Professor Martin Siegert

Martin completed his doctorate in glaciology at Cambridge University. He then gained a lectureship at the University of Wales in Aberyswyth, followed by a lectureship at the University of Bristol. He is now Head of the School of Geosciences and Professor of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh.

"My name is Martin Siegert, and I'm the Head of the School of Geosciences and Professor of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh. Being Head of School involves managing and leading a team of over 90 academics, in the realm of geosciences. When I was applying for universities I was thinking about doing geography. I didn't in the end – someone advised me that, with maths and an interest in the world, I might want to think about geology. As I started reading the literature on what universities do in geology, I discovered the subject of geophysics – which was completely unknown to me at that time. So I applied for some geophysics courses, and I went to Reading University to do my geophysics degree.

"My Head of School at the time asked me, 'Have you thought about research?' He convinced me that the things that you need to succeed in academia, to succeed to do a PhD, you don't need to be the cleverest person right, you need a level of, of intelligence to be competent.

"There was a turn of events near the end of my degree, which was a tragic thing, my father died, very sudden, unexpected. Just awful. That pretty much stopped me in my tracks and I completed my degree and I decided to take a year out, decided to spend a bit of time with my family just to collect myself together. And in that time I had an opportunity to collect my thoughts. By that stage I was convinced that what I wanted to do was at least try research.

"Now, this is where the stroke of luck comes in, because when PhD topics get advertised, there was one for a PhD position in glaciology and decided to, to do that PhD. I didn't even know what glaciology as a subject was. I was at Cambridge.

"So it was a tragic event, the death of my dad, but actually it changed my life.

"I was interested in doing it and I was enjoying it, but I hadn't really considered an academic career in it. But obviously I was thinking about what the next move would be or the next thing that I would want to do.

"I really do believe that to be an academic you don't need to be Einstein, you don't need to have this colossal brain. What you need is to be competent academically, but if you have a work ethic and you work hard, then things will happen. And again, it was opportunity that came along at the right time for me. There were a number of lectureships in glaciology became available in the University of Wales in Aberystwyth. It wasn't somewhere I had planned to go, but one thing I have learned in academia is that sometimes you do have to chase the jobs they don't come to you. So the job came up for me, applied for it, very lucky, pretty much straight out of my PhD to be offered it. And that's what I've learned to be an academic. I've learned to balance teaching and research and administration and I did all of those things. As an academic you have collaborations but you are largely on your own. The expectation is that you will form your own career path, you will identify something that you want to do. You will write research applications, and over the years you will develop your career.

"And it is a daunting thing when you first start it. I'm very happy to do what I do until the opportunity comes up to do something else.

"And something did come up, and that was a lectureship at the University of Bristol to do a similar thing, to do glaciology. In Bristol the first conversations I was having with the Head of School was on the lines of, well what do you want to do, what are your ambitions, and whatever your ambitions are you should think long term about fulfilling them. And really, that was a turning point in my career. If you want to do something really interesting, fundamental, something that that is remarkable, everyone's got it in them to do that – but it doesn't just happen, you have to plan it, you have to plan it over a lengthy period, so that's what I learnt to do very quickly in Bristol and that's what I set about doing.

"My job is to make sure that there is an environment where people that have got big ambitions can fulfil them."