Academic spotlight: Dr Mark Holton

Mark looks back at his career, reflecting on his achievements and love for geography as we celebrate 50 years of geography at Plymouth

5 min read

Dr Mark Holton is a Lecturer in Human Geography and the Deputy Employability Lead in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science. As module leader for Social and Cultural Geography and Work Based Learning, Mark plays an active role in the teaching and learning landscape of the school, and lectures on topics including sustainable futures, urban design and geographical journeys.

Mark’s research interests include questions of mobility, identity and youth, and in particular the geographies of students and higher education (which builds upon on his PhD thesis that explored how students establish and negotiate their ‘sense of place’ with their term-time university location). He has also recently completed a novel project looking at the ‘geographies of hair’.


Can you explain what makes you passionate about the subject of geography?

“As an urban social and cultural geographer I am passionate about how the interactions between people and places are expressed through our everyday actions, behaviours and routines. This, for me, is vitally important in understanding how individuals, communities, societies and cultures behave and react to global challenges, and how best to tackle the inequalities that exist in our world.

“One of the things I most enjoy about studying this is the ability to innovate and within my work I focus on how our identities, emotions, and bodies play such strong parts in producing the spaces in which we exist.”


You’ve made a career out of geography – what inspired you to want to teach that subject?

“I completed my PhD in my mid-thirties so I was a late starter to academia, having previously held a successful career in industry. In considering a degree pathway to take I started with the broader social sciences but was quickly drawn into the human geographies of the subjects I was being introduced to and the tenets of geography – space, place and scale – really stood out to me as important ways of understanding the world.

“My PhD supervisor is an excellent teacher (and all round academic!) and his guidance was fundamental in inspiring me to teach. I really enjoy watching my students grow over their three years and witnessing the many ‘lightbulb moments’ when everything clicks into place. As the Employability Lead for geography I also draw huge amount of motivation from seeing our graduates secure excellent careers that really put their skillsets to good work.”


Is there a piece of research that you have undertaken of which you are particularly proud?

“Quite recently I wrote a position paper for the journal Progress in Human Geography on the geographies of hair – through which I questioned the ways in which hair as everyday matter contains a great deal of power in producing, regulating and supressing our bodies in space.

“What made this diversion from my usual research so significant to me is that it brought my previous 20 year career in the hairdressing industry into my academic research – something I hadn’t previously considered possible – and which resulted in the creation of an innovative paper in a prestigious academic publication.”


Where is the most special place you have visited on this planet and why?

“In 2016, I spent my two-week honeymoon travelling up the Pacific North West of America. While I am most definitely a city dweller, the majestic landscapes of Northern California, Oregon and Washington were magnificent and a sight to behold that I will never forget (and certainly couldn’t capture properly with my camera!). More than the views though, the sheer sense of space was very humbling and made us appreciate the scale of North America and our position in the world.”


Do you think studying geography is especially important given the current state of the planet? And do you think that might change over the next 50 years?

“Yes, definitely! Geographers are highly skilled at seeing the bigger picture and the knowledge gained from studying a geography degree can equip graduates with many of the skills needed to tackle global challenges, from climate change and energy innovation to geopolitics and food shortages.

“I have recently been looking at our graduates’ careers pathways and many of the geographers we have produced are working in urban, transport and environmental planning-related careers that are dealing directly with these challenges at a range of local, national and international scales.

“With the effects of climate change already taking hold, geographers will need to respond to these changes. I am interested specifically in sustainable cities and I see urban geographies as a key dimension of the discipline that can adapt to the changing societal and environmental needs of the planet over the coming years.”

Plymouth students and Cape Point African penguins during South Africa fieldwork module (1995)


Celebrating 50 years of geography

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of geography as a degree subject at the University of Plymouth.

In the last half century, 6,394 students have graduated from our geography programmes and 154 staff have worked with us, supporting and carrying out world-class research and teaching.