Cyclone disaster management: PhD internship diary

PhD Intern: Hebe Nicholson, School of Geography & Sustainable Development
The KE & Impact PhD internship was a great opportunity for me to build on existing knowledge and contacts from my PhD research to produce a report on Indian Ocean weather systems and cyclone disaster preparedness management for stakeholders in Malawi and interested stakeholders in Scotland. It also enabled stronger ties to be built between the School of Geography & Sustainable Development  School, the Scotland Malawi Partnership in Edinburgh, and the Malawi Scotland Partnership in Lilongwe. Building relationships is a main objective of the KE Impact Fund PhD internships, and I hope and believe these relationships will be long lasting!

My PhD is in the School of Geography & Sustainable Development and explores the use of government resettlement as a strategy to adapt to increasingly severe flooding in the Lower Shire Region of Malawi. So, when Cyclone Idai struck this region along with Mozambique and Zimbabwe in March 2019 and caused widespread flooding, I was concerned for the impact it made on the region. As I read more about, I also became more interested in how this flooding was managed. It is quite rare for Malawi and Zimbabwe to be badly impacted by cyclones, as they are landlocked countries. Cyclones are different weather systems, to the monsoonal rain that normally causes flooding. This means they are predicted differently, in that they can only be predicted a few days before they make landfall, and so are not in any seasonal forecasts. They also produce continuous rain and strong winds, whereas monsoonal rain usually occurs around the same time each day. So, I became curious to see what difference, if any, this made to how the flooding was managed in Malawi.

After discussing it further with my supervisor, Dr David McCollum, and two colleagues, Dr Tim Raub and Dr Richard Bates, from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, we decided to make an application to the Knowledge Exchange Impact Fund for a scoping project that would explore how Cyclone Idai had impacted (if at all) disaster management in Malawi. I would be the PhD intern because of my existing knowledge of disaster management in Malawi.

We received the go ahead in the summer and made arrangements for the project to start in earnest in September, when I packed my bags for two months fieldwork in Malawi. The fieldwork was to involve interviews with relevant stakeholders in national and local government, academia and NGOs, as well as focus group discussions with community members in three flood-impacted communities in the Lower Shire Region. I was excited at the prospect of returning and seeing the people I had worked with before.

Village Mwalija focus group
Photo of Joanne (in the yellow purple chitenge) and me (on the far left) at the Village Mwalija focus group

For the project, we were lucky enough to have a Malawian assistant researcher, Joanne, to help with the fieldwork. Joanne was an undergraduate in environmental sciences at LUANAR (Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources) and was a great help throughout the project. I did not have a research assistant for my PhD fieldwork and the difference it made for this short trip was impressive. Joanne was very enthusiastic about the project and we made a good team. She had lots of knowledge on the environmental science side of things, as well as knowing everything about Malawi, and I was more experienced in the process of conducting interviews and analysing interview data. We also had the help of Malawi Scotland Partnership in Lilongwe, and Scotland Malawi Partnership in Edinburgh who advised and supported us throughout this project.

We started off in the capital, Lilongwe, where we conducted ten 30-60-minute in-depth interviews with stakeholders in government, academia and relevant NGOs. Half of these stakeholders I had worked with in my PhD fieldwork in 2017. We asked questions about their involvement in Cyclone Idai, the response and their opinion on the impact of cyclones in Malawi. At first, the government was not that enthused by our research. They suggested that Malawi was more impacted by other types of disasters than cyclones, particularly as a land-locked country. However, when we went down to Blantyre and interviewed two further stakeholders in government, we found that the very severe flooding in 2015 was due to a weather system from the Indian Ocean, and not from monsoonal rains, as I, and many of my Malawian colleagues, had previously thought. This suggested to us that there was some relevance in exploring further how weather systems from the Indian Ocean differed from those from monsoonal rains, and what this meant for disaster management and preparedness.

We also conducted interviews with local government officials in two southern districts: Chikwawa and Nsanje, as well as focus groups with community members in three flooding impacted communities in these districts. This was particularly special for me, because I had worked with these officials and communities quite closely in my PhD fieldwork, so it was fantastic to be able to meet and discuss with them again. These interviews and focus groups also gave us a better picture of the impact and response on the ground in the affected areas.

