Simon Cook is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Change within the Geography and Environmental Science department. Born in Gillingham, Kent, he graduated from the University of Greenwich in 2003 with a first-class honours degree in Environmental Science, before earning a PhD in Glaciaology three years later from Keele University.
ABOUT YOUR WORK
What does your job involve? Generally a bit of teaching, some admin tasks, and research.
My specific roles include being 1st year tutor for Environmental Science, and the web officer and postgraduate research coordinator for my department. I also run our departmental social media (check us out!).
I also co-lead a research group called Environmental Futures with two of my colleagues, Dr Sarah Halliday and Dr Alexandra Morel. My research is mostly about how climate change leads to changes in glaciers that affect people. For example, glacier shrinkage leads to more hazardous environments, such as floods and landslides, and water resource problems, like hydropower and drinking water. Billions of people globally depend on glaciers for their water supply, at least to some extent.
What gives you satisfaction in your work? Lots of things. I like it when I can work through a problem with a student and I can see they get it – anything from use of a comma to some glaciology equation or bit of computer code. I still get a buzz when I see my name on a new academic paper; even more so if it then gets cited lots because then I know I’ve done something useful for science and our collective understanding of how the world works.
What challenges do you face and how do you deal with them? Time. I’m interested in lots of things and so I find it hard to say no to stuff. I’m like a kid in a sweet shop if I get asked to collaborate on a project, or do a media interview, or get involved in some outreach project.
Tell us the best thing about your work? My colleagues at Dundee are fantastic, and I get to work with my mates a lot on some really interesting and worthwhile research projects.
And the hardest? I work on climate change impacts mostly, and things are not good. There’s no way of sugar-coating that I’m afraid.
WORKING DURING A PANDEMIC
How has the pandemic affected what you do? It has had a massive impact.
The amount of extra work to completely reconfigure how I deliver my teaching has been huge and it was a very steep learning curve to learn new technologies and software.
There were some very late nights and very compressed (or non-existent) weekends to make sure students had the best learning experience possible. I’m sure other colleagues found the same, and I know it has been hard on our students too.
I have also not been able to do any field research for a couple of years, so have been doing a lot more with satellite remote sensing and open source datasets. I wonder how we would have coped if the pandemic had hit 10 years or more ago.
CAMPUS AND THE UNIVERSITY
What do you like most about Dundee Uni? As someone who works on climate change, I think it’s pretty cool that we are one of the top universities in the world for our work towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals on Climate Action.
Any tips for current students? I found reading to help. Sounds simple and obvious, but I don’t think I really got into the habit of reading regularly beyond what I had to do for assignments until I was in the second half of my degree. I mostly read up-to-date papers so I had lots of examples to use in exams, and it helped me gain a deeper understanding of my subject. Your fees or scholarship pay for these resources, so use them.
Favourite spot on campus? Somewhere up the Tower Building with views out over the Tay.
Is there, or was there, someone at the University who inspires/inspired you? There are too many to mention, really because my colleagues, especially in Geography and Environmental Science, are so fab. I sat behind our Chancellor, the astrophysicist Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, at Graduation a couple of years back. I was a bit startruck, if you’ll forgive the pun.
How would you describe the University to someone who doesn’t know it? Well, I spend a lot of my time looking at maps and satellite images, so I’d have to say that if you look at campus from space it looks sort of eye-shaped!
But in all seriousness, we do some really important research, which helps us do teaching on cutting edge and societally relevant issues. It’s also a lot sunnier here than you might imagine. We also have seals and dolphins in the estuary next door!
What do you do outside of your work? Running, playing guitar, hiking…who am I kidding?! I parent a toddler and then watch box sets.
Tell us something we don’t know about you? I arrived at a career in academia after first abandoning hope of becoming a cricketer for Kent, and then being a guitarist in a band. I’m like a poor version of Professor Brian Cox. I even had a haircut like him for a while.
Who would you invite to a dinner party? My wife (just in case she reads this!)
Why Dundee? As a geoscientist, I love the landscape around here – the coast, hills and so on. Plus I think it’s really cool we have such a rich heritage of exploring the Earth’s Polar regions, which again are close to my heart.