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My Journey as a Geography Student

Introduction

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.

In depth...

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 living there.

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 circus club.

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

MY RESEARCH:

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

ACADEMIC LIFE:

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.

Going further...

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 at home!

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.

You will 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.

Finally, 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 department.


 

How Did We Get Here?

by YPU Admin on January 31, 2020, Comments. Tags: biochemistry, biology, BMH, cell biology, lab work, manchester, PhD, proteins, and Research

Introduction

How did we get here?! A question not necessarily linked to cellular biology, but the answer is essential for all life. How do proteins (molecular machines) travel inside the cell? How can we help when it goes wrong? Can we hijack these pathways to produce revolutionary new drugs? My name is Katie Downes. I’m a second year PhD student at the University of Manchester and my research aim is to answer those questions.

Inside the world of the cell, proteins are powerful machines performing all sorts of crazy processes where space and time are key. Knowing how they get to where they need to be is fundamental to life as we know it, as exemplified by what happens when it goes wrong. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and blindness are linked to issues with intracellular transport. Yet the relatively simple question of how did that get there is still puzzling scientists. Imagine rush hour on the metro then add 20,000 proteins and you’re still not quite imagining how much is going on.

Research in this field is highly applicable to a number of real-life scenarios. Biopharmaceuticals, biological drugs produced in cells, are increasingly being used to target difficult diseases such as cancer. Currently these therapies are super expensive, as production yields are low and development costs high. By gaining a greater understanding of what determines how a protein is produced provides a torch light in the dark for these emerging therapies.

Day to day my research involves fiddling with some high-tech microscopes, watching fluorescent proteins move around inside the cell and performing a series of complex analyses to generate of library of movement. This library can then be used to interrogate various methods of intracellular transport and ultimately create a comprehensive map of intracellular transport.

In Depth

How did I get here?

Throughout secondary school I was determined STEM wasn’t for me. However, one particularly inspirational teacher unlocked what was to become a lifelong passion for the sciences. I went on to study Biological Sciences at Durham University, with a focus on Cell Biology and Biochemistry. My lectures would frequently blow my mind at how awesomely clever biochemical systems and proteins are – defined by logic and simplicity.

As you can see, I am a true nerd. However, it wasn’t just my wonderment which drew me to Biology. Through studying Biology, I realised I could help people and make a difference. During my industrial placement year, I worked in the Research and Development Department for a biopharmaceutical company, producing therapeutic antibodies for clinical trials. From then on, I became fascinated with biopharmaceuticals and the concept that we can harness all of that awesome biochemistry I had learnt during my undergraduate and use it to tackle serious diseases. I was shocked to find how much fundamental cell biology is still unknown. It became clear to me that if true progress was to be made in global health, more research was required and I wanted to be part of it. After graduating I jumped at the chance at a PhD.

My Research:

The world of intracellular transport is a fascinating place. So much is yet to be discovered. But I can provide a little teaser for those who are interested!

Throughout school you are taught that cells are a nice sphere, with a nucleus at the centre and a few other important bits, called organelles, floating around. In reality cells are densely packed environments where everything is in motion. In-fact there is a skeleton of sorts, a cytoskeleton which supports the overall structure of the cell – imagine scaffolding running throughout the cell. Some of this scaffolding also acts as a road, providing a track for molecular motors. These motors waddle along the tracks carrying various cargo. When “long-distance” transport is required, these motors are employed to pick up and drop off their cargo. But, how do they know when they are needed? How do they know what to pick up and where to put down? How do they know what are carrying?

Going Further...

For more information on studying Biological Sciences at Durham University or the University of Manchester:

To learn more about the research that is happening in my faculty:

Interested in intracellular transport?

Want to learn more about biopharmaceuticals?


 

Researching Submarine ‘Rivers’ and Salt Topography

Introduction

My name is Zoë Cumberpatch and I’m half way through a PhD in Basin Studies at the Department of Earth and Environment, University of Manchester. From a young age I loved the outdoors and wanted to understand ‘why is that hill there?’, ‘why does one river flow faster than another?’ and ‘why do the rocks in Nottingham (where I’m from) look so different to the rocks in holiday destinations?’

My enjoyment and interest of Maths, Science and Geography at school led me to study Geology, Geography, Biology and Maths at A-level, before going on to study Geological Sciences at the University of Leeds. At Leeds, I preferred sedimentary rocks rather than igneous and metamorphic rocks and that fuelled my desire to study the applied side of sedimentology (with an MSc in subsurface energy at Imperial College London). 

