Using geophysical data to understand liquid water dynamics in seasonal snow
I was surprised at how flexible a PhD project can be in terms of what direction you take it in, both in terms of tailoring it to your own interests, and also flexibility in the face of equipment failures and global pandemics.
What was your research about?
Snow is a really important resource and hazard for millions of people globally. Understanding and predicting snow cover helps us manage resources and mitigate against flood and avalanche risk, but our understanding of how liquid water moves in melting snow is limited by our ability to observe and model it. My PhD involved developing a technique which uses electrical signals to measure when and how fast liquid water moves in snow, and using this data to help improve model predictions.
What made you apply to the E3 DTP?
I’ve always loved snow, and in my previous job as a weather forecaster I was occasionally frustrated at the limitations of model predictions. When I saw this project advertised, I was really interested to apply so I could make the models better! Alongside the interesting project, the support and training available through the E3 DTP sounded fantastic.
What did you find challenging in your PhD?
I expected some fieldwork, which I was lucky enough to do, so that was excellent! I also expected to spend a lot of time working with computer code and data, which was also the case in reality and was quite hard work!
In the first couple of years, I found the research freedom and autonomy challenging – there are so many opportunities available as a PhD student in Geosciences at Edinburgh that it was difficult to know what to say no to sometimes. I was surprised at how flexible a PhD project can be in terms of what direction you take it in, both in terms of tailoring it to your own interests, and also flexibility in the face of equipment failures and global pandemics…
Looking back, what would you have done differently?
I think I would begin a written review of the literature sooner – I read loads of stuff in the first year to help focus my research plans but ended up revisiting lots of it later on because I hadn’t written it down!
I really enjoyed the opportunities for overseas travel, both for fieldwork and for research visits. It was excellent to meet and learn from researchers from a wide variety of backgrounds and also to practice my French.
Which aspects of your PhD did you enjoy the most?
I really enjoyed the opportunities for overseas travel, both for fieldwork and for research visits. It was excellent to meet and learn from researchers from a wide variety of backgrounds and also to practice my French. Another highlight was the teaching I did, which involved weekly classes and labs, and took me on several fieldtrips which were great fun.
- Attending a snow science winter school for a week of snow science and fondue in the French Alps,
- Spending a month working at Meteo France in Grenoble with their snow modelling team,
- Teaching on a meteorology field course on the isle of Arran.
Which skills did you gain during your PhD?
The PhD gave me great experience in managing a large project, including research, travel, logistics and collaboration with international partners, and I was able to learn Python and data analysis skills. It also gave me a fantastic opportunity to develop my communication skills to give me confidence to stand up in front of conference audiences, classes of students or international colleagues and discuss complex topics.
What would not have been possible without the DTP?
I spent a month working in Grenoble at Meteo France which was funded through the Overseas Research Visit Fund, which was an excellent opportunity to collaborate and network at a prestigious institution. I also completed two internships which were fully funded through the DTP: one was a placement at the Scottish Parliament using my research skills to write policy briefings on health and social care for MSPs, and the other was working with an ecologist at the RSPB to investigate the links between snow cover and Scottish mountain bird populations.
Whilst I’ve not stayed in academia, I’m working in a geoscience-related field and using a lot of the skills and knowledge I developed during the PhD.
How has your PhD helped you to decide on a career path?
I really enjoyed the wide range of opportunities I had during my PhD, and whilst I’ve not stayed in academia, I’m working in a geoscience-related field and using a lot of the skills and knowledge I developed during the PhD.
I’m hoping to keep links with the academic world as I develop my career in meteorology at the Met Office, and the breadth of skills I was able to gain during the PhD mean that I feel much more confident that I will be able to take up interesting opportunities across a range of parts of the organisation. I currently work as a trainer in the Met Office college. I started part-time as I was finishing up my PhD and now work full time. I’ve recently secured an internal secondment to work with European colleagues coordinating the EUMETNET observation network, which wouldn’t have been possible without the experience I got during my PhD.