Smriti Safaya

  • Science Communication Studentships in 2020 at University of York

Education

B.Sc. in Geology @ The University of California, Davis
B.Sc. in Secondary Education, Science @ The University of British Columbia
MPhil in Earth Science @ The University of Hong Kong
PhD in Education @ The University of York (UK) [2019-2022]

Background

Smriti grew up in Mumbai, Beijing and Hong Kong, and the natural environments in and around these urban centres beckoned her to explore the science behind the world she saw and the relationships between nature and humankind. This led to her blending a love of mysteries and the Earth by studying geology during her undergraduate years in UC Davis, where she learned from the 'movers and shakers' of plate tectonic theory no less! During her masters programme, working with Dr. Jonathan Aitchison and Dr. Jason Ali as part of the Tibet Research Group at HKU, she explored the neotectonics of central Tibet to refine the models of crustal deformation and extrusion of the plateau. Trips to glacially-carved mountains, rocky deserts, high-altitude plateaus and active volcanos during these years instilled the value of field-based experiences, and she took this with her into her '2nd life' as a secondary school educator of geography and world issues in international schools in Hong Kong. In her 13 years of teaching, Smriti has taken more than 2200 students on over 50 field trips to Asian, African, European and North American countries exploring themes of biodiversity conservation, history and cultural heritage, technology in marine science research, urban environments and sustainable development.

Alongside teaching, Smriti became a coordinator for experiential education, service learning and environmental education. In this role, she supported colleagues to create opportunities for their students to learn 'where the action is', especially in Hong Kong. Using inquiry, place-based and project-based learning approaches and incorporating mapping (Geographic Information Systems, GIS) and virtual reality (VR) technology into her pedagogy, Smriti became increasingly conscious of the impact of her students' learning experiences. She is a co-founder of the Hong Kong Global Issues Network student conference (GIN852) and has been involved with green movements in schools and in Hong Kong for many years. Still, she notices that most students show only limited follow-through about issues they say concerns them. This is the basis for her decision to pursue a PhD and solve another mystery: how can educators teach in a way to close the value-action gap, and how can citizen science, a nascent pedagogical technique in Asia, contribute to that goal?

In addition to her PhD research, Smriti is the Hong Kong ambassador of Citizen Science Asia, a regional network that promotes and supports the development and use of citizen science, and tries to bridge experts and practitioners to enhance the public's engagement with science in Hong Kong. She is always on the look out for interested collaborators and experts to help build this community of curious and motivated people to help make Hong Kong and the wider region a more conscientious, resilient and greener society.

Current Research

Combining the strength of expertise within the University of York's Department of Education's Science Education Research Group and Stockholm Environment Institute in the Department of the Environment and Geography, Smriti is currently focusing on an interdisciplinary PhD project to determine the role citizen science can play on the environmental values and behaviours of secondary school students in Hong Kong. Working with Dr. Lynda Dunlop and Dr. Sarah West, she is conducting research on the impact of nature-based experiential citizen science projects, ranging from contributive to co-created, in local and international schools in Hong Kong. Citizen science is relatively new to the Hong Kong educational scene and there has been no research on this topic, hence educators and scientists have limited guidance on the implementation and impact on student citizen scientists. Her own teaching experience and the academic literature reveal that nature-based experiential education is a powerful agent for developing ecological values and action in youth. The outcomes of her research will include creating professional development resources and sharing best practice for transformative citizen science initiatives for educators in the Asian region and beyond.

If this project aligns with your interests, please get in touch with Smriti Safaya via the Croucher Foundation.