At the end of the fieldwork period, my supervisor came out to join us in Lilongwe, and we held a small workshop with eight people we had interviewed in that city. It was a lively discussion in which we received great input which contributed to the final report produced by the end of the project.

The final part of the project consisted of the Malawian researcher, Joanne, coming to Scotland for the Scottish dissemination aspect of the project. She came for five days and we did a dissemination presentation at the University of St Andrews as well as to the staff at Scotland Malawi Partnership in Edinburgh. She had never been to the UK before, and whilst finding Scotland sufficiently freezing in November, we also managed to have a lovely time doing some site-seeing in Edinburgh!

What’s in a name? Evolving the Internet Architecture

In the School of Computer Science, Professor Saleem Bhatti is working on a solution to enhance Internet Architecture with a new protocol called the Identifier Locator Network Protocol (ILNP).

A fundamental property of the Internet architecture – the use of numeric Internet Protocol (IP) addresses – has been considered for many decades to be in need of revisiting. IP addresses play two vital roles: that of identifying a device connected to the Internet (“Which device is this?”), and that of allowing the Internet routing system to determine the device’s topological location (“Where is this device?”), so that data can be sent to the device. This dual use of a single numeric value causes technical difficulty in a number of areas:

  • difficulty in enabling mobile devices that wish to have seamless (uninterrupted) Internet connectivity;
  • constraints in flexibility and agility in simultaneous use of multiple Internet connectivity across different networks;
  • problems for enabling some security features at the IP protocol level;
  • an adverse impact on the amount of information that is needed in the “core” of the Internet as it grows.

While various solutions for all of these issues exist today, they introduce their own problems, and they do not work together easily; essentially, they are engineering retro-fits which do not change the underlying issue of dual use of IP address values in the current Internet architecture.A new solution to these challenges is ILNP, which introduces a fundamental change to the Internet architecture: the removal of the use of IP addresses as they are today, to be replaced with two new values, an Identifier and a Locator, to explicitly recognise and “name” the two properties that are currently entangled within the use of the IP address. This presents its own practical challenge – how do we introduce such a radical change to the Internet architecture and still allow everything else to keep working?

With the increasing interest from industry in ILNP, later this year, the School of Computer Science will be releasing an open-source codebase: an enhancement to the Linux operating system, which is the first public prototype of their solution. Linux is widely deployed in industry. It is used by many companies, such as Google and Facebook, to run their services; and the Android smartphone operating system is based on Linux. The codebase has been developed over a number of years by Saleem and his PhD students. The solution has been designed to work across the currently deployed Internet infrastructure, and to be used with existing Internet applications. The codebase was successfully demonstrated earlier this year at the 19th Technical Conference on Linux Networking (netdev0x13) to the Linux developer community, with a further public demonstration at the 104th Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) meeting. The netdev conference is a technical forum that discusses enhancements to the engineering of the networking code within the Linux kernel. The IETF is where Internet standards are designed, discussed, and agreed; the intention is that ILNP will eventually become an extension to the current Internet standards.

In parallel with the systems and software engineering work involved in the Linux codebase, scientific research on defining, refining, and evaluating the design and prototyping of ILNP continues. All the research papers, talks, and current public documents on ILNP are available via links on the ILNP web site at:

Coastal heritage at risk: PhD internship diary

Sarah Boyd is a PhD candidate in the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences

In late 2018, the School of History needed a PhD intern to assist in the development of the evidence base for Scotland’s Dynamic Coast by integrating and analysing observed coastal erosion data of archaeological sites and coast edges. They found Sarah Boyd. Here is her account.

From stones to bones: studying Scottish coastal change with Dynamic Coast and the SCAPE Trust

As a second-year geology PhD student in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences (SEES), I spend most of my time studying post glacial sediments and land movements around Scotland.

