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In conversation with our interns: Research projects

15 June, 2022

Over the past year, our EDI interns have spent time at BAS working on a variety of fascinating polar projects. Here, we hear about how they’ve built their skills and experience to put to good use in their future careers.  

The breadth of polar science 

A quick look at the list of research projects on our website illustrates how varied polar science is. Our interns, who come from a broad range of academic backgrounds themselves, tell us about their work bringing to life the array of opportunities within the field.  

Ben Graves notes that “there’s a massive array of factors that can be researched here, and top academics here in BAS will have very little overlap.” Ben’s focusing on polar and alpine change from a background of an interesting mix of disciplines in itself; Physics and Philosophy.  

His project at BAS has involved using his knowledge of physics on a project which detects and documents Antarctic clouds using laser-based instruments; how high, how thick and the proportion of water or ice they contain. Working on the data from an existing instrument in Rothera and comparing these with data from the new replacement has given him valuable practical experience.  

Everyday interactions with a range of experts 

For some of our interns, the chance to carry out practical lab work and meet experts within the community after the pandemic has been of huge benefit.  

Madeline Anderson studied a masters in Marine Biology at Southampton. Madeline’s been examining literally thousands of samples of small sea animals: worms, shrimps and other shell creatures living in the sediment and to 5cm depth. The aim of the project is to establish the effects on them of methane seeps from the Arctic seabed.   

Meeting people at BAS from lots of different disciplines has been an eye-opener for Mads who says “The diversity of expertise at BAS has meant that I can ask questions of chemists or geoscientists”. 

Lucy Stephenson, who, like Mads has been examining huge quantities of samples, this time of scaphopods (elephant-shaped molluscs), talks about the excitement of being able to share new information with other scientists. “You see patterns in the samples that no-one has else has seen before”, they say, “it always feels good to be at the frontier of something.”  

Lucy completed a masters in Marine Ecosystem Management in Scotland and has valued the opportunities offered by the network of people at BAS.   

Disciplinary and inter-disciplinary approaches 

It seems that many of the group have been exploring their own and other disciplines as well as taking inter-disciplinary approaches to their projects.  

Charlotte Green studied Geology and Geography at Birmingham then followed this with an MSc in Volcanology at Durham. During her internship, she’s been using x-rays to establish what elements are present in core samples of peat and then comparing these using code she’s developed which saves time and ensures better accuracy.  

“Coding is very useful in the geosciences, works well for sharing knowledge and is great for making my workflow more efficient”, Charlotte explains. Mixing geoscience and data science has enhanced her own experience and provided a neat solution to the challenges of her project. 

Having studied integrated masters in geology at Imperial, Emilia Dobb had previously looked at millions of years’ worth of data, whereas her project at BAS has involved studying data over decades. She really wanted to gain research experience in a different field and has found herself immersed in the journey data goes through.  

“In the future, I won’t take the datasets I’m working with for granted,” she says, “as I have a new-found appreciation of the effort that has gone into creating the dataset ready for scientific research, which I otherwise may not have thought about.” 

Flexible access to research 

The variety doesn’t end with the work itself, but extends to how the group have been able to work. With experience of both on-site and remote working, they talk about the benefits of being able to work flexibly.   

Khadidja Hamze, who finished a degree in Biomedical Science in December, was on-site in the lab, isolating specific strains of bacteria from tissue samples from sea cucumbers and invertebrates, then testing temperature tolerance in these.  

Her interest has been sparked she says, by her first experience of practical polar science. 

Tylei Reeves-Francois has worked throughout the programme once a week in Cambridge but has been finding lovely places to work in London for the rest of the week. She’s been going through huge data sets, using specific software for data visualisation and has increased her knowledge of coding, after studying Physical Geography at UCL. 

Even remotely, she’s been able to use NASA and meteorological data, has learned about MATLAB and Python and has produced maps and diagrams of sea ice and local meteorology as a result. She recalls a positive experience of remote working: “I was creating a complicated graph at home, was able to show it on screen on a zoom call and got good feedback”. She feels strongly that she’s learned how to do research during her time at BAS and that it’s the process of learning, even when things take an unexpected turn, which is as beneficial as the results themselves.  

So, it seems that no one day for the BAS interns has been like another. Whatever your field, career aspirations or experience, it seems that there’s something for everyone in polar science. 

Read more about how the experience at BAS has helped shape the careers of our interns.