Managing your supervisor

Written by: h.l.gough@pgr.reading.ac.uk

You’re going to be working with them for a while. Supervisors, like projects, are all unique and have their own ways of working. Lots of us have banded together to give tips and advice on how to ‘manage your supervisor’ and by that we mean make the road towards a PhD a little bit easier.

For those of you looking to start a PhD, getting the right match between you and a supervisor is key. PhDs are already stressful enough without a strained supervisor-student relationship.

Know how they work

Supervisors all work differently. Some will leave you to wander for a bit before drawing you back to the point, and others will provide a map of where you’re going. There’s no right or wrong but sometimes their methods can get frustrating when you start comparing supervisors.

Find out the best way to contact them. Some never reply to email and others are never in the office or dislike being disturbed. Figure out between you and your supervisor the best way of getting in contact.

Personal and work balance

Some supervisors are happy to talk about personal problems. Others aren’t. Again, neither option is right or wrong, but it’s something you have to be aware of.

Ask for things

A PhD is intended as a personal development training programme and not just for writing a thesis and publishing papers. Don’t be afraid to ask to do something different, such as environment-Yes, internships, field work and summer schools to name a few.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Manage expectations

Saying yes to all the work they give you is only going to lead to disappointment for them and you. Be honest with the amount of work you can do, and say when you’re having a bad week. They’ll understand. Say when you’ve got enough on your plate already.

Know how long they take to read things, otherwise you’ll end up disappointed when the feedback you expected on a certain day doesn’t arrive.

Don’t expect them to be on email 24/7. Likewise, let them know that you’re not going to be checking emails at 3am either.

Know their style and expertise

Some come across more critical than others, some highlight the good as well as the bad. Their subject may make them biased on certain topics. Knowing their expertise allows you to tailor questions for them.

This is a lot more relevant to people with multiple supervisors, as often you can get two conflicting opinions and have no idea which one to accept. This happens, and it does teach you some diplomacy skills, but don’t go picking sides.

Get advice from other students

Chances are, other students will be supervised by your supervisor. Ask them for hints and tips of how they work. Ask about pitfalls to avoid and helpful tips. They might even have a manual on how to deal with them! There is a camaraderie between people who share the same supervisor!

If you’re still stuck and doing a PhD at Reading University, there’s an RRDP course by the graduate school called managing your supervisor. Definitely worth going to.

A PhD Student’s Guide to EGU 2017

Email: r.frew@pgr.reading.ac.uk

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Science is a community effort, requiring collaboration and lots of different people providing different parts of the jigsaw to try to understand more and more of the full picture. Despite a lot of research being carried out individually in a lab, or at a desk, no one individual can do everything themselves, no matter how much of a genius they are. Sharing, discussing and debating are key to the progression of scientific ideas, and this ethos is something large scientific conferences like EGU cultivates.

Attending EGU for the first time as a PhD student was both an exciting and overwhelming experience due to its shear size and number of people. This year 14,496 people from 107 countries participated, giving 4,849 talks, 11,312 posters and 1,238 PICO presentations throughout the week!  

With 649 scientific sessions running throughout the week, deciding how to spend your day was a significant challenge in itself! The EGU website and app allowed you to create a personal programme, cutting down the number of entire printed programmes being printed, aiming to try to make EGU slightly more environmentally friendly.

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Vienna international conference centre, image courtesy of Matt Priestley.

A ‘typical’ day at EGU consisted of something like… 

7-8am: Wake up, shower and breakfast and then hop on the U-bahn to the conference centre. Pick up a EGU Today newsletter on the way into the centre, highlighting a few sessions happening that day that may be of general interest

8.30-10am: Division session of your choice consisting of six 15min talks. People also pick out specific talks in different sessions and hop between, especially if their work is more interdisciplinary and covers a few different sessions.

10-10.30am: Recharge with a much needed coffee break!

10.30am-12pm: Go to a debate on ‘Make Facts Great Again: how can scientists stand up for science?‘ There were a number of other topical debates throughout the week, including ‘Arctic environmental change: global opportunities and threats‘ and ‘Great Debate on Great Extinctions‘. This consisted of a short introduction from members of a panel, then questions from the floor.