Scrolling through my daily emails, I came across an advert for a GIS (geographical information science) placement focusing on Scottish coastal erosion, funded through the St Andrew Knowledge Exchange and Impact Fund.  Interested in expanding my research network, utilising GIS skills that I have gained from my Master’s degree, and the opportunity to learn more about the discipline of archaeology, this seemed like the perfect fit for me.

An example of a salt pan building in Brora that I visited with the SCAPE team in January 2019. Taking advantage of the presence of Jurassic coal and abundance of sea water due to the coastal setting, Brora cultivated an industry in salt production which continued into the 19th century. Due to coastal erosion, this salt industry heritage is fast being lost to the sea. This site is a high priority on the SCHARP database.

From late January to early April this year I undertook the internship with the SCAPE Trust, who are based within the Department of History here at St Andrews.  Additional partners included Scottish Natural Heritage and Historic Environment Scotland.

Scotland has a long and varied coastline, and therefore it is vitally important to understand how Scotland’s coast has changed historically and how it could evolve in the future with a changing climate. National models have recently been produced to describe coastal erosion susceptibility of Scotland.

This project involved using a coastal heritage dataset of archaeology sites which are actively eroding to assess two national models of coastal change for the purpose of archaeological management: the Coastal Erosion Susceptibility Model (CESM) and the National Coastal Change Assessment (Dynamic Coast NCCA).  The CESM divides Scotland into a series of 50m grid cells and ranks them from very low – very high erosion susceptibility.  The Dynamic Coast NCCA uses Mean High-Water Spring (MHWS) migration, extracted from historic and modern OS maps, as a proxy for coastal erosion or accretion.

The Scottish Coastal Heritage at Risk Project (SCHARP) is a SCAPE project which involves surveying and recording archaeological sites around the coast of Scotland which are each assigned a priority rating based on how at risk of erosion the site is.  There are over 13,000 sites recorded, however I focussed my analysis on a shorter list of 122 high priority sites – sites with both a high archaeological significance and high risk of active erosion.

Using GIS, these sites were mapped and intersected with both models to understand where both the models and the sites agree that sections of coast are eroding and where the models and archaeological dataset do not agree.  A case study was carried out on Sanday, Orkney to delve into the details of each model and to develop a complimentary model of coastal change in the form of a vegetation edge analysis.

No model will perfectly describe every small section of the coastline, but the local scale vegetation edge analysis of coastal change had a higher agreement with the eroding archaeology sites than either of the two national models.  When used together, it is possible to achieve a clearer view of which areas are most at risk of erosion and therefore at risk of cultural heritage loss.  By combining results from all the models, the outputs can be used as a starting point for coastal heritage management and to inform future coastal survey.

Example of vegetation edge analysis output for the island of Sanday, Orkney. Areas of coastline in oranges and red indicate stretches of coastline which have seen net erosion between 1900 and 2014 and areas of greens and yellows indicate net accretion. The 25 sites indicate sites which are high priority, both in terms of archaeological significance and risk of erosion.

I didn’t spend all three months indoors and in addition to the main desk-based GIS project I took the opportunity to join the team on fieldwork in Brora, the Solway coast, the East Neuk of Fife and the Wemyss Caves.  These trips spanned a breadth of archaeological time, from Pictish carvings in East Wemyss (check out the 4D Weymss Caves website to have a look at these) to WWII pontoons at Cairnhead Bay which were utilised as part of top-secret D-Day preparations.

One of the main objectives of The KE and Impact Fund PhD internships is to build relationships between external organisations and the university.  This internship was valuable as it not only allowed me to develop links with Scottish Natural Heritage and Historic Environment Scotland but also between SCAPE and SEES within St Andrews.

This internship was a great opportunity to use my skills on a different project for a three-month period within my PhD and demonstrated how the skills developed within a PhD can be readily transferable to work on a wide range of research areas.  It allowed me to build upon my GIS skills and add to the conversation of coastal change, as well as learn about the rich and varied archaeology of Scotland!

Sarah Boyd
PhD Candidate
School of Earth and Environmental Science

A public coastal walk allowed me to incorporate some of my own research interests when we discussed coastal changes over the last 8000 years at Redkirk Point on the Solway Firth. This was one of three public walks in the Solway Firth region with SCAPE in collaboration with the Solway Firth Partnership.


