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- Varyl, researcher, PhD in geography
Varyl, researcher, PhD in geography
Occupation: Post Doctoral Research Assistant, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC), Madrid, Spain (Higher Council for Scientific Research)
PhD subject: Geography
Why did you do a PhD?
There were two main reasons for doing a PhD. The first was that I really enjoyed geography as a subject at university, especially the courses on rivers and Quaternary environments which focused on different techniques of finding out information on past climate change etc. I initially did a mainly research based MSc that was specifically focused on research methods for deciphering environmental change from sedimentary archives such as lake and ocean sediments. I felt this would help me get a PhD grant as well as provide useful research experience. The following year I got a PhD grant that enabled me to work in my two main fields of interest - rivers and sedimentary records of environmental change.
The second reason was that there was very little else I really wanted to do. My only ever career ambition as a child was to be a doctor but by the time I was 16 this was never going to happen! (Oddly enough I didn’t even study geography in my first year at A-level but for a variety of reasons I had to repeat a year and I switched from physics to geography. In fact I didn’t even apply to do geography at university but did the first year course as a subsidiary subject and switched to it in my 2nd year!).
Describe your current job briefly:
Since March 2000 I have been employed as a Post Doctoral Research Assistant in the Department of Environmental Science of the CSIC (essentially the Spanish national research institute). My boss is the coordinator of an international EC funded project developing methodologies for the incorporation of long-term flood data (hundreds to thousands of years) in flood risk estimation. My specific tasks have included both scientific research and project administration. My research has involved estimating flood discharges for floods that occurred before instrumental records were available. This has involved a lot of fieldwork in remote parts of Spain collecting flood sediments and carrying out surveying of the study areas. The administration work primarily involves writing periodic scientific and financial reports for the EC and organising project meetings between all the participating researchers.
Another important aspect of my work has been in writing project proposals, including a couple of successful projects that have effectively provided me with the money for a new contract to keep me at the CSIC until 2007. We are about to start another international project that we are coordinating. The project will be focused on floods as a water resource in dryland regions in which again I shall be carrying out project administration and research, this time based in S. Africa and Namibia as well as Spain.
Recently I have also started translating Spanish scientific papers (earth sciences) into English to earn a bit of extra cash!
Why did you decide in this career?
I think it’s a good career if you are genuinely interested in the research. Generally, I have a nice balance of things I like to do, for example travel for either fieldwork, meetings or conferences; writing papers, reports, project proposals; laboratory work. I also feel I am contributing something useful to society, for example through our projects we have provided information for EC and Spanish flood policy.
I certainly didn’t decide on this career for financial reasons!
Why do you think you got the job?
1) My background and specific PhD and MSc research skills were pretty much perfect for this job.
2) I had a paper published from my MSc research in a well respected journal. Ability to publish is a key factor in research at the moment
3) My research at MSc and PhD had been supervised by very well respected and successful scientists.
4) The fact I was English was a big bonus. It didn’t matter that I had no Spanish – English was crucial to communicating with all the project scientists (Spanish, French, German….etc) and again in terms of publishing in international journals, English is vital.
Do you think a PhD has had a positive impact on your career?
It has been essential for me – I could not be doing this job without it.
What advice do you have for PhD students to boost their employability?
In terms of general employability I think the key thing is obtaining suitable transferable skills during the PhD research. You need to be able to show that you have a wide range of skills – they may be IT related, or things such as an ability to work unsupervised, meet deadlines etc.
I’m sure employability will also depend on the type of PhD carried out. For example, I think the PhD students who have been involved in the projects I’ve been working on in my current job will have a lot of confidence as they’ve been involved in an international project, they’ve experience of communicating at meetings, making contributions to scientific and financial reports, they’ve been involved in writing papers, have worked with people outside of academia (e.g. water authorities in our case) etc.