12-1.30pm: Pick up something for lunch from one of the nearby bakeries or cafes around the conference centre, and sit in the nearby park and enjoy the sunshine (hopefully).

1.30-3pm: Explore the many information stands in the exhibition areas. These included publishing houses, geoscience companies, NGOs etc. Next go and vote in the EGU photograph competition: https://imaggeo.egu.eu/photo-contest/2017/, before stopping to listen to some PICO (Presenting Interactive COntent) presentations. These are very interactive sessions where speakers give a 2min overview of their work, after which people have the opportunity to go and question speakers further afterwards by a poster/couple of slides.

3-3.30pm: Tea/coffee break with cookies in the Early Career Scientists lounge.

3.30-5pm: Polar Science Career Session aimed at Early Career Scientists (there were also sessions for other divisions), consisting of an informal Q&A with a panel covering a variety of different career paths.

5-7pm: Poster sessions in the big halls with beer/juice and nibbles. These were a great opportunity for in depth discussion, and meeting other people in your field.

7-8.30pm: Early career scientist (ECS) reception with drinks and canapes, meet other ECS from all fields and chat with division leaders. This year 53% of EGU participants were ECSs, and there was a definite effort to cater for them throughout the week.

8.30-?: Dinner and drinks in Vienna town centre with peers, followed by an early night if you plan to make it to a 8.30am session tomorrow…

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EGU 2017 photo competition entries, image taken from the GeoLog blog, more information about the entries and results can be found at: http://blogs.egu.eu/geolog/2017/04/28/at-the-assembly-2017-friday-highlights/

In addition to events highlighted, there were also a variety short courses running, for example ‘Tips and Tricks: How to Navigate EGU‘, ‘How to write a research grant‘ or ‘Rhyme your Research‘! EGU had its own official blog GeoLog, highlighting some of the events from each day: http://blogs.egu.eu/geolog/.

However, EGU is 5 days long, and despite the impressive offering of sessions being put on it would be a shame to go to Vienna and only see the conference centre… The odd extended lunch break to take the U-bahn (included as part of the entrance to the conference) to walk around the centre, or an afternoon off to explore a gallery or museum, or simply sit in one of the beautiful parks or cafes to enjoy some coffee and Sachertorte is definitely a must to recharge and finish off the week!

Industrial Sponsored Doctorates

Email: a.halford@pgr.reading.ac.uk

When it comes to doctoral funding, the current method means project funds can come from a variety of sources, such as research councils, charities, industry partners or a mixture of these. In this blog post I will talk about my experience of being jointly funded by a research council and industrial partner.

To start with, I am not actually a PhD student like most people in the Meteorology department here at the University of Reading, but an EngD student. An EngD is a more industrial focused PhD, based on collaboration between industry and academia. There is a taught element to an EngD in the first year, during which a range of modules are covered, on everything from business analysis to sustainability. Additionally, a portion of time is dedicated to work for the industrial sponsor during the course of the project. An EngD still has the same end goal of a PhD, of an intellectual contribution to knowledge.

EngDs were started by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) back in 1992 and after initial success, the program was expanded in 2009. Out of this expansion came the Technologies for Sustainable Built Environments (TSBE) Centre at the University of Reading. The TSBE Centre has produced 40 EngDs over 8 years, covering a wide variety of disciplines, from modelling energy usage in the home to the effect of different roofing materials on bats. Each student is based within multiple academic departments and the industrial partner organisation with the aim of answering real world research questions.

My project is in collaboration with the BT Group and looks at weather impacts on the UK telecommunications network. I have found that being in an industrial sponsored project is of great benefit. It has been useful to get experience of how industry works, as it can be very different to the academic life in which most doctoral students find themselves. There have also been a lot of opportunities for training in specialist subjects including industrial project management and help to get chartership from professional bodies for those who want it. Being linked with an industrial partner can also offer strong networking and knowledge transfer opportunities, as was the case when I attended a recent interdisciplinary conference of the newly formed Tommy Flowers Institute. This institute has been formed by BT, along with other partner organisations, to further support collaboration between industry and academia.