In defence of the wolf

Wolves are returning to their former ranges across Europe and North America, resurrecting a centuries’ old war with humans. Yet wolves are losing this battle, because in our arsenal we possess not only guns, traps, and poison, but something much more powerful: the human imagination. Despite the fact that wolves are considered one of the most charismatic species on the planet, and scientific evidence proving that they pose very little threat to humans, the ‘Big Bad Wolf’, a bloodthirsty killer, resides in our collective subconscious, creating a fear of wolves that is in-built from childhood. Anti-wolf activists capitalise on this fear to persuade others that wolves and people cannot co-exist, especially when farming is concerned. However, wolves do not know that sheep-hunting is a capital offence, or that there are areas where they are not welcome. They are not ‘bad’, but are simply animals trying to survive in a world in which they are increasingly unwelcome. Read more in The Conversation.

Elizabeth Marshall is a PhD Researcher, Wolves in Anglo-Saxon Literature, School of English

Syrian Stories: Female Voice

On 22 May at 5pm in The Byre Theatre there will be a screening of short films featuring the perspectives and experiences of Syrian women filmmakers followed by a conversation with the Stories Project Mentor, Noe Mendelle.

Women in Syria have not only borne the brunt of the country’s lengthy civil war, they have been marginalised and rendered invisible, despite their huge contribution to the struggle. Yet, few of the stories are told by them. In this collection of short films presented by the Scottish Documentary Institute in collaboration with the British Council and Bidayyat, female Syrian filmmakers share their experience and perspective being a refugee in neighbouring countries: Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

The event is free but ticketed.

About Docs@The Byre: Celebrating the Cinematic Documentary

Documentaries don’t just inform us about the world. They inspire, delight, and immerse us in the world.  They engage and exhilarate with their stories, characters, images, and sounds. They take us places we haven’t even imagined of going. And yet, documentary gets a bad rap. People treat it like the broccoli of the film kingdom: good for you but not necessarily pleasurable— more talking heads for the telly than a spectacle at the cinema. By showing compelling documentaries on the big screen and holding conversations with documentary professionals and scholars, Docs@TheByre sets the record straight.  After all, documentaries may have something to teach us but there’s also a lot we can learn about documentary— and should learn in this age of ‘post-truth’.

Organiser: Leshu Torchin, Department of Film Studies, University of St Andrews

Virginia Woolf in Tehran

The novel, ‘Vanessa and Virginia’, by Susan Sellers, a Professor of English at the University of St Andrews, has been translated into Farsi by Zahra Amini, a graduate of the University of Tehran where she studied English Literature. ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ is a fictional portrait of the writer Virginia Woolf and her painter sister Vanessa Bell, and has already been translated into over a dozen languages including Brazilian, Chinese and Japanese.

The Iranian translation is published by Roshangaran, a feminist press in Tehran. The name means ‘the enlightened’. It was founded in the 1980s by Shahla Lahiji, Iran’s first woman publisher, as a response to the discrimination and restrictions imposed on women by the Islamic Revolution. Since then, it has published hundreds of books by women authors as well as books promoting women’s causes, and has received numerous international accolades including the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, the International Publishers Association Freedom to Publish Prize, and the Pandora Award for Women in Publishing.

Roshangaran’s pro-women, feminist agenda has however brought it into conflict with the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in Iran. Shahla Lahiji has been arrested and imprisoned on charges ranging from working to corrupt women to inciting anti-Islamic feeling. In an interview for the pan-Arabian daily newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, Shahla Lahiji comments: ‘When I entered the publishing industry in Iran, I was the only woman. Now there are about 400 publishing houses owned and run by women. We have established the women publishers association, which is one of the most powerful civil organizations in Iran. I’m optimistic about the future because it is difficult to stop the pressure for advancement.’

