Updated! Catchment Research Assistant, Peter Fitt @Pjfiddy: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Hydrology

Peter Fitt, Hydrology Intern

NAME: Peter Fitt

CURRENT TITLE: Catchment Research Assistant / Project Communications Intern, both at the University of East Anglia (United Kingdom)

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  I currently work on projects investigating hydrology, water management and agricultural related issues such as diffuse pollution.

YEARS EXPERIENCE:  Less than 1 year!

EDUCATION:  BSc Environmental Earth Sciences from the University of East Anglia with a year in North America. I also plan on further study, and I am considering master’s degrees at the moment.

WEBSITES:  Agritech Water Cluster and Wensum Alliance

What’s your job like?

I currently work on two part-time roles, and I really enjoy both of them. They are both related to water and agriculture.

Firstly, I am a Project Communications Intern for the Agritech Water Cluster. We are investigating how water will be managed between the environment, industry, agriculture and domestic needs in the future with a focus on the Anglian region in the United Kingdom. We are starting to uncover some serious challenges that can only be solved by working together. My role is predominantly office based and includes conducting research, running workshops with our stakeholders, writing and promoting our website, and attending conferences and meetings as well as outreach activities.

I also work as a Catchment Research Assistant for the Wensum Demonstration Test Catchment (DTC). This project is investigating methods to reduce agricultural diffuse pollution whilst maintaining food security on an intensive arable farm. I spend time in the office preparing, correcting and writing up data from a variety of sources. I also get to spend quite a lot of time in the field which is great!

My main field duties involve sampling a biobed, which is an organic filtering system. It contains a ‘biomix’ (a mixture of straw, compost and topsoil). Pesticides tend to cling to organic matter and the biobed is a way of filtering these and reducing their concentrations further through microbial reactions. Water is used to wash the inside/outside of the sprayer in a concrete area to ensure there is no point-source pollution and is then irrigated through the biobed.

I take water samples of pre/post biobed effluent and water samples from the field the treated effluent drains into. The goal of the biobed is to significantly reduce pesticide concentrations and the data so far is very promising! I also help out on other field duties and sampling rounds such as water and soil sampling.

Biobed

Biobed sampled regularly by Peter Fitt. Photo copyright Peter Fitt

What’s a typical day like?

It depends on the day of the week! I am involved in field duties including general maintenance of all of our monitoring equipment, extracting soil and water samples and sampling the biobed. Fieldwork can depend on the daylight hours available in winter but is usually completed before 5 p.m., as we have to drive out to the sites.

Most of my time is in the office, where I could be working on presentations/leaflets for workshops, writing website blog posts, preparing for conferences and meetings or gathering and correcting weather data/analysing pesticide concentrations.

What’s fun?

I really enjoy the diversity of tasks I am involved in. I have always loved being outdoors and working in the field, so it is great to have the chance to do that!

We run events for the Agritech Water Cluster, and it is a fantastic feeling when people really enjoy being there. The goal is to ensure people leave the events and talks with either new knowledge, new contacts or a new perspective, and this is quite satisfying to achieve.

What’s challenging?

Being out in the field when the weather is miserable isn’t too nice, but you crack on with it. Problem solving in the field can be challenging at times too, especially when you only have access to limited equipment. Things don’t always go as planned and equipment can fail, but I usually have a back-up plan.

I also think research can be challenging. After all, you are trying to answer unanswered questions. The interdisciplinary nature of the research I am involved in requires you to know how different processes and subjects are linked together. It can be frustrating at times, because there are many hurdles to overcome! However, it can be fantastic when you pass those barriers.

What’s your advice to students?

Do what you enjoy the most and throw yourself in at the deep end! I imagine most people have studied geoscience because they have a passion for it – you just have to find out what you are interested in and pursue it.

On the other hand, don’t be afraid about not knowing what you want to do. I graduated with a BSc in 2014 with a lot of uncertainty over which particular discipline I wanted to pursue as a career. You are more likely to know what you want or don’t want to do once you have some experience.

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