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Professor Richard Bernhart Owen,Head of Geography Department, HKBU

The BUddy Post reporter has interviewed Professor Richard Bernhart Owen, the Head of Geography Department, who has been teaching in HKBU for almost 22 years.We are delighted to have Professor Owen share with us his passion to pursuit excellence in Geography Department.

Reporter: Can you tell us something more about yourself? When did you come to Hong Kong and when did you join HKBU? Why?

Prof. Owen: I was originally from the United Kingdom and I obtained my first degree in Geology from University of Sheffield in England. Then, I further pursued my PhD in Geology at the University of London.While I was a PhD student, I worked in Kenya, East Africa to conduct research study sediments in the Rift Valley. Later, I moved to Malawi where I was a university lecturer, staying there for over 8 years. It was quite adventurous to work in Africa; however, on the financial front, the local salaries which I received were not sufficient to raise a family with two kids. Thus, I quit my job and searched for new opportunity globally. I noticed that HKBU had a world-wide recruitment for academic staff of Geography Department. I was very interested to apply, and later was given a phone interview with HKBU. Having discussed with my wife, I decided to accept the offer. Since then, I have been living in Hong Kong and working at HKBU for almost 22 years.

Reporter: Noticing that you have been staying in Africa for quite some time, can you tell us your adventures in Africa?

Prof. Owen: I’m not trying to scare you, but I’ve eaten elephant, hippopotamus and crocodile, though their textures are a bit rough. I have also had legally culled antelopes such as Nyala while in Malawi. I still travel back to Kenya for research and recently was able to follow ten giraffe over a distance of 2 km on foot. In fact, I regularly see wildlife such as lion, giraffe, leopard and elephant while working.

Another interesting issue was about communication. Back then (early 80’s), there were no emails available. The fastest communication channel was using fax machine. I remember being thrilled when I was first able to go the Central Post in Zomba (Malawi) to send a fax, and get a reply from America the following day.

Reporter: As the Head of Department of Geography, can you share with us the mission and vision of the Department?

Prof. Owen: Our Department is committed to sustaining the value of geographical education, andstriving for academic and teaching excellence as explicit in the mottoes that we have adopted:“Balancing Theories and Practices”, “Promoting Scholarly Interactions”, and “Achieving Academic Excellence”. Many of our students appreciate the friendliness of the Department, and the hands-on exposure of out-of-classroom fieldwork, which we place strong emphasis on. In particular, we believe that close interactions between the students and teaching staff are vital, and that this is enhanced substantially through informal field activities. On the research front, we are one of the best Departments at HKBU with excellent academic staff in research capabilities. For example, this year, we were granted 4 General Research Fund (GRF) research projects.

Our programmes aim at providing a broad-based training in the discipline, which allows students to have a balanced view of the contemporary world. Currently, we are offering three undergraduate programmes, namely BSocSc (Hons) in Geography, BSocSc (Hons) in China Studies– Geography Concentration, and a double degree programme in BSocSc(Hons) in Geography and BEd (Hons) in Liberal Studies Teaching.We also offer research postgraduate programmes (MPhil and PhD), and a taught postgraduate programme (Master of Social Science in Contemporary China Studies).

Reporter: What is the career development of your graduates?

Prof. Owen: As Geography is the study of both earth sciences (physical geography) and social sciences (human geography), our graduates’ career prospects could be very broad and diverse. They could engage in various sectors including but not limit to business, education, and Government. Our graduates are well received by employers because of their computer literacy, communication skills and laboratory training acquired during their study at our Department.

Reporter: As the Geography Department Head, you must be very busy in conducting research work. Can you share with us your recent research topics?

Prof. Owen: I enjoy teaching very much, but my passion for conducting research work is even stronger. My key research interests are palaeolimnology, micropaleontology, as well as sedimentology, quaternary geologyand marine geology. My current research projects focus on environmental reconstructions in the Olorgesailie Basin in Kenya; Rhizolith origins in the Kenya Rift Valley; Lake Magadiquaternary geology; as well as hot springs in Iceland and New Zealand and marine sedimentation in Hong Kong.

Reporter: I think you must have travelled to many places already. Can you share with us some interesting places/ countries you have visited? Which one do you like most? Where is the most impressive geographical landscape?

Prof. Owen: I am 58 years old now, and I am quite happy that I have already travelled to 57 countries both for work and leisure. I am planning my next trip to Burma next year. I have travelled to all countries in Western Europe. Yet, I wish I would have time to explore more in South America, having only visited Ecuador so far. I also intend to travel to Antarctica when I have more time available. I have been working and living in Africa for many years and if I were to choose a favourite place I would have to say Malawi, with its beautiful, and enormous, scenic lake. The country is a very interesting place for inexperienced travelers. Things do go wrong, but in Malawi, everyone is friendly. In my opinion, the Rift Valley of Kenya has the most impressive geographical landscape and tremendous wildlife locations. As for Hong Kong, my favourite place is Tai Long Wan, located on the east coast of the Sai Kung Peninsula, which has fantastic white sand beaches flanked by rugged headlands.

Reporter: What are your favourite pastimes?

Prof. Owen: When I was younger, I enjoyed playing squash and used to do it five nights a week. However, after a number of knee injuries, I was forced to quit squash. As for now, I like climbing mountains and hiking. One of my longest hiking in my life was a charity walk in a hilly region around Sheffield where I walked 80 km in 9.5 hours. During my weekends, I love to hike all over Hong Kong. A special favourite is Tai Long Wan where I often spend time relaxing on the beach, or visiting a restaurant at Ham Tin, drinking a bottle of beer while having a bowl of noodle with two eggs.

Reporter: What are your aspirations and what is your motto in life?

Prof. Owen: I don’t have a particular motto in life. Nevertheless, I am a very competitive person who likes to do things better and quicker than others. Being competitive to me does not create stress at all; rather it acts as a stimulus to motivate me to outperform others. Thus, I strongly encourage friendly competition amongst my departmental staff with a view to promoting our research efforts.

Reporter: What is the impression that HKBU graduates /students give you?

Prof. Owen: I find HKBU students hard working and very friendly once your break the ice with them. They usually manage to communicate well in English, but they often seem to lack confidence about their abilities. Our Department field trips provide one of the most helpful vehicles in building a close relationship and enhancing social interaction between students and academic staff. I am particularly impressed that students in Hong Kong nowadays are brave and active enough to voice out their opinions in a peaceful and rational manner.

Interviewee's Biography:
Professor Richard Bernhart Owen

Professor Owen is currently the Head of Geography Department, Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU). He received his Bachelor of Science Degree (Honors) in Geology from the University of Sheffield in England, and subsequently a PhD in Geology from the University of London. His main research interests are palaeolimnology, micropalaeontology, sedimentology, as well as quaternary geology and marine geology. He has been teaching in HKBU for almost 22 years and he is specialised in earth landscapes and the physical environment, geomorphology and coastal environments. His current research topics are in the area of environmental reconstructions in Africa and the study of hot springs.



Prof. Owen sharing his adventures in Africa.

Sweet sixteen!

Prof. Owen enjoys hiking and has been on top of all Hong Kong mountains above 300 meters high, including Lion Rock in the background.

Prof. Owen showcasing the new facilities and laboratories at the Department.

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