The Farsi translation of ‘Vanessa and Virginia’, like all books in Iran, has been subject to the scrutiny of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. In order to obtain the necessary licence for publication, a number of changes to the original novel had to be made. In particular, any reference to extra-marital or same-sex relationships had to be cut since these are forbidden under Iranian Islamic law. Even what might be considered as relatively innocent encounters between the sexes such as dancing was not permitted, while any word that had a sexual connotation such as ‘love-making’ had to be modified. Speaking about these changes, the English author Susan Sellers commented:  ‘Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell were pioneering not only in their chosen art forms of writing and painting, but in terms of the way they chose to live their lives. With their move to Bloomsbury in 1904 they rejected many of the rules that had constrained Victorian women’s existence. In terms of their relationships they valued honesty and enduring friendship above all else, and their at times complicated love lives meant we had to be creative when it came to depicting these in Iran. Some of the changes I made to the text were small and relatively straightforward – for instance, in a description of a Vanessa Bell painting the forbidden word ‘nude’ was replaced with ‘figure’. In several places I was able to rewrite without too much loss of meaning. However, for some sections cutting was often the only viable option. This was particularly the case for passages depicting homosexual love. Of course, all this raises difficult questions about the truth of what is being told.’

About these alterations, translator Zahra Amini comments: ‘Though it was regrettable that certain aspects of the text had to be cut, altered or softened, Iranian readers are perfectly used to reading between the lines and understanding from even small insinuations. It saddens me that most Europeans and Americans mistakenly think Iran is the same as parts of the Arab world such as Saudi Arabia, where women have only recently acquired the right to vote. The women of my country have had the right to vote for over 50 years, and while there is still a long way to go in terms of equality and freedom, women here marry or enter relations as freely as women in Europe or America, study and lecture at universities, have successful careers in almost every field and occupy some of the highest positions in society. We’ve grown up with books that have been heavily censored and this has made us highly attentive as readers.’

At the novel’s launch at the Tehran International Book Fair, Shahla Lahiji and Zahra Amini gave talks about the Iranian translation of ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ and the remarkable sisters who inspired it. Zahra remarks: ‘Virginia Woolf’s writing is well-known in Iran, as is the work of the Bloomsbury Group to which she belonged. Reading Susan’s novel, it was as if I was intimately living moments of Woolf’s life whilst simultaneously tunneling back through my encounters with her writing. I wanted other Iranian readers to share this experience. The fact that Virginia Woolf’s sister, Vanessa Bell, is hardly known at all in Iran outside of art schools and galleries was another motivating factor.’

Commenting on the collaboration, Susan Sellers adds: ‘Reading about and working with women in Iran has been an education. Like most of the rest of the world, Iran has long been a patriarchy, and in this sense it seems little changed for women following the Islamic Revolution forty years ago. Women in Iran are subject to discrimination and constraint in almost every sphere, from unequal pay at work to bias in divorce to the compulsory wearing of the hijab. Gains have been made for women thanks to the stands taken by brave activists, but there is still a long way to go.’

Zahra Amini continues: ‘Women around the world will only have the chance for full equality once the patriarchal contract has been torn up and rewritten. Virginia Woolf knew this and wrote about it in books such as her landmark ‘A Room of One’s Own’. Her sister Vanessa Bell was also a revolutionary. I hope my translation of Susan’s novel about these two pioneering sisters will inspire women in Iran not to lose hope, but to continue to advance and thrive.’

Source for interview with Shahla Lahiji.

Susan Sellers is available for interview. Please email her on to arrange a time to speak.

Lake Victoria research: Win-win for human health, food security and economic development

Fisheries researchers from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania processing catch during the fisheries acoustics training course run in Uganda by Andrew Brierley and Roland Proud.
Photo credit: Siân Addison

Fisheries ecologists from the University of St Andrews are working with human-health and fishery partners around Lake Victoria on connected, multidisciplinary projects to sustainably manage fish stocks, and to examine the potential role for ‘biocontrol’ by fish of a debilitating human parasitic infection. Both strands of work are contributing directly to multiple United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in East Africa.

