"...afterwards I was offered a position as a graduate research assistant and the opportunity to work towards a PhD."
Year Studied MSc Geoscience Research
Physical Geography from Aberystwyth University
PhD Student and Graduate Research Assistant at Tulane University, New Orleans
What did you do after graduation and how did you get this job?
After completing my course at Keele I resumed a part time job I previously had at Staffordshire University whilst I explored further postgraduate study opportunities. I wanted to go on to do a PhD, and this was a big reason why I originally applied for the MSc at Keele.
In November 2014 I received an email from the Cryolist mailing list (a mailing list for jobs, both academic and professional, as well as PhDs and MSc courses related to the cryosphere) from a recently-appointed professor at Tulane University who was looking for PhD students interested in Quaternary geology. After exchanging some emails I was encouraged to apply to study/work there. I was invited to New Orleans for an interview at the university, where I also got a taste of the department, university and the city as a whole. I was very interested in pursuing study at Tulane, so undertook the GRE test (the Graduate Record Examination which is a requirement for admission into graduate school), which I passed - afterwards I was offered a position as a graduate research assistant and the opportunity to work towards a PhD.
What does your job involve?
In order to work towards a PhD at Tulane I work as a graduate research assistant. This means, as well as taking half a course load of graduate-level geology classes at the university, I work for half of my time in the laboratory. My main duties involve preparing samples for radiocarbon analysis (14C), as well as overseeing the conversion of samples to pure graphite in only the second laboratory in the world capable of producing samples ready for AMS analysis through an automated process. The results from the samples I process are then used in my research projects, as well as separate projects that my supervisor and fellow graduate students are working on. I have only just started here at Tulane so my research projects are underdeveloped, but it looks like I will be working on cosmogenic nuclide studies focussing on the changes in size and thickness of ice sheets in Antarctica and Scandinavia.
What did you learn on the MSc Geoscience Research which helped you get the job, or helps you now?
My MSc placement was focussed on the study of foraminifera contained within a marine sediment core sampled from the Canadian Arctic. This involved a large amount of lab work, which meant that I developed key interdisciplinary skills such as sticking to strict lab methods, good practice within the lab, keeping the lab clean etc. These skills help me every day when I work in the lab here at Tulane, and they also helped me get work as a paid research assistant at Keele University for two months during the spring of 2015.
The knowledge and experience of Quaternary environmental change that I gained through the MSc course, especially how changes within the sediment core related to changes in ice sheets and ice shelves, was a huge part of why I got offered a place to study at Tulane. My supervisor was very impressed with the MSc course at Keele, especially its focus on laboratory work and producing research of a high standard.
The MSc course also vastly improved my personal confidence through multiple research presentations that I gave at Keele and MacEwan universities, as well as one on a visit to the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Nova Scotia. This improved confidence will help when I give presentations as part of my role at Tulane, within the university as well as at research conferences; it will also help when I work as a teaching assistant next semester.
Do you have any advice for current/prospective MSc Geoscience Research students interested in a similar career?
The focus of this course on research is an attractive experience for academics looking for students to work towards a PhD, so if this is what you want to do, then this is certainly a great course for it! I'd recommend getting as much practical and presentation experience as possible throughout the MSc in order to develop skills that can help you get that PhD place.
I'd advise students undertaking a research placement to get stuck in as quickly as possible, so that things don't build up towards the end of the placement, when you're thinking about heading back to Keele or finishing the research.
Make sure to have fun as well! If your placement is in another country then this will come with many benefits and obstacles - it can be a truly unforgettable experience, one that should be made the most of. Try to balance work and play as best you can in order to get a great grade as well as some memorable experiences.
If you're considering going on to do a PhD, think about signing up for mailing lists and make sure to maintain relationships with academics. This can help you find a PhD in a very competitive environment. Think outside the box, the UK is extremely competitive, so consider looking at PhDs in North America and the EU, apply for as many as possible and build on feedback.