Alumni interviews: Dr Neil Harris10 July 2014
“My experience was the perfect blend of working hard, playing hard and meeting new people from different backgrounds both on the course and outside of it. It was a great opportunity to explore what I was interested in.”
If you studied in or around the Glamorgan building, then you might recognise Dr Neil Harris, Senior Lecturer in Statutory Planning.
Hi Neil. You’ve spent most of your academic life in Cardiff, haven’t you?
Yes! I studied town planning for my first degree and diploma, followed by a diploma in social science research methods and then, finally, a PhD!
You must really enjoy it! Why did you choose to study planning?
I really enjoyed studying geography at A-level – I enjoyed the way that it looked at a very wide range of issues in an integrated way, focusing in particular on how people interact with places. I discovered that planning was a very practical and vocational way of exploring those same interests. It was a way of studying how places work, and then shaping those places.
What did you most enjoy about your course?
I really enjoyed the fact that my course included a placement year – a perfect opportunity to explore the relationship between concepts, ideas and practices, which is something that guides my research as a lecturer.
Do you remember facing any particular challenges?
I remember the challenges presented by working and living with many different characters, and also being away from loved ones while studying.
What are your favourite memories?
I remember going with my friends and housemates to see the publication of our final degree results on the notice board in the department, with everyone very nervous about what the outcome was…and then celebrating those results at graduation. I also remember field visits to West Wales, Dublin and Prague as great experiences, both educationally and socially.
Did you do anything extra-curricular that helped you career-wise?
I became involved as a student with representing other students on a branch of the Royal Town Planning Institute – I’m still involved now, and it’s a great way of building professional networks and work-related friendships.
What exactly do you do now?
I’m now a senior lecturer in planning in the Cardiff School of Planning and Geography. I teach a range of applied and conceptual modules, and engage in both research and consultancy projects, including advising government on changes to the planning system.
Congratulations on such a remarkable career. It must be odd being a lecturer where you were once a student. Has anything noticeably changed within the university?
Graduating from a vocational degree course means you’ll cross paths with your peers throughout your professional career… sometimes funny, sometimes embarrassing, but always interesting! The student learning experience has changed significantly – with much more support for students in their learning with online handouts and support materials through Learning Central, e-books and electronic journals, legible feedback etc.
What advice do you give to your students who are leaving Cardiff this July?
My advice is to do something useful with your degree and the skills and knowledge it represents – this is something that comes naturally for graduates on vocational courses. Make your degree more than a piece of paper…