I’m Alex, a 2nd-year Geography PhD
student in the School of Environment, Education and Development at the
University of Manchester. My research is focused on grasslands, and using
new sensing technologies to better understand the ecosystem processes that take
place in them – mainly cycling of carbon, nutrients and water. I look at images
taken from satellites and drones to study the landscapes over a much larger
scale than would be possible on the ground, which means we can monitor how
climate change is affecting these environments, and predict what might happen
in the future.
HOW I GOT HERE:
I always found Geography exciting; thinking about far-away
places and the different lives that take place in them was a fun escape from
the routine of school life. I visited quite a few different universities before
I chose Manchester. This would be my top piece of advice if you’re thinking of
moving away – you will do a lot of growing up during your university years, so
it’s really important to find the right place. Take a few days to visit
different options, get a feel for them, chat to people and imagine yourself
The highlight of my degree was my dissertation project, which
was my first taste of designing my own research tailored exactly to the things
I most enjoyed. I wrote it about landscape restoration in the moorlands of the
Peak District, a place I had visited and loved as a kid which I got to see from
a new, scientific perspective. The other most important thing is the friends I
made. There are so many ways to meet new people and make friends at university
– some of my best friends I didn’t meet until my final year, when I joined
After graduating I did some conservation internships with
two wildlife charities. I was sick of sitting indoors reading about the outside
world, and wanted to go and spend time in it! Both the organisations have lots
of volunteering opportunities if you’re interested in a career outdoors (links
at the bottom). After a couple of months however I’d had my fill of the
outside, and moved to the University of Leicester to work as a Research
Assistant, making a map of landcover changes in the UK as part of a Europe-wide
project. I met so many interesting and inspiring people at Leicester that I
realised I wanted to continue my career in academia after all, and this is when
I decided to apply for my PhD. There are lots of different routes into
academia, so if you don’t know exactly what you want to do then it is
absolutely fine to spend some time exploring, doing different jobs or
volunteering. That way, when you do finally decide on your PhD topic you know
it’s the perfect choice for you.
My first study site, in the Yorkshire Dales
For me, it is very important in research to feel that you
are contributing to something bigger, important and worthwhile, but also doing
something interesting and fun day-to-day.
The big picture of my research is focused around climate
change, and how we can manage our ecosystems to ensure that they will continue
to thrive and provide us with food, fuel, water and other essential resources
in the future. I’m interested mostly in the belowground communities of soil
bacteria and fungi, which are an essential part of any ecosystem as they keep soil
healthy and make it possible for plants to grow, but are often forgotten about
(probably because they are difficult to see). I want to know if it is possible
to make predictions about these communities – for example how diverse they are,
or how active they are – based on properties of the plants that we can see
aboveground. To do this I use sophisticated imagery (this is the fun part!);
cameras which can see the whole spectrum from ultraviolet to short-wave
infrared light, rather than just the blue/green/red we can detect with our
eyes. This reveals very detailed information about the plants, which I hope
will hold the clues to what is going on in the soil.
Satellite image of the Dee estuary
There are some brilliant things and some big challenges that
come with academic life. The best thing is how vibrant and busy the university
environment is; everyone has their own project or projects going on, and there
are loads of opportunities to get involved in all sorts of activities. In the
past year I have been out helping friends with their fieldwork, running events
at schools and museums, helped charity projects, and been on two training
schools abroad in Estonia and Austria. You will never be bored! The downside of
this is that, as you are trusted to manage your own time, it can be easy to get
carried away and overstretch yourself, get stressed out and feel alone in
tackling your enormous workload. My main advice is to communicate honestly with
your colleagues and peers if you are struggling, as you will find that there
are plenty of people who feel the same and are happy to help out.
This is a website with some introductory information and
tutorials about remote sensing for secondary school learners. Topics range from
mapping areas affected by the 2010 Haiti earthquake to correcting distorted
images resulted from a plane being buffeted by the wind. It is developed by the
University of Bonn, so parts of the website are in German. There’s plenty for
English speakers too though! If you’re really keen this might be good to do in
a group with a teacher, perhaps as a lunchtime club. Or you could try yourself
This is a
mapping project set up by Dr Jonathan Huck in the Manchester Geography
department. We need your help to map remote parts of Uganda using satellite
imagery, in order to deliver prosthetic limbs to people affected by war.
The Royal Geographical Society has lots of inspiring
Geography content on its website. There’s a section for schools, with
competitions and events throughout the year for secondary school pupils.
