the College’s Sustainability Officer to investigate and improve sustainability initiatives on campus. I’m also the Director of Impact for the department, helping my colleagues with their impact work as well as our submission for REF2020. My current research explores how to integrating traditional knowledge into environmental governance, with a particular focus on protected areas and governance and fire management in South America.

2. We understand that you and your colleagues have recently won £10 million funding in the 2018 Leverhulme Research Centre awards on a project for; Wildfires, Environment and Society. Could you tell us a bit more about it?

I’m so thrilled about this project! The Centre will be the first in the world to address wildfire challenges from a global and transdisciplinary perspective. It will bring together physical and social scientists to help understand the natural and human factors that drive fire so as to better prepare future generations to live sustainably with fire. I’ll be steering the work on Fire in the Tropics and I’m very excited to be leading cutting-edge research that will produce new data, tools and models to inform predictions and policy.

3. What is the Leverhulme Trust, and what is the importance of this award?

The Leverhulme Trust is a private, philanthropic grant-making foundation in the UK. This award is noteworthy in that it is one of three funded in 2018, providing long-term research support to multidisciplinary and international collaborations on a topic of global significance. As articulated by Professor Gordon Marshall, Director of the Trust: “Leverhulme Trust Research Centres are a major investment in discovery-led inquiry at a time when funding for fundamental scholarship is under great pressure. They are our vote-of-confidence in the quality of the UK’s outstanding researchers”.

4. What sort of impact do you hope to make from the research into wildfires, environment and society?

We hope to bring about a transformation in our scientific understanding of fire, its drivers, and its impacts thus leading to a new, transdisciplinary discipline of wildfire science, guided by original data, tools and models. However, as well as contributing to conceptual and quantitative modelling, we aim to provide decision support through the development of new capacity to predict the Earth’s future and better informed policies on wildfires and associated issues of air quality, climate, insurance, agriculture and biodiversity, to name a few!

5. Aside from working with the Leverhulme Centre, are you currently working on any other projects/research?

Underpinning all my research is the idea of bringing together different forms of knowledge for environmental governance. I currently have a project funded by the Darwin Initiative (DEFRA) that is looking at how to integrate traditional knowledge into conservation policy within Guyana. I’ve worked for almost two decades in Guyana with Indigenous groups, and this project uses participatory video methods to give voice and representation to Indigenous people on how their knowledge contributes to the conservation of protected areas and biodiversity. The project works with various government agencies as well as Indigenous associations, with the aim to produce a Traditional Knowledge National Action Plan for the country.

6. Outside of work do you have any hobbies or interests?

I am an exhibiting ceramic artist and recently completed my first academic qualification in the topic. I’m also passionate about growing food, and together with my husband, manage four allotments which enable us to be pretty self-sufficient in vegetables.

7. What do you enjoy most about working at Royal Holloway and within the Department of Geography?

The interaction with my colleagues. The Department of Geography is a friendly, safe and supportive environment, and I’ve always enjoyed working alongside with my colleagues and appreciated their feedback in improving my practices.

8. You may have seen our latest recruitment campaign, ‘Find your why’. We are interested to find out what Royal Holloway has helped you to discover about yourself…

Teaching and interacting with students reminds me that learning never stops and that I should strive to continuously improve the way I approach teaching and research. I have particularly enjoyed developing teaching initiatives that take theoretical and conceptual ideas on sustainability into practical actions and interventions on campus, and working in collaboration with the Sustainability Officer Dr David Haygarth.