It can be a challenge at times to balance the approaches of academia and industry. They do not always pull you in the same direction but this is often the same with any lengthy piece of work produced under the guidance of different advisors from different disciplines. The strength with the EngD partnership comes from the different perspectives offered from those different fields to ultimately solve the problem in question.

For me working on a heavily applied problem in the setting of a real organisation has been of greater benefit to me than working on a purely theoretical problem would have been. I have enjoyed seeing my preliminary output being tested within the organisation and look forward to being able to test a more advanced version in the final stages of my project.

Alan Halford is funded by the EPSRC and BT and supported by the TSBE centre.

 

Innovating for Sustainable Development

Email: Rachael.Byrom@pgr.reading.ac.uk

In 2016 the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) officially came into force to tackle key global challenges under a sustainable framework.

The SDGs comprise 17 global goals and 169 targets to be achieved across the next 15 years. As part of the ‘2030 Agenda’ for sustainable development, these goals aim to address a range of important global environmental, social and economic issues such as climate change, poverty, hunger and inequality. Adopted by leaders across the world, these goals are a ‘call for action’ to ensure that no one is left behind. However, the SDGs are not legally binding. The success of goals will rely solely on the efforts of individual countries to establish and implement a national framework for achieving sustainable development.

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The United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals

As part of the NERC funded ‘Innovating for Sustainable Development’ programme, students here in the Department of Meteorology were given the opportunity to explore and find solutions to key environmental challenges as outlined in the UN’s SDGs.

Run by the SCENARIO and SSCP doctoral training partnerships, the programme challenged students from a variety of disciplines and institutions to re-frame the SDGs from a multi-disciplinary perspective and to develop tangible, innovative solutions for sustainable development.

The programme began with an ‘Interdisciplinary Challenges Workshop’ where students participated in activities and exercises to review the importance of the SDGs and to consider their multi-disciplinary nature. Students were encouraged to think creatively and discuss issues related to each of the goals, such as: ‘Is this SDG achievable?’, ‘Are the goals contradictory?’ and ‘How could I apply my research to help achieve the SDGs?’

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Visual representations of SDG 5 and SDG 7

Following this, three ‘Case Study’ days explored a handful of the SDGs in greater detail, with representatives from industry, start-ups and NGOs explaining how they are working to achieve a particular SDG, their current challenges and possible opportunities for further innovation.

The first Case Study day focused on both SDG 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy and SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production. For SDG 7, insightful talks were given by the Moving Energy Initiative on the issue of delivering energy solutions to millions of displaced people, and BBOXX, on their work to produce and distribute off-grid solar power systems to rural communities in places such as Kenya and Rwanda. In the afternoon, presentations given by Climate-KIC start up NER and Waitrose showcased the efforts currently being taken to reduce wasteful food production and packaging, while Forum for the Future emphasised the importance of addressing sustainable nutrition.

The second Case Study day focused on SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation. Experts from WaterAid, De-Solenator, Bear Valley Ventures, UKWIR and the International Institute for Environmental Development outlined the importance of confronting global sanitation and water challenges in both developing and developed nations. Alarmingly, it was highlighted that an estimated 40% of the global population are affected by water scarcity and 2.4 billion people still lack access to basic sanitation services, with more than 80% of human activity wastewater discharged into rivers without going through any stage of pollution removal (UN, 2016).

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Participants discussing ideas during the second Case Study day

The last Case Study day explored SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities. A range of talks on building technologies, carbon neutral buildings and sustainable solar technologies were given, along with a presentation by OPDC on the UK’s largest regeneration project. The day finished off with an overview from the Greater London Authority about the London Infrastructure Map and their new approach to sustainable planning and development across the city.

The programme finished off with a second workshop. Here students teamed up to develop innovative business ideas aimed at solving the SDG challenges presented throughout the Case Study events. Business coaches and experts were on hand to offer advice to help the teams develop ideas that could become commercially viable.

On the 16th March the teams presented their business ideas at the ‘Meet the Cleantech Pioneers’ networking event at Imperial’s new Translation and Innovation Hub (I-HUB). An overview of the projects can be found here. This event, partnered with the Climate-KIC accelerator programme, provided an excellent platform for participants to showcase and discuss their ideas with a mix of investors, entrepreneurs, NGOs and academics all interested in achieving sustainable development.

