Reflecting on Glass


As we celebrated receiving our awards, my PhD supervisor Dr Kaz Stuart¬†commented, “There has to be a story about a large piece of glass to come Tracy!” She was right, and here it is ūüôā

Reflecting on Glass

She holds the heavy, pointed block of glass in her hands, and reads the words etched on it, words designed to recognise and celebrate her achievements as an early career researcher. The weight makes her arms ache so she carefully places it on the table, where it catches the last rays of the evening sun as it dips its head before the approaching night. She gazes at the glass, which sparkles and refracts rainbows of light across the room. Her thoughts drift away to consider the processes and people involved in making it.

20160621_191302_resizedTraditionally glass has been made from sand which has been heated and shaped, mimicking the process that occurs in nature when sand is struck by lightning, or some other explosive force. But with this glass, someone had to have a plan, a design, know what they were making. Someone else needed the technical expertise to make the machines, to etch the words, to make the satin-lined box it came in. Others were responsible for selling it, promoting, pricing, advertising, buying it to present to someone else… so many people needed for one block of glass.

She moves to the computer, keen to learn more, she reads, ‚ÄúGlass is a bit of a riddle. It’s hard enough to protect us, but it shatters with incredible ease. It’s made from opaque sand, yet it’s completely transparent. And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, it behaves like a solid material… but it’s also a sort of weird liquid in disguise!‚ÄĚ[1] Intriguing words, that lead her to question why she has not thought about this before.

Glass has a curious ability to refract, reflect, and transmit light ‚Äď properties we exploit to enable us to look at ourselves and at our world. Glass is everywhere, letting light enter the places where we live, work, shop, the places where we go to learn ‚Äď schools, colleges, libraries. It holds our ‚Äėstuff‚Äô ‚Äď bottles, jars, wine glasses. It helps us to read, in varifocal and magnified ways.

Metaphorically, glass is much like research, with its need for planning, transparency, reflection, a vessel to hold and interpret our discoveries so that we can share them with others. This particular piece of glass acts as a metaphor to reflect, refract and illuminate the processes of her own research. Thinking about the grains of sand, she recalls the practitioners and young people working together to explore natural spaces, and discovering themselves in the process. The pointed shape of the glass reminds her of the mountains, of the experiences she shared there. The pressure, the heat, the effort needed to make the glass, mirror the challenges of conducting research.

She needs her glasses to focus on the words, and remembers those who need support to be able to access natural spaces, as well as the support she has needed to guide her with the research. Thinking back over the last few years, she realizes how much she has been changed by the research. She gazes in a mirror and observes that although outwardly she may not look that different, perhaps a bit greyer and more wrinkled, but inside her head is now a very different place, thanks to the transformatory powers of the learning process.

The block of glass silently and wonderfully reflects this.


Feeling thoughtful…

It’s been a while since updated this blog. I’ve been caught up with work, research, walking (my other blog, Challenge50) and trying to maintain a social media presence – Twitter, LinkedIn,, Orcid etc. All part of the work of a modern academic…and yet, is it really necessary? Why do we spend so much time putting our thoughts into words to share? There are so many ways we can justify this – to promote our work, raise our profile, connect with others, gain feedback. For me, I find it helps me to understand what it is I am thinking and feeling, and to explore the reasons why this may be so.

Today, I’m feeling very thoughtful for several, loosely connected reasons… I caught the end of the Battle of the Somme: Centenary remembrance on BBC this morning. It was simple and beautiful, and I appreciated how good we are in this country at recognising/commemorating past events –¬†but why are we so bad at learning from them, so that we avoid inflicting more unnecessary pain? How do we become more forward thinking? More caring? More understanding of others?

I remember being fascinated by war poetry as a teenager, studying A-level English Literature, I still have the books (I really am such a hoarder of books!), as I open the cover I see my name, written in ink, with a bold line below. My name¬†may be¬†different now, on my third (and hopefully last) surname, but the teenager still lurks inside, still questioning “Why?” In true 80s style, I¬†had a poster on my wall that captured this feeling – I also had posters of Adam Ant and Paul Young, that captured other youthful feelings (sigh)…

I’m now working on a presentation I shall be giving in a couple of weeks time, that includes a short story¬†which makes reference to war, and to fighting/dying young. The start of this story:

‚ÄúTracy, come over here, read this…‚ÄĚ
One of the students calls me over, continuing ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs so sad‚ÄĚ. Her gaze holds mine as she speaks, gauging my reaction. When she sees she has my attention, she points to a display cabinet in front of us. I look down and see medals, laid out with an explanatory note from the author, a famous book illustrator. I read the words, ‚ÄėIn memory of my uncles, who died in the Great War.‚Äô I look up at the student as she whispers to me, ‚ÄúThey were so young, they were our age.‚ÄĚ Her voice tails off into a shared silent space that words cannot fill, yet is over-spilling with emotion…
Tomorrow Ian and I are visiting the place where this encounter occurred, Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books, and will be attending a session where Michael Morpurgo will be reading from his book Private Peaceful. His story underlines the senselessness of war and ineptitude of the commanding officer.
My¬†thoughts from reflecting on this today¬†are that we¬†need to learn from our own and shared¬†experiences, avoid allowing ourselves to¬†be commanded by inept ‘officers’ and do our best to build a more peaceful and positive future.¬†Sharing stories enables us to honour, respect, commemorate,¬†learn¬†and change.

Fame (of a sort) at last

Tracy Hayes Jan 2016

Earlier this year I was surprised by an email from our graduate school office: “Please see below.¬† Would you be available to talk about your research this Friday?¬† If so, I‚Äôll put your name forward for this opportunity.”

Feeling curious, I read below which outlined a request to interview a postgraduate student about their research, to be published in a national newspaper – the Independent. Wondering why on earth they would be interested in me, I replied yes, I was available, if they wanted me. My name was put into the mix, and I got on with my day job, not expecting to hear any more.

I was wrong, I was chosen, the nerves set in! After a strong black coffee, with some preparatory notes by my side,  I was ready for the interview. The interviewer was lovely, put me at my ease straightaway, and I really enjoyed talking with her. As promised, she sent me the draft prior to publication and I sent her a photo of me with my research story book, in the garden outside our office, on the memorial bench for our colleague Linda, who died last year.

I heard that the Independent was closing its printing presses – typical I thought, it won’t get published after all. Again, I was wrong! There was a delay, and it didn’t go in the Independent, instead it went in the i-newspaper. I missed it because I bought the wrong paper! However, I was very kindly sent a copy of it by a reader who was interested in my work.

So, here it is, my five minutes of fame, probably now keeping someone’s chips warm, or lining a cat litter tray, or used as packing material for someone moving house…My article


No idea who is the ‘Lady in red’ – guess it’s a media stock image.

From wondering to pondering and beyond…

Wondering whilst wandering across the sands in Skyreburn Bay, Jan 2016


Tracy wanders across the sands in Skyreburn Bay

I don’t do New Years Eve parties or make resolutions, or jump on the latest ‘new, improved you’ bandwagon – I have got to a stage in my life where I can admit I quite like me as I am, and am aware that this is constantly evolving.¬†This year, together with my husband, I escaped for a week – to wander, wonder and ponder – and what better place to do this than a magnificently cold, windswept beach in Dumfriesshire.

I haven’t been to this part of Scotland before, new places for me to explore and come to know. Peace and quiet, time and space for reflection and remembering, allowing me to gently¬†put aside the old year and warmly embrace the new one.¬†I¬†reflect on what I have done, the places I have been and the people I have met. I avoid dwelling on all those items (people, places and tasks) on my to-do-list that have somehow so far escaped my attention.¬†Revisiting these experiences in my mind, remembering people I have shared them with is, for me, a lovely way to start the new year. For a short time I can hold them again in my mind and remind myself of what I have learned from being with them, from being there. I am then able to move on to pondering what lies ahead for me in the newly dawned year. Where will I go, who will I meet, how will this feel?

BUT Tracy – “What are your plans?” “When will you be finished?” “What are your next steps?” “What do you want to achieve next?” “You need to define your goals, build in steps, assess your progress…”

Well-meaning words of advice caution me to take a more considered approach – to look ahead and plan my way, and yet I feel a strange resistance to making this a quick process. I want to take my time, to do it my way. I apologise to those who find my¬†approach to be confusing, frustrating or challenging. I’m not trying to be awkward, I really am just being me. I am a daydreamer, I like¬†to hope, to dream, to remain open to what I encounter, to respond to things that attract my attention. And then to make this real – and this takes time and space, and patience.

2015 was an interesting, demanding, exciting and challenging year. There have been some fun times, and some that were anything but fun. There have been some very sad times; and times when I have felt overwhelmed at how much I have to do, and how little time I have to do so. Walking on the beach helps me gain perspective, to make peace with myself by quietly recognising my achievements and forgiving myself for what I have not done. Then I can reach for my calendar and my to-do-list and begin to plan. And most importantly, I can remember to ask for support when I need it, after all, despite how it may look in the photo, I am not alone.

Watch out 2016, I’m ready for you, here I come ūüôā






Feeling thoughtful…

time-to-writeAs I prepare to head off again to present at another conference, I am feeling very thoughtful… I enjoy attending conferences as they provide lots of opportunities to make new friends, learn new things, to be challenged and inspired. Last week was a big conference in Exeter, approx 1400 people from across the world. So many different sessions to choose from, spread across a large campus over three days – bewildering and exhausting! However I was elected to the research group committee (yay!) and presented with a certificate for winning a reflective writing competition (double-yay!) – and overall it was both a positive and enjoyable event.

This week was much smaller, approx 25 people over two days in a small conference centre. A friendly, welcoming and nurturing space for exploring our research. This was a very useful time for me, allowing me to think about what I have been doing, to question why I have done it the way I have, and to consider the best way of completing this process.

Tomorrow I begin the journey to Belfast for what I plan to be my last presentation of the year – and (probably) the last ‘public’ reading of ‘Boggarts, Bears and Bunny Rabbits’. I feel it is time for me to take a break from oral presentations – and time for the Boggarts to take a well-earned rest. I feel a need¬†to concentrate on my more ‘formal’ writing. I am so grateful to all the people who have listened to me talk, and participated in my activities – you have helped me to shape my thinking and to refine my ideas. Now it’s time to commit this to paper.

Heading off on my travels …

30-insanely-easy-ways-to-make-your-road-trip-awes-1-25657-1402087917-53_bigFour conferences in three weeks – what was I thinking? Well,¬†to be honest, my main thought was how interesting they all seemed, and how much I wanted to be part of them. My second thought was, can I do it? My¬†third thought was yes, I can – as the saying goes, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way.’

So, on Tuesday afternoon I will be heading off to Exeter for #RGSIBG15 where I will be co-presenting with my colleague Caroline – title of our session is “That’s not MY Gruffalo!”¬†I will also be catching up with friends made at previous conferences.

Back home for the weekend, then off on Tuesday evening to Northampton for¬†The Great Outdoors? Children, Young People and Families in Natural and Rural Spaces conference –¬†on my own this time! I will be facilitating a workshop based on my shared-story approach to research. There will be bears, bunnies and………………….yes, there will be Boggarts!

Back home again for two days,¬†then off again on Sunday for a night in Edinburgh followed by a morning flight to Belfast for #BERA2015 Another presentation on playful approaches to outdoor learning (yet more Boggarts). Then back to Edinburgh for a Weekend with Wolves……….oh, and time with my gorgeous husband. This time I will not be presenting, simply there to enjoy learning from others. Happy days ūüôā

Wolf-woman venn diagram poem

Inspired by a post on Twitter*, I have attempted a venn diagram poem. This comprises three poems: the central one, read from top to bottom within the centre of the diagram; the left had one, with each line ending with the lines of the central poem; the right hand one starting with the lines of the central one.

My aim is to present two different interpretations of the same experience Рor is it? A suggestion from one of my followers on Twitter is that perhaps they represent two sides of me?

Hmmm…. interesting thought ¬† ¬†ūüėČ

Why not give it a go…. good exercise for your brain! Also useful for considering¬†other, non-human perspectives…


The wonder of a moonbow

The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I felt a tightening tension across the back of my eyes. I instinctively knew what was coming: a storm. One of those stunningly beautiful electrical phenomenon that pierce the mid-summer sky. For once I was grateful my old dog is no longer here, she hated storms (and the artificial firework version) with a fierce passion. Once in an attempt to escape the bangs and flashes, she had jumped the gate and run so far, so fast, that by the time we had caught up with her, she had worn away the pads on her paws. Most times when a storm hit she would pace the house, breathing heavily, looking for solace in human form, yet too restless to accept it when she found it. She left us more than two years ago.

Free to enjoy the storm (two untroubled dogs lie sleeping), I made my way to the top floor of our house, to our bedroom nestled under the roof. The windows open right out, allowing me to immerse my head into the night air. The air smelled fresh, the cooling rain landing in heavy sploshes. Such bright flashes, so high, and scattered across the sky. Bewildering ‚Äď flash left, right, overhead, in front. Intermittent rumbles and cracks of thunder that seem unconnected with the flashes, no time to count between. Then I saw it. A silvery white arc in the sky. Was it a plume of smoke? Had one of the bolts struck home and caused a fire? No, it was unmoving, a beautiful, shimmering earthbound semi-circle, a bridge connecting¬†sky and ground‚Ķ

Flash! Briefly it revealed its multi-coloured form, then back to silver, again masking its brilliance. I stood transfixed, willing another flash‚Ķ yes! And again! I could sense the storm moving further away across the fells. The arc dwindled from silver to soft grey, then faded out, it was gone. I stared at the space ‚Äď nothing but a soft fall of rain and the outline of the fells against the night sky. Turning I moved to the skylight at the back of the room where the moonlight was flooding in. Gazing at it, I remembered hearing a voice on the radio informing me that it was near full. I noticed that the sky around the moon was uncluttered by clouds, sparkling with stars ‚Äď no sign of the storm opposite. What a wonderful night sky, which left me questioning what it was I had seen. The next day, after searching books and using the internet I realised I had seen a lunar rainbow, also known as a moonbow. I found a poem by Robert Frost, Iris By Night (short extract below):

Then a small rainbow like a trellis gate, 
A very small moon-made prismatic bow,
Stood closely over us through which to go

If gold lies at the end of a rainbow, what treasure will I find beyond a moonbow? Only one way to find out Рthrough the moonbow, that is the way to go…

Notes: A moonbow, also called a lunar rainbow, is a rainbow produced by light reflected by the Moon. The Moon itself does not emit light, moonlight is a mix of reflected sunlight, starlight and earthlight. Because moonlight is fainter than sunlight, moonbows are dimmer than rainbows.[i]

Moonbows may be found most often over waterfalls, particularly dramatic ones, with rapid flow resulting in spray. However the more transient, naturally occurring cloud based ones are very rare, difficult to predict, and require a specific combination of naturally occurring phenomenon: the moon must be very bright (full or near full), the rain must be opposite, the clouds dense enough to refract the light, but not so dark it obscures the view.¬†It can be even more difficult to see colours in a moonbow ‚Äď lightening from behind definitely helps with this!


Picture available from:

What a busy bee I’ve been…

busy beeSo busy I haven’t got round to updating my blog!¬†I have lots of good news to share:

  • I passed the first module of postgraduate certificate in academic practice. In September I start the second, and final, module. This one is a short action research project, and I intend to focus on story-telling in higher education – nicely linked in to my PhD.
  • I entered an essay-writing competition – the RGS-IBG Higher Education Research Group (HERG) Postgraduate Reflective Essay Competition 2015. This is not something I have ever attempted before – and I won! The title of my essay: Developing an academic identity: What’s the time Mrs Wolf? (The answer to this is it’s my time) ūüôā
  • I have presented at two conferences so far – York St John University and Leicester University – both were well received.
  • I will be presenting this week at the University of Cumbria’s Doctoral Colloquium – a poster and an oral presentation. Then I have a bit of a¬†break until September when I will be giving two oral presentations (Exeter and Belfast) and a workshop in Northampton. Phew!

I have also been invited to give a guest lecture – really honored and so want to do it. Unfortunately I will be on the way back from Belfast (via a weekend indulging in ‘wolfish’ things in Edinburgh – more on that later) so have had to decline. Booooo….I so need Hermione’s time-turner!

My next post will be less self-promotion/congratulation – hey, don’t judge me, I’m learning to give myself a pat on the back occasionally by focusing on what I have done, rather than what I haven’t done.

The next post will take the form of¬†a¬†more reflective and thoughtful short story….