NERC (the National Environmental Research Council), a major funding body for Environmental Science PhDs (and research in general) recently announced the outcome of a skills review, publishing “Most Wanted II – Postgraduate and Professional Skills needed in the Environment Sector”. In particular it highlights skills that NERC believes are in short supply in the UK workforce.
The results can be found here. A summary of their top 15 most wanted skills..
3. Data Management
7. Risk and Uncertainty
8. Taxonomy and Systematics
9. Soil Science
10. Environmental Epidemiology
11. Sustainability Science and Planning
13. Energy Supply
14. Food supply
15. Freshwater Science
To me, this list is highlighting knowledge gaps, not necessarily skills gaps. If you’re pre-PhD or in the early stages of your career this could be useful in highlighting fields with a good possibility for opportunities and career progression. But for those of us who’ve already specialised in a field, can this help? It’s hardly practical for a volcanologist to go out and learn some freshwater science, or a social scientist to moonlight in microbiology. The first few options, however, provide key information for everyone. NERC is looking for adaptable, multi-disciplinary scientists with a key understanding of high performance data analysis and computing techniques. From my perspective data collection techniques in atmospheric science are getting better all the time. Two decades ago massive equipment could collect maybe one sample an hour, now we have portable field devices collecting several samples an hour, and lab-on-a-chip could soon lead to all data, all the time. Excel probably isn’t going to cut it any more, and I’m hoping to dedicate some time this year to learning new data analysis techniques. Starting from scratch isn’t going to be easy, and it’s a hard thing to step out of my comfort zone and feel stupid all over again, but hopefully it will be worth it in the end.
What do you think of the skills review? Have you challenged yourself to learn anything new recently?
Liked this? You may also like: NERC doctoral training programmes, Is it time for a PhD reform?, and “A PhD don’t come for free?”
Alcatraz never seemed far from view when I was in San Francisco last autumn, peeking between tall buildings or dominating the skyline from the coast. We did the tourist trip out to the island (hint: a summery dress and the SF wind do not a dignified boat trip make) and I wondered; will people, one day, glorify the crazed killers of our century the way they do Al Capone? Daring escapes and dingy cells aside, my favourite bit of the island was the gardens. Alcatraz really was ‘the rock’ before people first arrived, but imported soil and plants during its first occupation as an army base in the mid 1800s began to transform the rock into a garden. It’s a perfect example of how plant cover encourages the establishment of further plant growth by breaking up rocks with their roots and increasing soil nutrients through leaf litter. With the abandonment of Alcatraz in the 1960s the formal structure of the gardens may have fallen into disrepair, but imported plants continue to flourish all over the island, alongside birds and other wildlife.
Like this? You may also like:
Living Sculpture: Neukom Vivarium
Nature and Islamic Art
Living Sculpture: Neukom Vivarium / Nature in Islamic Art / Underwater Sculpture
Last year some of Darwin’s fossils were refound in a British Geological Society cabinet. How good would that find feel? Perhaps an incentive for a quick clear out at work? After all, it is (almost) time for a good spring clean…
Image above from the BBC.)
It can seem like a long, long, loooong slog until you see the seeds of your scientific labour bear publication fruit. First drafts, second drafts, co-author comments, third drafts, track changes, endless literature searches for that one critical reference, tenth drafts… And then post-submission there’s reviewers’ comments, corrections to make and resubmission.
Kind of like buses, I’ve waited a long time and suddenly several papers I’m involved in have been published in one month.
Firstly my own paper is in Biogeosciences Discussions – this is open access so y’all can go check out my awesome science (and apparently excellent figures) here. In this paper I discuss some of the first measurements of halocarbons from tropical seaweeds, talk about reasons for potential differences within/between studies and discuss aquaculture (seaweed farming) and the impact that may have on tropical halocarbon emissions. With this journal the review process is done online – so this is the original and un-reviewed/edited manuscript. You can watch the review process as it happens (probably a little like watching paint dry, but slower) or comment if you have some critical comments on our take on tropical halocarbon production from seaweed. Fingers crossed for some decent reviews…
Secondly I helped with sample analysis for this paper* on iodine chemistry in the marine boundary layer.
Thirdly my friend and Malaysian collaborator Fiona just published work on the impact of light on halocarbon emissions from seaweed, see the paper here*. Fiona started her Masters at the same time I began my PhD so we’ve learnt lab techniques together and worked in the field on many occasions. She also happens to be my provider of food, transport and sanity whilst I’m in Malaysia.
*These two articles are behind a paywall (you have to subscribe to the journal to access them) but please let me know if you’d like a look. With this sudden flurry of publication action I’ve also been interested to read about self-archiving – a post on that coming up soon!
This month NERC (the National Environmental Research Council – the funding body behind many UK environment-related PhDs, including mine) announced it’s changing the way it allocates studentships to UK universities. Currently, universities (or research institutions) are allocated a set number of studentships each year. The new system will award ‘Doctoral Training Partnerships’ (DTPs) to either individual institutions or consortia. The same number of studentships will be offered each year (~240) and all aspects of the studentships themselves (e.g. entry requirements) will remain the same. The main difference is that the number of providers will fall, about 10-20 DTPs will be awarded, each gaining between 12-24 studentships. The range here comes from an added flexibility to account for the possibility of large consortium bids asking for more studentships than, perhaps, individual university bids. Once awarded a DTP will be in place for 5 years of new student intakes (with the first intake set for 2014). NERC studentships will still be available outside DTP locations via the current project (‘tied’) studentships linked to grants as well as via ‘Focused Studentships’ (the details of which are still to be announced).
A key idea of this move is to encourage multidisciplinary work and knowledge sharing which are important in environmental research. Both groups within departments and also departments in different universities will have to work together to gain DTP status, and it is hoped these collaborations will continue once the DTP is in place. The NERC documentation also talks about having centres of excellence and a presumed benefit is being able to focus the direct and ephemeral training associated with PhD students. Over the past decade the need to develop PhD students beyond the lab bench has been realised; modern research calls for scientists capable of effective communication skills, high computer literacy and the ability to interact with policy makers, businesses and the general public. Training in all of these areas, and more, may be provided more efficiently in centralised hubs. I imagine cost savings have also been considered.
That said, I was disappointed to read that there would be no mandatory training requirements for those gaining DTP status. Surely that should be part of the point? It’s worrying that those receiving NERC studentships via other means (i.e. those not at DTPs) may lose out on NERC support for additional training, the money and infrastructure for which has gone to DTP centres, who themselves have no formal requirements for additional training and development programmes.
DTP status has potential benefits. Forcing institutions to undergo the application process will, hopefully, result in those that gain PhD studentships fully appreciating them. A PhD student is far more than cheap labour (an outdated opinion that, unfortunately, is still held by some academics). Hopefully PhD studentships will be more valued under the new system. However, with a potentially more stringent selection process NERC should also take this opportunity to reinforce the need to ensure DTPs are producing well-rounded graduates capable of conducting cutting edge research scientific research in a rapidly changing world.
For more information on the project see here. As future PhD students are likely to be most affected by this process it’s important current students make their voices heard if they have comments or questions.