Under the fisheries strand, Prof. Andrew Brierley and Dr Roland Proud, of the School of Biology, have forged links with the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation (LVFO) and with fisheries scientists in each of the three riparian states around Lake Victoria – Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. They have held fisheries-acoustics training courses and data-analysis workshops in Uganda, St Andrews and Kenya, and are assisting with the application of advanced data analysis techniques to enable recovery of robust time-series of fish biomass estimates from a decade of acoustic survey data. Biomass time-series are required for development of sustainable fishery management plans to underpin regional food security and income: some 35 million people in the Lake Victoria basin depend on fishing, fish and fish products for protein-rich food and for their economic wellbeing. Funding grants supporting this project are for capacity-building in fisheries-acoustics, and for targeted research on an understudied but economically and ecologically important fish species called ‘dagaa’. The work on dagaa will also draw experts from the University of Aberdeen and the Zoological Society of London in to the collaboration network, to contribute expert statistical training and drone survey technology respectively. From a practical perspective, the St Andrews team has also arranged for a professional Scottish fishing skipper to go to Lake Victoria to provide training on the watercolumn fishing that is required to ‘ground truth’ acoustic surveys.

Health-crae providers from the Vine Trust landing at a remote, island community.
Photo credit: Benet Reid

Under the parasitic infection strand, Prof. Brierley has teamed up with the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) in Tanzania, the Vine Trust, an Edinburgh-based charity that operates a medical support ship on Lake Victoria, and LVFO. Together the group have won a half-million pound grant from the Royal Society’s Challenge-led scheme for multidisciplinary research towards combatting schistosomiasis. Human populations around Lake Victoria can be heavily infected with the parasitic flatworm that causes schistosomiasis. Schistosomiasis – or bilharzia – is classified as a Neglected Tropical Disease because it is under-researched and does not attract the funding directed at, for example, malaria.

Andrew Brierley instructing Lake Victoria fisheries scientists in echosounder calibration.
Photo credit: Siân Addison

Schistosomiasis is second only to malaria in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of infection. It is a disease of poverty, and is prevalent in communities living in insanitary conditions close to infected waters. Schistosomiasis infects humans when the larval parasites – which emerge from intermediate-host fresh-water snails – burrow through the skin. Infection is high around Lake Victoria, where lake water is used untreated for drinking, washing, cooking and bathing. Humans later excrete parasite eggs, and if sewage returns to the lake in proximity to snails then the parasite lifecycle can be completed. It has been suggested that fishing may have reduced fish that are predators of snails and that, as a consequence, more snails have led to more infection.

In Senegal reintroductions of prawns that are predatory on snails have led to dramatic reductions in human schistosomiasis infection: we will explore the possibility for ‘biocontrol’ by fish of schistosomiasis snails in Lake Victoria. SFC Global Challenges funding has already enabled us to gather fish samples and commence DNA-based analyses of fish stomachs to look for snail presence. With the Royal Society funding, we will conduct shallow water fish surveys and snail counts adjacent to lakeside communities with differing levels of infection. We will also seek to bolster shallow-water fish abundance to reduce snail predation, perhaps by establishing areas closed to fishing. In the marine realm ‘spill over’ of fish from protected areas closed to fishing in to the wider environment leads to improved fish catches outside closed areas. It is possible that in Lake Victoria closing areas to fishing could deliver the win-win result of increased fish for food AND reduced parasitic infection.

Event: Visualising War in Different Media: interplay and intervention

Registration will soon close for this workshop (Monday 8th April, 2019), looking at the power of different media to generate different responses to war; for more information, please follow this link:

The workshop will start at 1.30 with a tour of the Conflict Textiles exhibition at the Byre Theatre, led by Dr Lydia Cole: Numbers are restricted for this, so only those registered for the workshop will be able to take part in this bespoke tour.

The workshop will end with a concert in St Salvator’s Chapel, 5.30-6.30, featuring music and poetry from the First World War (The Fateful Voyage: see attached advert). This concert is open to the public.

SUII Roadshow – 21 Feb 2019

The Scottish Universities Insight Institute (SUII) promotes collaboration and engagement between researchers and wider society, and facilitates knowledge exchange activity that wouldn’t otherwise take place.

Hear about SUII calls for proposals at this informative session.

Thursday 21st February

14:00 – 15:30

Boardroom, Gateway

Here’s the booking link: