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Dr Helen Quinn

Helen Quinn explains how unearthing her old University study notes has helped in her role at the BBC, including working as Assistant Producer on exciting new series The Rise of the Continents.

Name Dr Helen Quinn
Degree Course BSc (Geology and Physical Geography) / PhD
Year of Graduation 2001 / 2006
Dr Helen Quinn

Your time at the University

Edinburgh is famous as the birthplace of geology and I was very keen to study geosciences at the University because of these historic connections.

Everything about the city was inspiring, most of all its historic setting and the geology right beneath our feet.

I remember enjoying our very first field trip to Arthur’s seat just a few weeks after I moved into Pollock halls.

Fieldwork formed a very big part of my enthusiasm for the joint honours I did in Physical Geography and Geology. From the minute we arrived in the department we were very lucky to go on numerous trips each year.

My favourite memories are of the Scottish trips, particularly the second year field trip to Torridon, the beauty of the place blew my mind.

By learning traditional geological sciences in such stunning landscapes I got hooked on fieldwork, eventually staying at Edinburgh to study a PhD, which resulted in spending a season in my ultimate fieldwork destination- Antarctica.



Everything about the city was inspiring, most of all its historic setting and the geology right beneath our feet.

Dr Helen Quinn

Tell us about your Experiences since leaving the University

Antarctica and my studies at Edinburgh hugely shaped the career I do today. The science that I was writing up as an academic paper based on the work I had done in Antarctica began to lend itself to a story that could be much more widely communicated. After attending a science communication course during my PhD I started to write some of the results up as stories for newspapers such as The Scotsman. Everything I do now spiralled from this love of writing science for a wider audience.

Today I work in the science department at the BBC making TV documentaries. It involves researching stories, writing scripts, interviewing scientists and travelling the world to film these stories. I have worked on a wide range of science programmes covering subjects from mental health to physics of the universe, but the series I have enjoyed the most took me right back to my geoscience roots.

The Rise of the Continents with Professor Iain Stewart on BBC 2 was an amazing series to work on. I had to swot up on 4.5 billion years of earth’s history, dig out a lot of my university notes and text books and very quickly get up to date with new theories in geology. We were aiming to tell a complex story, making it both accessible and interesting, whilst ensuring that it was factually correct and made sense as a story. We wanted it to appeal to both geology lovers and those who previously thought they had no interest in the subject. For me it was both a treat and a challenge attempting to make geosciences accessible for such a wide audience. I am yet to get back to Antarctica on a filming trip but I am regularly suggesting ideas for a new geology series on the continent!

Alumni wisdom

Get out and see things whenever you get the chance, and get to know the beautiful country you live in. Scotland and especially Edinburgh is a very special place to study geology and geography.

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