The Wildlife Trusts and Woodland Trust have lots of events
and opportunities for getting involved, especially as a young person. Their
websites are really informative and easy to navigate.
have heard of National Geographic, but I thought I should mention it as this
magazine is what first got me into Geography. You don’t have to get a
subscription yourself – your school or local library might have one.
here is the website for Geography at the University of Manchester! It has loads
of information about the courses, facilities and research that goes on in the
Hi, my name is Kim Petersen and I’m a second year PhD
student at the Manchester Institute of Education (MIE).
My PhD research focusses on primary school children’s mental
health and wellbeing. I am interested in looking at lots of different aspects
of children’s mental health and wellbeing (e.g. feeling sad, angry, happy,
enjoying life etc.) and finding common
patterns of mental health and wellbeing. I want to find out:
1) what causes the different
patterns of mental health
2) whether behaviour programmes
used in schools affect children’s mental health
I hope this information will help us to find ways to improve
children’s mental health and wellbeing in the future.
How did I get here?
After my A-levels I went to Glasgow University to do a
degree in Psychology. I went on to work for a charity, supporting children with
different neurological conditions, like autism spectrum disorder. Then, I did a
PGCE teacher training qualification and worked as a primary school teacher. While
working as a teacher I became really interested in children’s mental health and
wellbeing and what schools could do to try and improve it. So, I decided to go
back to university to do research in
this area. First, I did a Master’s degree in Psychology and Education and then I
applied to do a research PhD. I didn’t always know that I would end up doing
this, but my experiences and interests sort of led me here, and I really enjoy
what I am doing.
What is mental health?
Mental health is a term we have all heard of, but what does
it actually mean? Sometimes, when people talk about ‘mental health’, they are
only talking about mental health disorders, like depression or schizophrenia.
Today, many researchers, and others, think that mental health is more than
this. As well as mental health difficulties, there are also positive aspects of
mental health like feeling good and satisfied with your life. There is a widely
held statistic that ‘1 in 4 people have mental health problems’. However, 4 out of 4 people have mental health because 4 out of 4 people have brains! In other words
mental health is something we all have and we should focus on helping everyone
gain better mental health and wellbeing.
I am investigating mental health in this broad way, which
includes both mental health problems and positive aspects of mental wellbeing. We collected information about children’s
mental health and wellbeing by giving surveys to around 3000 primary school children
and their teachers. We also collected other information about the children,
like whether they were male or female, how they felt about their school, their
relationships with other children, their school grades, and whether they had
taken part in a school behaviour programme.
To make sense of all the information collected I use a
computer programme to help me to find patterns in the data. For example, I can
use the programme to see if there are some groups of children who show very
similar patterns of mental health. I can then look at what other characteristics
these children have. For example, if I found a group of children that had no
mental health problems but felt very happy and satisfied with life, I could
find out if those children were more likely to be male or female, have better relationships with their friends,
or have taken part in a school behaviour programme, compared to other
groups. The aim is to identify what might be important for good mental health
and wellbeing so that we can try to improve children’s mental health in the
Why is this kind of research important?
Improving children’s mental health has been highlighted as
an important issue in the UK. The government has said that schools have an
important role to play in doing this. Research is needed to show what schools
can do to try and improve children’s mental health and wellbeing.
Find out more about children’s mental health and wellbeing
on these charities’ webpages:
The Good Childhood Report provides information about what
children and young people say about their own mental health and wellbeing:
This is a summary of a recent government proposal for how to
improve children’s mental health and wellbeing:
Here is a link to the Manchester Institute of Education so
you can see what courses we offer and what research we do:
Hi, my name is Kelly and I now work in the Student
Recruitment and Widening Participation department of the University of
Manchester. For the past three years, I have been a student studying Psychology
at the University and for the thirteen years before that, I too was propelled
along the standard education pipeline (or maybe not so standard anymore) by
attending first school, middle school and high school.
One of the main parts of my job, for the past couple months
now, has been the development of an EBL project for our visiting Year 11
students. EBL stands for ‘Enquiry Based Learning’ (or Inquiry Based Learning if
you’re American) and is equivalent to ‘Problem Based Learning’, which you might
have heard of before. This method of teaching starts with a question, a problem
or a scenario, and it is the student’s task to solve this problem, with the aid
of a facilitator.
Not a teacher.
That’s great, right?
The lack of teacher leading the way means that the road from
problem to solution is less smooth, less clear, but then when in life is the
answer ever clear? In this situation, you are
responsible for your own learning, for figuring out your answers and where they
fall into the topic of your choice. This method of independent learning is
fundamental to the way students traditionally learn at university.
