Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Work experience of a different kind - research interns in the Dept of GEES

This week, we have a guest blog written by Jessica Keeble and Richard Caley who joined us this summer to gain some experience in what its like to do academic research and the highs and lows of lab work.

As two Geology with Geophysics students in between our second and third years at the University of Leicester, we found ourselves with a rather long summer break which needed to be filled. After spending 4 weeks in the field carrying out coursework we came to the Department of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences at the University of Hull to try and be helpful and learn one or two things! We were very lucky to spend 5 weeks in the department and although there were times where we could have cried (lab equipment can really try your patience sometimes!), we had an absolutely fantastic time with lots of great photo opportunities so we thought we would share our experiences (and funny pictures) with you.
Rich feeling very smart in his lab coat whilst filtering water samples
In the first two weeks of our work experience we learnt two things: 1) there is a LOT of paperwork and introductions to be made before you can even start being helpful; 2) sometimes being helpful means filtering a lot of water… Yes, in the first couple of weeks we did filter a lot of water. This was for Dr Karen Scott who is helping out on a project associated with The Deep (@TotEnvSimulator), which is looking at the effects of sediment concentrations on sedimentation and erosion in fluvial environments. Filtering the samples received from The Deep was quite a lengthy process, however, we did feel pretty cool getting to wear lab coats and doing actual work (not just making cups of tea/carrying out a lot of photocopying!). Filtering the water produced small disks of sediment trapped on filter paper, which when collected together looked more akin to a Dulux colour chart than a scientific experiment. Nonetheless, it wasn’t just sample preparation we were involved with. No, we were then introduced to the delights of the QICPIC machine.  The QICPIC measures the size and sphericity of the sediment grains and when it works, is a really neat piece of kit. However, working with the QICPIC machine was one of those times were we could have cried – it was very temperamental and there was a lot of stopping/starting and cleaning equipment involved (we really sympathise with anyone who has to use one of these machines for labwork/project work!).
"All hope is lost" - Jess contesting with the latest tantrum the QICPIC is throwing
In between filtering water samples and testing our patience with the QICPIC, we catalogued the extensive geological map collection the department owns (and when we say extensive, we are talking about >2000 maps), and organised a section of the sample collection which had been locked away for twenty-odd years. Admittedly, cataloguing the maps wasn’t the most exciting job in the world but we did subject the department to some interesting music (along with Jess’s rather out-of-tune renditions) so luckily the job didn’t take too long! On the other hand, organising the sample collection was really enjoyable and we unearthed some absolutely brilliant samples which gave rise to the unfortunate picture of Jess below.
 "Maybe Palaeo isn't so boring after all!" - Jess with one of her favourite samples from the collection
The main project we were involved in during our time in the department was testing out a handheld-XRF machine to determine its suitability for use in the field.  This involved getting up at an ungodly hour to collect the equipment and receive an induction at the Scarborough campus first, followed by many days of testing samples. Firstly we tested manufacturer's standards to determine the accuracy of the equipment, followed by testing our own standards and then some of Dr Williams and Dr Rogerson’s rock samples. Experiments included: rough vs. smooth surfaces to determine whether the XRF could be used on weathered rocks in the field; carrying out multiple tests on the same sample point to determine accuracy and reliability of the XRF; and carrying out tests on multiple sites on the same sample to determine how well the XRF deals with heterogeneity. Once we had completed the experimental work, we then began the rather extensive task of writing up our results (and to this day we are continuing to finish up the report we started to create – don’t worry Becky, we’ll have it with you very soon!)

The Handheld XRF kit - yes it does look just like a supermarket scanner, but it can't check the prices of your groceries for you
We were incredibly lucky to have such an active role in the work the department carries out and feel really privileged that, despite being only Second years, we were trusted to carry out experimental work and our opinions are truly taken into consideration! Despite the, at times hilarious, low points (running a whole test cycle on the XRF when we had forgotten to even add a rock sample; the QICPIC failing us for what felt like the hundredth time, and dealing with rush hour traffic on a bus) we had an absolutely brilliant time in the Department and gained a real insight to the life of an academic.
I'd like to add a huge thank you to Jess and Rich for their invaluable help in a number of research projects this summer.
Work experience in an academic department is an excellent way to add to a CV, gain skills outside of your degree programme and to trial what research is like if you're thinking of doing a PhD. If you would like some research work experience, get in touch!

1 comment:

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