Talks with Trip Scholars

Two of our Oxford Alumni Travellers trip scholars tell us about their experience and the role of the trip scholar on a tour. To hear more from our trip scholars, watch our short video

Professor Mark Smith

Professor Mark Smith was the trip scholar for the 2012 "Eternal Egypt" tour and will be leading the "Egypt Uncovered" trip in March 2013, which takes in some alternative sites including Saqqara, Dendera and the Western Desert Oases, along with more classic sites at Giza and Luxor. He tells us more about his work and the role of a trip scholar on Oxford Alumni Travellers tours.

I am Professor of Egyptology at Oxford University and Lady Wallis Budge Fellow in Egyptology at University College. My research interests range from the beginning of Egyptian history to Coptic Egypt, although my focus is on the Graeco-Roman Period, in particular the intellectual life and religious beliefs of that time. I am especially interested in Egyptian conceptions of the afterlife.

I am currently researching and writing a book about the god of the dead, Osiris, and how beliefs concerning the nature of the relationship between him and the deceased changed and developed during the course of Egyptian history. Several of the places on the planned itinerary of the upcoming tour "Egypt Uncovered" figure prominently in my research on this topic.

As trip scholar, my role is to provide an expert’s perspective on the places and things that we see. This is communicated in various ways. Each evening the trip scholar presents a talk of approximately 30–40 minutes in length on some aspect of the site to be visited the next day, providing essential background information and highlighting features of particular interest. Questions and discussion afterwards are always encouraged. But I am also available and happy to try to answer questions at any other time, e.g. during meals, while travelling on the coach from one site to another, and, when circumstances permit, at the actual site itself.

For me there are two main benefits of being a trip scholar. One is the opportunity to visit parts of Egypt I have studied and read about but have never seen before. The other benefit is that one visits these places in the company of a very interesting group of people. The energy and enthusiasm of the participants in last year’s trip to Egypt were inspiring. Several had lived for prolonged periods in different parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe, and so possessed a wealth of experience of different cultures and ways of life. In my view their insights and observations greatly enhanced our appreciation and understanding of what we saw.

Dr Robert Simpson

Dr Robert Simpson, trip scholar on the Oxford Journeys “Polar Nights and Mystical Northern Lights” tour in February 2012, told us about his experience. I am a researcher and web developer in the Astrophysics department.

My main area of research is about understanding how stars and planets form. I work for the Zooniverse, a worldwide collaboration that creates Citizen Science websites, which invite everyone to assist researchers in many areas of science. Our Solar Stormwatch project asks people to help us track solar storms heading for the Earth - these storms often go on to form spectacular aurora. We have several projects, ranging across the spectrum, including a site that asks you to listen to the sounds of Norwegian whales, and another that is transcribing Royal Navy ships logs from the First World War in order to help understand the climate.

Being a trip scholar was excellent fun! In addition to being able to share my research with a group of interested people, I also got to meet the people who came on the trip, and make some links with alumni. It gave me a chance to present a summary of my research and to share my passion for astronomy. My trip to Norway touched on many aspects of my work with the Zooniverse. The whale songs for our marine biology project, we recorded in Norway, and our Solar Stormwatch site is all about the aurora and the Sun's relationship with the Earth.

The trip scholar is always on call, and you are available to answer questions about the trip, and your research - in my case astronomy - throughout the trip. As resident astronomer for the Norway trip, I led on-deck stargazing sessions and kept track of the solar storms that may be approaching. It was a lot of fun, and everyone had great questions that kept me on my toes.

Trip highlights
For me it had to be the Northern Lights! We had seen glimpses of the aurora on the first couple of nights on the ship, but on the third night we caught a really good display. Everyone had gotten to know each other by then and we were all out on the deck sharing an amazing experience.