What made you choose Earth Sciences?
I grew up in a small village in Wales, so unsurprisingly I spent the majority of my childhood outdoors, climbing trees, building dens, walking, hiking, camping, catching fish and all manner of other activities which led to me having a strong appreciation for our environment. I have also always been a curious person and I particularly enjoyed chemistry and physics throughout school. When I realised studying Earth Science would allow me to combine my love of the environment and outdoors with my ability in science and maths, I knew it was for me.
What’s the best thing about studying Earth Science?
Personally I would say fieldwork and mapping is my favourite part, and being able to unravel the geological history of a set of rocks is incredibly rewarding. But, by far the best thing in general is how varied and broad the subject is. Originally, I wanted to study climatology and oceanography, but at university I became more interested in fieldwork and rocks than computer modelling and have taken a U-turn in my interests. The ability to change my interests drastically within the same course illustrates how broad the subject is. This also illustrates how varied the skill set you learn is – I have experience in coding (although I might not enjoy it the most), lab work, petrology, map-reading, fieldwork. I understand at least the basic issues of everything from climate circulation to tectonic plates to the origin of life.
What kind of opportunities have you had as an Earth Scientist?
From fieldwork to internships to student-led research projects, my journey through my Earth Sciences degree, both on-course and extracurricular, has been wide-ranging. In terms of work experiences: I’ve worked with Bangor University on computer modelling of tides in Hudson Bay; with the physics department at Oxford in lunar remote sensing and moon analogue materials; at conferences in the USA; and most recently I was an intern with the Lunar and Planetary Institute, based at the NASA Johnson Space Centre, Houston (among astronauts! https://www.spc.ox.ac.uk/news/emily-bamber-2014-wins-lpi-internship). The careers service at Oxford as well as my dedicated departmental tutors all helped me succeed with applications and with work itself. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with a student-led team that designed and executed a research proposal for fieldwork in a Mars analogue environment (in Utah), with the help of financing from one of the departments research funds.
How did Oxford compare to your expectations?
As a state-school educated female from a small village in the back and beyond of nowhere, I was one of two successful applicants to Oxbridge from my school that year. Of my parents, one left school at 16 straight into the workforce and the other attended a polytechnic college (institution for more technical/applied courses). Therefore, I had very little guidance on what to expect, except for the media portrayal of Oxbridge in general and STEM subjects in general. I wasn’t sure if I’d fit in, I wasn’t sure if anyone would understand my background, I didn’t even have any idea of what problems I might face – never mind how I might deal with them.
Now, my friends here at university are from incredibly varied backgrounds – like mine or completely the opposite, and everywhere in between. Friends I can relate to with similar experiences aren’t hard to find, but equally, friends with totally different experiences aren’t hard to relate to. I have never generally felt in the minority among a group of average students, but at the same time, the times I have felt in the minority (e.g. being Welsh), have just allowed me to share my culture/experiences with curious and interested ears. I won’t lie, the Oxford traditions are a little weird and the small bubble of this univresity is strange at times, with many improvements to be made to its’ image, but I’m leaving with incredibly fond memories and close friends.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m taking a year out to travel and gain teaching and fieldwork experience, before going on to study for a PhD in America (hopefully). My research focus will be on the past climate of Mars utilising remote sensing data, lab work and analogue field sites on Earth.