NAME: Andy Emery
CURRENT TITLE: PhD Student, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Glacial and postglacial landscape evolution and coastal change under rapid relative sea-level rise
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 12
EDUCATION: BSc, University of Leeds, Geological Sciences MSc, University of Leeds, Structural Geology with Geophysics
WEBSITE: Ancient Shorelines
What’s your job like?
Doing a PhD is essentially training to be a scientist, so it’s my job to be inquisitive, learning new techniques of data acquisition and analysis and disseminating my research results. At the same time, I’m also beginning to immerse myself in the world of academia, learning everything about what a career in academia entails. I’m relatively free, therefore, to shape my PhD how I want and to aim for the career I want in the future.
What’s a typical day like?
My research revolves around the use of seismic reflection data and sediment cores. There’s also a fair amount of writing, creating figures or putting together presentations, as well as seminars, group meetings, trips and conferences, so it’s actually quite difficult to pin down a typical day! They all begin with one common theme though, and that’s coffee. If I’m at my desk, I’ll get in around 9am, sift through emails, then crack on with whatever needs doing. Headphones in, away we go… I find music really helps keep my brain going, blocking out external distraction, whilst the repetitive loops common to my musical taste provide ample impetus to keep my mind on task. Seismic interpretation is repetitive, click, click, click, click, but I need to pay attention in case the stratigraphy starts becoming increasingly complex and I lose my way. Logging sediment cores is less repetitive, but requires an attentive eye for minutiae to avoid misdiagnosis of sedimentary environment. Core logging can be back-breaking work, spending all day hunched over benches, hand lens to eye, down at the core, jotting down observations. Writing is something I find quite difficult to keep my attention on. My mind wanders aimlessly at times, and I frequently become easily distracted. I’ve yet to find the ideal solution to this, so writing can become a timely and laborious process. Any tips greatly appreciated! After a day in the office or at the cores, I feel mentally drained, but in a rewarding way. I find the best way to refresh from this is to engage myself in some physical meditation. Running is good, but a little tedious at times. I’ve been bouldering for over 15 years, so naturally, I find this the best relief to mental fatigue.
There’s an undoubted quiver of excitement when you open a new core box for the first time, intrigue racing through your mind. What possible pleasures have been recovered from under the sea bed? Opening a new seismic line holds a similar sway, but the best thing about seismic data is when recognisable morphologies emerge from the map view, such as an ancient shoreline barrier system, or a river draining out from an ice sheet. Chasing forms across the landscape in this manner is rather rewarding. There’s so much fun in academia. I love almost every aspect! The travel, meeting people at conferences, sitting in a beautiful landscape, drinking whisky after a day in the field, the freedom to pursue the research I want–these are all enthralling traits to academia. I love presenting at conferences and watching others present too. There’s so much incredible science going on. It’s such a shame that there’s so much competition for funding and jobs; we’re all friends here and the community is welcoming and friendly. Such a camaraderie is a huge boon to science.
My short attention span definitely makes reading papers and writing up somewhat diffic… ooh look, a squirrel! Not knowing what the future holds after my PhD is a big issue too. Continuing a career in academia may require me to spend years and years of temporary contract and temporary contract, one, two or three year post-docs, desperately seeking permanent employment, of which there’s no guarantee and for which there’s great competition. Now, with even more self-foot-shooting uncertainty due to leaving the European Union (EU), staying in academia is going to be a big challenge. I love research, and I want to keep doing it, but it’s difficult not to feel like I’m going to struggle in the future. I think I’ve got what it takes, but so do so many other incredible people!
What’s your advice to students?
Pursue what you want to do with fervent passion, and don’t let anything get in your way. There is so much good advice available for all sorts of issues from those of us that have experienced them in the past. We were all students once, and we’re most likely more than happy to help. Eat healthy, be nice to each other, don’t work too hard, and get plenty of exercise. I should probably follow my own advice more stringently too…