Supported by the LSE Eden Fund and the LSE Regular Giving programme, the Department of Geography and Environment run undergraduate research fellowships (URF) every year, to engage students with the research of academic staff.
This includes conducting and disseminating research, contributing in a meaningful way and easing the workload of academic staff. There are a variety of tasks from conducting literature reviews to planning events and analysing datasets. In 2022/23, there were 20 assistantships available, and all assistants were hired for up to 70 hours of paid work.
Applying to such a competitive post, I didn’t think I’d be selected, but I found a URF opportunity which aligned perfectly with my interests so I filled in a short application form, demonstrating why I felt I was well-suited for my chosen project. You could apply to two projects. During the Fall Term, the professor responsible for the scheme reached out to me for a casual-chat style interview, as well as some other students, to see if we’d be a good fit.
In early Winter Term, I was notified that I had been selected! I was going to work with Dr Romola Sanyal, Associate Professor in Urban Geography, on her project “Social Media and the Crisis of Urban Inequality: Transnational analyses of Humanitarian Responses across the Middle East, South Asia and Africa”. The project examined how social media was utilised to navigate the terrain between humanitarianism and inequality in the Global South, arguing that inequality should not only be studied in humanitarian crisis settings, but itself be seen as a humanitarian crisis, particularly in cities.
It was a transnational project across India, Lebanon and Uganda, so I was able to correspond with multiple actors who worked internationally. My key roles included note-taking during project meetings and proofreading deliverables. This helped me enhance my time management and organisational skills, as well as my ability to liaise with stakeholders and quickly interpret information. As a student with little experience working in these locations, unlike the actors who contributed to the project, I was valued for providing input from an “outsider” perspective: someone without the common knowledge.
My plans after graduation include doing social research, and working in NGOs and humanitarian organisations so this was an incredibly valuable experience for me – to be able to get an inside look at the work of NGOs involved in development/humanitarian work in parts of the world and the challenges they face. Not only was I able to develop, personally and professionally, but I learnt a considerable amount and gained hands-on experience in the world of academia. I also really appreciated the feedback I received from Dr Sanyal, regarding meeting minutes, edits and other deliverables, as this helped me to improve my writing skills considerably.
My fellowship ran from the beginning of Winter Term to the end of Summer Term, but different staff members have different expected timelines for delivery. As a workload, it was completely manageable alongside my degree and it was never a cause of stress. It was also almost completely virtual, with communication over emails and video calls.
Ultimately, I would recommend the Undergraduate Research Fellowship scheme in the Department of Geography and Environment to any undergraduate who gets the opportunity. It is really interesting work, and you will definitely see an improvement in your own skills as you learn from knowledgeable, professional actors.
I am incredibly grateful to Dr Romola Sanyal, the rest of the team, and the Department of Geography and Environment for the engaging experience!