- You’re given a topic
or a lecture – a foundation, so you can understand the task
- You are provided
with resources to be used as starting points (these can be textbooks, journal
articles or websites)
- And then you have to
produce work at the end of it e.g. an essay, a report or a presentation, about
what you've found out
This is what I've tried to
recreate in my own EBL project for visiting Y11 students. This project is the
finale to the flagship pre-16 Gateways programme, ran by the University of
Manchester. Groups of school pupils visit campus year upon year, from Y7 to Y11,
to find out more about the opportunities to study in Higher Education and
develop new and transferable skills. In this final part of the programme,
students are presented with a lecture on a case study (a Volcanic Disaster for
this year). They were then sorted into groups depending on their interests and
sent away (with the help of a Student Ambassador) to research that area for an
hour and a half. The day finishes with each group giving a presentation on what
they found and a prize is given to the group that presented the best.
This transition from teacher-led to research-led learning
replicates what you would experience if you chose to study at university. When
you’re at the cutting edge of your field and learning the newest knowledge
being published to date, it’s highly likely that you’ll find yourself not knowing
the answers, and being in the position where YOU could contribute to future
knowledge, explanations and discoveries.
Throughout your early school days, you may have been taught
that there’s only one right answer, and you’ll get a mark for getting that
answer right. University is different. There might be some things that we THINK
answer the question, but these may still be debated. Something you, or the
media or the educational system take for a fact, may still actually be not so
Some courses at university take advantage of this method.
Medicine is taught using in many universities around the country. It works in similar
to the EBL project above: all of the medics would be split off into groups with
people they don’t know, they would be given a case study – perhaps a patient
with a case of symptoms. It would be their job to work together to research and
collaborate and figure out the causes and treatments of the case.
I believe taking part in EBL tasks early on in education has
the advantage of pressing students to think outside of the box and to find their
own answers; sometimes topics can be more complicated than just getting the
Here are some references you may find useful:
Hi, my name is Helen and I have just completed my second
year of undergraduate study at the University of Manchester. The subject of my degree is English Language
for Education, which is a small course but is very specific and has allowed me to
combine my interests in both language and education. In my second year my
degree enabled me to conduct research within two schools that concerned the use
of languages other than English by bilingual and multilingual students in their
school and their education.
As part of my degree in my second year, we were required to
complete a research project. We were given the choice to do our own independent
research or to part take in a research project that the University was already
undertaking. I wanted to conduct my own research, however after much
deliberation on which subject and areas I would like to look into, I decided to
join a project called Multilingual Manchester. This project focuses on
promoting the awareness of language diversity in the Manchester area. After a
few meetings with the organisers of the project, I understood my role was to
take part in and conduct the School Language Surveys. This involved me and a
few other students on the project entering two schools in Manchester (a
secondary and primary school) and interviewing the students about their
language use. This project was great as it allowed me to do research on
language within education, which has always been a large interest of mine.
As I originally wanted to conduct my own research, I decided
to add some of my own questions into the surveys the Multilingual Manchester
project had already provided us. I was particularly interested in the
usefulness of speaking a language other than English in school, whether the
students used it much in school and if they enjoyed using their language. Using
both my own questions and those from the Multilingual Manchester team, I was
able to collect data that told me the range of languages that were spoken
amongst the students in those schools and their opinions on whether they used
languages other than English much and if they liked using languages other than
English. I was also interested in the teachers’ perspectives on the use of
languages other than English in the classroom, and so I emailed a survey to the
teachers at one of the schools.
All the way through completing the project, although I knew
my interests and what I wanted to get out of the research, I was unsure on what
specific question I would have to answer for my report. However, when all the
data I had collected was in front of me, my aims became much clearer and I was
able to analyse my data and produce a report on students’ and teachers’
perspectives on the use and usefulness of multilingualism.
Throughout my degree I have become increasingly interested
with language diversity, especially in the Manchester area, and I had wondered
how this had impacted education. I really enjoyed this project as it gave me
the opportunity to gain experience working in a school and to observe for
myself the impact that increased language diversity is having on education. I
found that the schools were really embracing language diversity, and were
beginning to change their curriculum in order to include and teach the
languages of their students across the school.
As I enter my third and final year of my degree, I have
decided to take this research further and work on it for my dissertation. As
this project progressed, I found myself becoming increasingly passionate about
the subject and the research that I was undertaking. I found it to be an
important piece of research as it displays the change in attitudes toward
language diversity in schools and where in education students find it useful to
speak a second language and where they don’t. I want to carry this on to
possibly see how schools could further integrate second language speaking into
education, or to see the impact that second language speakers are having on
teachers and the classroom.
For more information about the English Language for
Education course at the University of Manchester http://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2015/09173/english-language-for-education-ba-3-years-ba/
For further information about education courses at the
University of Manchester http://www.seed.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/education/
For further details about Multilingual Manchester http://mlm.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/
For further information on the
results of the School Language Surveys http://mlm.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/reports/schools-and-public-services/