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The final showcase event at Imperial’s I-HUB

Overall the programme provided a great opportunity to examine the importance of the SDGs and to work closely with PhD students from a range of backgrounds. Fundamentally the process emphasised the point that, in order for the world to meet the 2030 Agenda, many sustainable development challenges still need to be better understood and many solutions still need to be provided – and here scientific research can play a key role. Furthermore, it was made clear that a high level of interdisciplinary thinking, research and innovation is needed to achieve sustainable development.

Institutes

References:

UN, 2016: Clean Water and Sanitation – Why it matters, United Nations, Accessed 05 March 2017. [Available online at http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/6_Why-it-Matters_Sanitation_2p.pdf]

The Influence of the Weather on Bird Migration

Email: d.l.a.flack@pgr.reading.ac.uk

As well as being a meteorologist, I am a bird watcher. This means I often combine meteorology and bird watching to see the impact of the weather on birds. Now that we are well into March my focus in bird watching turns to one thing – the migration.

March generally marks the time when the first summer migrants start arriving into the UK. Already this year we have had reports of Sand Martin, Wheatear, Garganey, Little Ringed Plover, White Wagtail, Osprey, Swallow, House Martin, Ring Ouzel and Whitethroat (up to 9 March), some of which are depicted below.

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Wheatear
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Garganey
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White Wagtail
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Swallow

There are many people that consider the arrival dates of certain migratory species of birds and how this arrival date changes over many years. I do keep extensive records of the birds that I see (and thus arrival dates), but what interests me more are the odd days in the record, and the sightings of unusual birds and working out how they arrived at their destinations.

A good example of this can be found by looking at my first Swallow sighting of the year in Kent and East Sussex. Since I started bird watching in 2001 my first Swallow of the year has moved from around 10 April to between 26-March and 1 April. However in 2013 my first record was 15 April. Then in 2015 and 2016 I saw my first Swallow on 1 April and 27 March respectively (I was in Cheshire in 2014 in late March/early April).

So what happened; why were the Swallows late in Kent in 2013? Well, it all comes down to wind direction. The spring of 2013 was very chilly and along the east coast there were plenty of N/NE winds – this would have provided a head wind so the Swallows would preferentially not migrate up the east coast in those conditions but instead migrate up the west coast where there were southerlies.

So, the wind direction plays a key part in the migration of birds. If conditions are for a tailwind or very light winds the birds will migrate; otherwise they will stay put. However, headwinds can lead to some interesting phenomena associated with bird migration – ‘falls’.

A ‘fall’ occurs when there are a large number of migrants building up along the coastline at a departure point (so for the interest of UK bird watchers Northern France), as they cannot get to their destination. When the wind direction changes the birds will then migrate en masse and quite literally fall out of the sky.

It’s not all about the wind direction though; rain is also a key factor that bird watchers consider when looking at weather forecasts. Essentially, fronts and showers are great for bird watchers. On migration birds will often fly higher than they normally would. This means on a clear sunny day you could easily miss birds passing overhead as they are so high up. However, with the rain the birds will often fly lower, avoiding the in-cloud turbulence. For many of the summer migrants their food sources (insects) also fly lower in these conditions.

This means that a forecast of showers with a southerly wind is generally what I look for from mid-April onwards (particularly as an inland birder), as it means there is a good chance of migratory species turning up – also because then I can head out after work as the evenings are brighter. This is something that I did last year and ended up recording the first Sandwich Tern (photo below (not of the bird I saw)) of the year in Berkshire.

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Sandwich Tern

So in summary, it’s not as simple as just keeping an eye on the wind direction – there are other factors that can influence the birds’ migration and where they will end up. For more information about the impact of weather on bird sightings (considering both rare and common birds) check out my blog.

