Constraining ice, ocean and climate interactions along the Central Pacific-facing margin of West Antarctica
Having thoroughly enjoyed my PhD from start to finish, my experience in Edinburgh [...] has fully cemented my interests in glaciology-geophysics, and has propelled me towards a career in this field.
What was your research about?
Using a suite of in-situ geophysical, satellite remote-sensing and climate and ocean modelling techniques, my PhD examined the complex ice, ocean and atmosphere interactions responsible for controlling the progressive drawdown of the Central Pacific-facing margin of West Antarctica: one of the most vulnerable and rapidly deteriorating regions of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.
What made you apply to the E3 DTP?
Edinburgh has a long-standing reputation for producing world-leading cryospheric research, and currently forms one of the largest and most diverse glaciology departments in the UK. Twinned with the School of GeoScience’s strong capabilities in climate/atmospheric science and earth observation, as well as the unique training opportunities afforded by E3 DTP, Edinburgh was therefore a strong and obvious location to carry out my doctoral studies as a member of the DTP.
- The publication of two peer-reviewed articles in top international journals (Christie et al., Geophysical Research Letters, 2016; Christie et al., The Cryosphere, 2018). The work associated with my 2016 paper garnered significant international media interest, including being featured as one of NASA’s front page news stories in 2016, which was a particular highlight of mine. Both papers were also voted as the SAGES (Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society) best student paper in the field of “Atmosphere, Climate and Ocean Sciences” two years in a row for 2016/2017 and 2017/2018, which I view as a testament to the first-class guidance and dedication given to me by my supervisors and collaborators over the course of my studies.
- The award of a SAGES Postdoctoral and Early Career Research Exchange (PECRE) grant which allowed me to visit the University of Washington, Seattle, for an extended period in Spring 2017. Working with Prof. Eric Steig, a world-leading expert in polar climate science, this visit was instrumental in determining the research design of my 2018 paper, and allowed me to learn new skills and forge new and hopefully long-lasting collaborative links with members of this premier institution.
What did you find challenging in your PhD?
Fortunately, my PhD very closely followed my initial research plan, meaning there were no major surprises along the way. That isn’t to say, however, that I didn’t find my doctoral studies challenging: as with all research, there were setbacks, which at times required e.g. careful consideration, negotiation or learning new skills to overcome these obstacles. Thankfully, my supervisory team were very professional throughout, and coupled with the training opportunities offered at Edinburgh, allowed me to tackle these issues effectively.
Looking back, what would you have done differently?
I look back at my time in Edinburgh very fondly, and am hard-pressed to think about what I would do differently! That said, my one regret is not undertaking an E3 DTP ‘Professional Internship Programme’ (PIP). This opportunity allows DTP students to undertake a 3-month internship at a company, charity or institution of their choosing, which having spoken to other DTP students who took up this opportunity, offers a unique way to network, make contacts, and acquire new skills in a working environment not necessarily related to your own research.
Which aspects of your PhD did you enjoy the most?
I enjoyed attending academic conferences and networking events the most. Attending these events throughout the course of my Ph.D. gave me exposure to the national and international scientific communities, which in turn led to important networking opportunities and the ability to showcase – and receive important feedback on - my research from world-leading experts in the field. This was particularly important while I was writing up the results of my thesis in the form of peer-reviewed journal articles, and in several cases led to highly successful research collaborations with colleagues in the USA.
Attending academic conferences throughout the course of my PhD gave me exposure to the national and international scientific communities, which in turn led to important networking opportunities and the ability to showcase – and receive important feedback on - my research from world-leading experts in the field.
Which skills did you gain during your PhD?
The multi-disciplinary nature of my PhD allowed me to gain a broad range of skills in the field of glaciology-geophysics, and included developing expertise in e.g. the handling and manipulation of satellite data, airborne geophysical observations, and ocean/atmosphere model datasets. Aside from these technical skills, the training and support provided by the DTP and School of Geosciences, as well as my attendance at several national and international conferences, have greatly enhanced my networking, team-working, and time management skills to name a few. In terms of long-term career goals, these are all highly transferable skills suited to any role, not just those in academia.
What would not have been possible without the DTP?
Following my successful SAGES-funded visit to the University of Washington in Spring 2017, I was very fortunate to subsequently be awarded an ‘Overseas Research Visit Fund’ to visit Prof. Eric Steig and his colleagues once more in 2018 (see report attached below). This visit enabled Prof. Steig and I to begin work on a new piece of work directly building upon our previous collaborative research, the exciting findings of which will shortly be submitted for publication in a high impact journal. Taking place towards the end of my doctoral studies, when most of my research funds had been depleted, this visit would not have been possible without the generous support of the DTP, for which I am highly grateful.
How has your PhD helped you to decide on a career path?
Having thoroughly enjoyed my PhD from start to finish, my experiences in Edinburgh as part of the Glaciology & Cryosphere Research group, and more broadly as a member of the School of GeoSciences and E3 DTP, has fully cemented my interests in glaciology-geophysics, and has propelled me towards a career in this field.
My advice to final year students would be to begin looking for jobs early in your final year, and apply for interesting opportunities irrespective of whether or not you’ve submitted your thesis!
Prior to submitting my PhD thesis, I was fortunate enough to have been employed as a glacier-geophysicist at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. Hired in support of the ‘Weddell Sea Expedition 2019’, which aimed to survey the sub-ice shelf cavity of the hitherto little-surveyed Larsen C Ice Shelf and its surrounds during the upcoming 2018/2019 field season, this work forms an obvious follow-on from my Ph.D. research and personal interests in Antarctic Glaciology.
I applied for this job around 4 months prior to handing in my thesis, and began work on the project around 1 month before submitting. My new line manager was very understanding during this overlap period, and thankfully allowed me to balance finalising my thesis with beginning work on the new project! It is common for Ph.D. students in the latter stages of writing up to begin new postdoctoral positions prior to submitting their thesis, so my advice to final year students would be to begin looking for jobs early in your final year, and apply for interesting opportunities irrespective of whether or not you’ve submitted your thesis!