During my MSc I was exposed to lots of different geological techniques and methods, and I wanted to integrate a number of these techniques to answer a research question. This led me to apply for multiple PhD projects and eventually I settled on my current project at the University of Manchester. My project looks at how deep marine landslides and ‘rivers’ can be controlled and re-routed by growing ‘salt diapirs’ (which are essentially hills made of salt). The properties of the rocks deposited by these flows can be very optimal for both producing hydrocarbons and storing carbon dioxide. Geologists are the experts of the earths subsurface and are vital for the ‘global energy transition’.

My PhD combines subsurface data (think of it as an ultrasound of the earth), fieldwork (travelling the world to study analogous exposed rocks), numerical modelling (creating geology using ‘ping pong balls’ and simulating geological time) and physical modelling (literally building hills in a flume tank and letting the water in).


My PhD has given me some incredible experiences; my highlights so far include:

1) Leading a field trip to my field area (northern Spain) for 10 industrial sponsors of our research group (picture of me in a hi-vis)
2) Winning best student poster at an International Conference in Salt Lake City
3) Spending my entire August 2019 doing fieldwork in Azerbaijan, after successfully winning a grant with a colleague
4) Working as a team to construct valid flume tank experiments in Utrecht
5) Being part of a NERC CDT (Centre of Doctoral training) which gives me a cohort of like-minded researchers, and 20 weeks of broad geological training (picture below shows a group of us in the Alps on a field course).

In depth (PhD Project Summary)

Layers of sedimentary rock form much of the Earth’s continental crust. These rocks are laid down in different depositional environments (e.g. terrestrial or marine). Layers of salt accumulate in regions where seawater incursions evaporate. Due to salt’s mechanical properties it becomes buoyant when sufficiently buried and can flow over geological time (much like glass), forming salt-cored ridges and domes on the ocean floor. Gravity moves sediment from the continents to the deep ocean basins, resulting in the deposition of rocks around the salt bodies. These salt bodies, which can be growing during deposition can cause deep water gravity flows to terminate completely or reroute their course. Geophysical ‘ultrasounds of the earth’ (seismic imaging) make it possible to study the subsurface, however areas around salt remain difficult to image in these data sets due to the chaotic representation of salt on seismic. Cliff sections in the Basque Country, Spain reveal ancient deep-marine rocks originally deposited next to salt-cored topography; these are used to understand sedimentary processes operating in deep-water and their effect on the sedimentary record. Fieldwork observations are combined with subsurface seismic data from the UK North Sea and numerical and physical models to appreciate the distribution of these sediments on a variety of scales and explore how this may influence potential hydrocarbon or carbon storage distribution and quality around salt bodies.

Going Further

For more information about all things geological, including resources for schools and colleges see the Geological Society: https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/

To learn more about the research happening in my department: https://www.ees.manchester.ac.uk/research/themes/

To learn more about the research happening in my research group: http://stratleeds.org.uk/

If you’re interested in sedimentology, look no further than: https://www.sepm.org/


 

Researching Adult Learning at Manchester Art Gallery

by YPU Admin on January 7, 2016, Comments. Tags: Humanities, learning, manchester, Manchester Art Gallery, masters, Museums, Research, and UoM

Introduction

Hello, my name is Ed Trotman and I’m employed as a graduate intern with the University of Manchester, working specifically on the Schools-University Partnership Initiative (SUPI). I’ve recently graduated from the University with an MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies. Prior to this I completed an undergraduate degree in History at the University of Bristol.

You might not have heard of Museum Studies as a degree option - it involves the study of the role of museums and galleries in society as well as how museum professionals (e.g. curators, conservators, educationalists) go about putting on displays and exhibitions. The idea is that it provides a basic training to enter the museum sector. As a Master’s degree it took place over the duration of a year (although some Masters take longer!). In this time I learnt about a variety of aspects of museum work. I also did a lot of volunteering with staff at the Manchester Museum, the Manchester Central Library, the Museum of Science and Industry and Manchester Art Gallery. The course culminated in a research project assignment. This could be on any topic related to Art Gallery and Museum Studies. 

Thinking about my experiences of learning about and working in museums and art galleries I decided that I wanted to investigate the educational role of these institutions. I discovered that cultural organisations play a bigger role in society than I was aware of. It is common, for instance, to find that museums carry out community outreach projects in poorer socio-economic areas, host workshop classes for the very elderly and those with dementia and provide educational activities for people of all ages and backgrounds struggling with disability.

Despite their social good however, factors including transport costs, limited free time and a lack of familiarity with cultural institutions often prevent many adults from accessing the museum’s educational resources. I was interested to know how museums and galleries could seek to attract more adult visitors to talks and workshops, how best to engage with them whilst they were there and how to encourage them to come again. 