Meteorology Ball 2017

Email: K.M.Milczewska@pgr.reading.ac.uk

On Friday 17th February, the annual Meteorology Ball provided a great excuse for members of the department and their guests to dress up for the evening. But for all the excitement of this year’s masquerade theme, the Ball is mainly a charity event. Through the sale of raffle tickets and an auction of promises, the event aims to raise money for the David Grimes Trust, administered by the Reading San Francisco Libre Association (RSFLA), in honour of the well-remembered academic from our department who devoted a great deal of his time to the charity.

RSFLA supports environmental and educational projects in the rural Nicaraguan town of San Francisco Libre, which was ‘twinned’ with Reading in 1994 in order to encourage the exchange of culture and knowledge. Over the past few years, the Meteorology department has supported this link through regular cake sales, running the Reading Half Marathon and, of course, the annual ball.

David Grimes was a respected, integral member of the department and there are many among us who reminisce about his goodwill, interactive lectures and Panto appearances. There are also those among us who, despite never having had the chance to meet David, can easily imagine the positive impact he had both in and outside of our department, through our continued support of the charity under his name. The money  raised is mainly spent on educational support in the San Francisco Libre district: helping to fund a scholarship programme, build a library and toilet facilities among various other projects – and the people who benefit directly have a special message for us all!
https://youtu.be/vWsf9TWwWp4

The generosity of over 80 people attending made the event a great success, raising over £1500 through bidding on bizzarre auction items and lessons, as well as purchasing raffle tickets. To add to this, Santander will be chipping in with an extra £1500 to match, bringing the total raised to over £3000 for the charity! Such success would never have happened, had it not been for all the help we received from Santander, local businesses offering prizes for the raffle, and most importantly: all of those who bought a ticket to come! On behalf of all the organisers, I would like to finish this post with a massive bout of thanks for making the evening worth all the effort and continuing the important tradition of fundraising for the David Grimes Trust.

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Met Office Academic Partnership Poster and Presentation Session

Email: h.v.turner@pgr.reading.ac.uk

All photos courtesy of Carlo Cafaro

On 22nd and 23rd February, a group of students from the University of Reading visited the UK Met Office in Exeter to share our work and listen to talks from academics and Met Office employees. It was a great opportunity to discuss our work with other scientists from outside the university.

We arrived at the Met Office at 12 on the Wednesday. Once we had hung up our posters and had lunch, we listened to our first talk from Dale Barker, who is Deputy Director of Weather Science at the UK Met Office. He gave us an overview of the Met Office Academic Partnership (MOAP) and the variety of work that takes place within the partnership.  The MOAP brings together the UK Met Office with the universities of Exeter, Reading, Leeds, and Oxford to collaborate on projects and share science. It aims to pull together world-class expertise in weather and climate science to tackle key problems in these areas, and to provide an environment to develop the science leaders of tomorrow. The next talk was from Prof. Nadine Unger from the University of Exeter who spoke about aerosol pollution and work she has been involved in with African nations to reduce health problems caused by pollution. Our very own Dr Clare Watt then spoke about space weather, focusing on the magnetosphere and the impact of ‘killer’ electrons. The final talk of the day was from Dr Steven Böing from the University of Leeds. He spoke about semi-Lagrangian cloud modelling and how it can be used to increase forecast accuracy.

The poster session then took place in the Street. A lot of useful discussions were had during this session (and over the whole two days) as we were able to share our work with each other and also with passing members of Met Office staff. I certainly realized some new things about my results and had ideas about future directions for my work.

On the second day we had a presentation on career opportunities within the scientific areas of the Met Office from Mo Mylne, who is Science Project and Planning Manager at the UK Met Office. This really highlighted the breadth of roles that are available at the national meteorological service. This was followed by a talk from Prof. Coralia Cartis from the University of Oxford who spoke about parameter estimation for climate modelling using optimization techniques. After this, we were taken on tours of the Met Office to see some of areas that scientists are involved in. We then had lunch and a final opportunity to discuss our posters before the event finished.

Overall, then, it was a very enjoyable event with a great variety of subjects covered by the talks. I found the use of optimization techniques for parameter estimation particularly interesting and I hope to incorporate some of the ideas into my own research. I feel I have personally learned a lot, both about my own results and new ideas to consider. Thank you to all at the Met Office who organized the event.