Fellowships, models and outreach

So long and thanks for all the fish

Each year, SCAR (the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research) awards a few fellowships to young researchers, to allow them to visit another university and collaborate with a new team. I was lucky enough to be awarded one in 2012, which I took up this winter. And now, after six months at the Antarctic Research Centre (ARC), Victoria University of Wellington, my SCAR Fellowship is over and it is time to head home, back to Aberystwyth.

I arrived in Wellington, New Zealand, at the end of February 2013 after an already busy winter undertaking fieldwork in Antarctica and learning Unix and GMT in preparation for the planned work at the ARC. I was planning on working primarily with Dr Nick Golledge, implementing his glacier model over some of the glaciers I had worked on in Antarctica – something I had never done before. It was a steep learning curve – more maths and physics than ever before, learning Python and improving my Unix, and getting geekier than ever.

Now I am at the end of the Fellowship and the results of all this work are starting to pay off. I’ve got some great data that I’m looking forward to exploring in more detail, and I’m hopefully going to write a neat paper or two. Overall, although there’s still some work to do, I can say it’s been a great success. So it’s a good time to reflect on the benefits of working abroad for a researcher, particularly one relatively early in her career.

New connections

The principal benefit of the SCAR Fellowship has been the opportunity to work with and get to know a new and diverse group of people. Members of the ARC couldn’t have been more welcoming. I’ve expanded my academic knowledge, both geographically (the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is the closest part of Antarctica to New Zealand, so research is focused there, compared with the Antarctic Peninsula in the UK), and academically (with more focus on ice cores and on the physical properties of glaciers). But new connections also take unexpected directions, and I’ve enjoyed many fruitful outreach and education discussions with students and staff with particular interests in that at Vic. Getting to know this new group of people has been excellent and inspiring, and I hope to continue working with them for years to come.

New directions

Even though I haven’t worked directly with each of the members of the ARC, each one has specific research interests and particular expertise. Discussions over coffee, group seminars and presentations, small excursions to local sites – all this adds to breadth of knowledge and a wider knowledge and interest in bigger themes beyond my own small research sphere. In fact, this has been the case with each institution I’ve worked in. Moving around as an academic can be hard work, but it is essential in my opinion, just to expand your horizons and continue your development as a researcher.

Lifestyle and leisure

It would be wrong to omit the fact that Kiwis have a great lifestyle! Wellington is a wonderful city and a great place to live, and I’ll miss it, for sure. Mountain biking from home, mild winters, warm sunny autumns, wineries, microbrewery beers and the best bakery in town just around the corner…Sweet as.

Thanks SCAR, Victoria University of Wellington and the ARC

So, sadly, at the end of this week I’ll be boarding a plane and flying back the UK. Although I’m sad to be leaving New Zealand, I’m also looking forward to returning home, seeing colleagues and friends and family again, and continuing my work on glacier dynamics in Antarctica with a broader and deeper knowledge and understanding.

The SCAR Fellowship pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to develop new skills and learn new things. And for that, it was invaluable.

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