In Depth

After doing some reading I found that not that much research had been done by academics within the field of Museum Studies into adult education in cultural institutions (which was actually pretty shocking!). In order to understand more about the best ways of going about adult education in museums/galleries I looked at Adult Learning theory. In particular, I read about the Theory of Andragogy by Malcolm S. Knowles. This is a foundational theory of adult learning which states that adults learn differently to children. Knowles defines six key principles which explain how adults learn differently. These include the ideas that adults rely heavily on lived experience to learn, that they always need to know why they need to learn something before learning it and that they prefer to be self-directed when learning. When these ideas were published in the sixties they were fairly controversial but have now become more accepted. Knowles argues that these principles can be applied to almost any situation in which adults are being encouraged to learn.

The focus of my research was to understand if Knowles’ principles had broader application within cultural institutions. I assessed two educational sessions for adults at Manchester Art Gallery including a gallery tour and a workshop, carrying out focus group interviews with participants in both. I found that, in the workshop class, many of these ideas were already being used by gallery staff to great effect and could be seen to have application. In the tour session meanwhile it was clear that teaching staff were contravening several of Knowles’s principles and consequently adults reported feeling frustrated with their experiences. As a result I concluded that the principles of Andragogy had practical use here. The process of carrying out this research and writing it up was really interesting, especially as I felt like I was contributing something new to the field of Museum Studies. I got to speak to members of the public about art and art galleries and practice my interview skills. 


Going Further

If you want to find out more about my MA, the Theory of Andragogy or the sessions I attended at Manchester Art Gallery follow the links below:

Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Manchester: http://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/masters/courses/list/01100/art-gallery-and-museum-studies-ma/

Knowles’ Theory of Andragogy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andragogy

Manchester Art Gallery, Exhibitions and Events: http://manchesterartgallery.org/exhibitions-and-events/

Museums Association http://www.museumsassociation.org/home


 

Research after University

Introduction

My name is Alice Heaney and I graduated this summer from The University of Manchester with a first class degree in Psychology. Having studied Psychology at A level and being fascinated by the subject, I was eager to learn more about the mind and behaviour. During my undergraduate degree, I developed an interest in health psychology, whilst my enthusiasm for statistics and research methods continued to grow. The enjoyment gained from these modules helped me realise that a career in research was something I wished to pursue. Being fortunate enough to find a position that incorporates my areas of interest, I now work as a research assistant for Galen Research Ltd.


In Depth

When I tell people that I’m a research assistant, they tend to picture me working in a laboratory, wearing a white lab coat and handling chemicals. However the picture is quite the opposite in reality! To provide some background into the company I work for, at Galen Research we develop disease-specific, patient-reported outcome (PRO) measures. In other words, we design questionnaires that assess patient’s views on how they feel their medical condition and the treatment they receive affect their quality of life. The content of our measures is derived from in-depth qualitative interviews with patients to ensure they capture issues important to them.  Our measures serve as valuable tools for the pharmaceutical industry and health services worldwide, such as the NHS, in assessing the impact of specific conditions and their treatments.

As a research assistant, I am involved in supporting the senior researchers with the development, translation and validation of our measures. My responsibilities range from transcribing interviews and performing statistical analyses to helping with the writing of research articles for publication in academic journals. My undergraduate degree equipped me with an abundance of transferable skills which have proven to be of great help to my current role. The obvious one to mention would be the research skills I learned during my Psychology course, gained through experience of designing research questions and studies as well as collecting and analysing both quantitative and qualitative data. The opportunity to undertake an independent project in third year not only helped to develop project management skills but also allowed me to build upon problem-solving, critical evaluation and interpersonal skills, amongst many more.  The ability to communicate information clearly to a variety of audiences is another skill which I have brought with me, exercising effective communication on a regular basis in the form of academic writing, meetings and oral presentations.

I hope that I’ve been able to provide some insight into what my role as a research assistant entails. In the near future I will be applying for a research passport which would allow me to conduct interviews with patients. Something else to look forward to is the international travel my work involves. This month I am heading to Portugal to carry out a linguistic and cultural adaptation of one of our measures. In terms of my aspirations, progressing to the role of senior research associate as well as studying for a PhD are long term goals which I am working towards. For now though I plan to continue to gain valuable experience at Galen Research.

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Going further

If you would like to know more about the research we carry out, please visit our website:

http://www.galen-research.com

For more information on studying Psychology at The University of Manchester:

http://www.psych-sci.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/psychology

To keep up to date with current research developments in the field of psychology, please refer to the ‘Research Digest’ section of The British Psychological Society’s website. The site also provides useful information about careers and accredited courses in Psychology:

http://www.bps.org.uk