Who wants to do field work anyway!

Hi there! This is Alex your 3rd and final blogger of the summer. I will be Beth’s assistant for September but unlike the other two most of my work will be in the lab, so less pictures of the beautiful views of the Lake District and more of the soil in the lab!!! This may sound like I have a lack of enthusiasm for lab work, but I do feel that after the maybe more appealing fieldwork has been done (especially with the good summer we’ve had) there is important work analysing the samples that were collected to be done.


Me in the lab

Before we get started I would like to introduce myself. I have just graduated from Lancaster University with a 2:1 in Ecology. This year, like Freya I am carrying on my studies doing a Masters degree in resource and environmental management (MSc) still here at Lancaster. I have a keen interest in nature and believe strongly in environmental protection which has led my decisions in terms of what degree and Masters I would eventually go into. I volunteered with Beth last year as Amy did, so when a chance to get paid for doing similar work this summer came up I jumped at it. I know it’s been said a thousand times before but it can’t be stressed enough how valuable work experience is, so for me getting paid was a bit of a bonus! Many of my friends have graduated and are having little luck finding a graduate job so anything to boost the CV is very helpful.

Having said all this it’s not all about “CV boosting” I feel it’s nice to be able to help Beth with her PhD and it is a great opportunity to share the lab with some top researchers and in a small part at least contribute something to a part of the scientific community that do some really valuable work. Also it is quite good fun!

So, on my first day I did actually have an enjoyable day in the field using Infra-red gas analysers (IRGAs) measuring the photosynthetic rate of plants growing under different treatment. We were in a beautiful part of the Yorkshire dales with the only drawback that as we were quite high up we were working in the clouds so visibility was very poor and we couldn’t enjoy the views. Oh well, we would just have to use our imaginations! The rest of the week was lab based, where I prepared samples for a variety of tests. My work involved weighing soil and cooking it an oven and even subjecting some of it to temperatures of 560°C. I know this isn’t very technical but I intend to go into more specifics of the lab work in later posts.

560 degrees!

560 degrees!

The days have gone fast and much of the work is very repetitive but quite therapeutic in a strange sort of way. The radio keeps me amused and failing that the very strange (and slightly rubbish) music taste of the volunteer lab assistant Richard is always a talking point. As I write this blog the rain is coming down hard and persistently as is often the case in the North West so I’d like to leave you with my thoughts at the moment: who would want to do fieldwork any way…


LEC in the typical Lancaster climate.

Alex 🙂


Me, Myself and Beth


Hey Guys,

As Beth explained I’m Freyja. A 21 year old, physical geographer from Lancaster University, graduating with a 2:1 next week (eeek!!!). My interest in geography stems from a love of nature and an amazing secondary school geography teacher. I love all things water: lakes, rivers, estuaries … glaciers. So when choosing my third year dissertation topic the Tees Estuary close to home seemed the perfect place to start. This in a roundabout way brings me to soil. My dissertation focused on flow of nutrients in the estuary soils and after extensive reading I found a new interest … soil. Around this time Beth was advertising a research assistant for her PhD and after completing an application form, test blog post and interview, here I am in the Fox and Hounds Pub, Ennerdale Bridge, Lake District in glorious sunshine, writing to you.

My past experiences of field trips have mostly been focused in two weeks away in the last two years. My first was an investigation into how volcanoes and glaciers interact on the south coast of Iceland. Which was a once in a life time experience to get up close and personal with some stunningly beautiful landscapes, my highlight being hiking up a glacier and standing across from Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano which caused all the issues in 2010.  My more recent field trip was to the Cantambria region, the beautiful northern most mountainous region of Spain. Here we mapped the flow of water through the karstic system (caves lots of caves).  Attached to both trips were essays, exams and stress over grades, but neither trip developed the same skills as needed in field work. The difference (in my opinion) is that in during field work you are stepping into the known; when on a field trip your lecturer, mostly, knows all the answers. Whereas here working with Beth I feel a part of some new discovery which (hopefully) will be beneficial to the farmers of this area.

From these small experiences I can say my expectations of field work, from my dissertation, where it rained, my Iceland trip, where it rained and various other field trips in the UK,  field trips equal getting wet . For the first two days I was quite right … Wet Freyja. However wet and cold I was the landscape here can’t be described as anything but gorgeous. The Lake District must be one of the UK’s more beautiful places to work.



Which, as it happens, looks even better in the sunshine, which is what it’s been like for the rest of the week (hallelujah).  Either wet or sunny there is something very satisfying in coming in from a hard day’s work in the field knowing that your aching muscles and soggy socks are all aspects of working towards something important.

So that’s all about me and my experiences in the past. Next week I’ll go more into what I’ve done over these past two weeks in the field and try to reflect on how it’s been useful to me as an undergraduate (soon to be post graduate). 


Welcome to ‘So, you want to be an environmental scientist?’

From July 5th to September 30th three young environmental scientists from Lancaster University will be creating a weekly blog, telling you about their experiences doing field work in Cumbria, England and working in the laboratory – we encourage you to post questions and comments. Image

This is me, Beth, conducting my MSc field work

The scientists are all recent graduates from Lancaster Environment Centre and they are starting their careers by working for a month on my PhD project ‘The ecological and social implications of using remote sensing to assist farm environment planning’. This project is looking at how we can use satellite imagery to help us improve the environmental outcomes of upland farming in the UK and how this might affect the farmers themselves.

The three project assistants – Freyja, Amy and Alex – are funded through the Lancaster University Friends’ Fund and they will be helping me complete my field work, working with me on interviews and processing samples in the lab. We think that their thoughts, experiences and tips will be of interest to those of you considering environmental science as a career or if you are just interested in finding out more about what we academics do.

This project is an example of an environmental science and social science project and of course is not representative of every research project. If you’d like more information on different types of projects please get in touch and we’ll try and help you find out more.

This project was made possible through funding awarded by the Lancaster University Friends’ Grant Programme.