Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Environmental Microbiology and Me!

Researcher profile: Karen Scott (@DrKarenScott)

As an environmental microbiologist with a biological background I didn't think I would end up working in a geography department. In fact thinking back to my childhood I never thought I would end up in academia, or geography come to that - to be honest my only memories of geography from my school days involved writing a news article on the Exxon Valdez oil spill and drawing a cross section of the Earth! Having always been fascinated by animals, I grew up wanting to work with them in some way or another (once my dad had burst my bubble about a career in bricklaying not being like an episode of ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’!).

I got a place on a BSc Animal Behaviour and Science course at Bishop Burton College in the East Riding of Yorkshire, which I thoroughly enjoyed. However, I found studying animals less engaging than I expected and instead was drawn towards modules assessing the impact of the environment on them. Developing my skills in this environmental sector made me re-evaluate the direction of my career.

Anaerobic workout in the lab
Once I’d completed my degree I got a job working in a microbiology laboratory testing a wide variety of samples ranging from fresh food to environmental water samples. It was a demanding job with long hours but it had its perks, such as free turkeys for the family at Christmas! After a year of working there I’d managed to save up enough money to cover the fees for a Masters degree. I joined the University of Hull Biological Sciences Department and spent a year assessing the effect of contaminated water on shore crab behaviour.

Thoroughly enjoying my year researching and writing I decided the research route was for me, and that’s when I started looking for PhDs. I picked up another microbiology role, similar to the previous one, while I hunted for a PhD and after a few months of looking I found one back at Hull based in Geography. The project investigated the ability of organic matter to decompose within the drainage system in the City of Hull, in particular studying the microbial community, and assessing if it could be increased in some way (outlined in my earlier blog post). Although the project was out of my area, it was cross disciplinary with biology so with a bit of extra background reading before starting, I was able to hit the ground running.
Nice day for fieldwork at Winscar 
After I completed my PhD, I commenced a six month research position in the department where I was split between two environmental projects. I'm now based in the School of Geography at the University of Leeds for the next 13 months working in moorland management and hydrology. The project enables me to expand my skill set within the environmental area, while allowing me the opportunity to get my teeth into some research within the department, which remains a great passion of mine. While I'm not sure if after this project’s completion I will take my career into industry or remain within the academic sector, I am excited by the opportunities for both that come my way.

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