I went to secondary school a state school outside of Exeter. It had to teach students of a wide range of abilities and levels of engagement, and as such could not always focus on the most able students. Most people that I started secondary school with did not go to university. I nevertheless had a supportive teacher who convinced me to apply to the Sutton Trust Summer School.
I attended the geography Summer School at the University of Cambridge in 2011. The summer school enabled me to understand better what it would be like to study geography at undergraduate level. It helped me to tailor my interests and explore the field in depth. Though my parents were supportive of my aspirations to study for a degree, I was the first in my family to go to university, so they could not give me practical advice. The summer school was invaluable in giving me suitable advice and experience that helped in me when going on to apply to university.
My most memorable moment of the summer school was attending a lecture from a graduate student about glaciers in the Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan. I was fascinated by the idea of glaciers in Afghanistan, a country typically associated with desert climates in the popular media, as well as the importance of glaciers to people in the region. It inspired me to me to get involved in glaciology and I ended up doing my undergraduate thesis on glaciers in eastern Jammu and Kashmir in India – another cold desert region.
I went onto to study Geography at Cambridge and am now a PhD student specialising in polar science. I’m using photography from UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles, or ‘drones’) to study the dynamics of the Greenland Ice Sheet. In particular, I’m interested in looking at how increased melt occurring due to climate change might go on to have further impacts beneath the ice.
Last year I was at a conference for earth scientists and, by chance, I ran into the person who had given me the lecture on glaciers in the Wakhan Corrider! We have reconnected and have since collaborated on the same project together – a YouTube series introducing polar science to 16-18 year olds.
The Summer School inspired me to sign up as a ‘CAMbassador’ at Cambridge – a student ambassador supporting outreach events and initiatives. I’ve enjoyed helping at several events, and in August 2017 was able to a lecture about my PhD research at a the Cambridge Geography Summer School – completing a circle which started with me being given a lecture on glaciers in 2011.
My advice to anyone thinking about embarking on a career in research is to develop your personal interests during your undergraduate years. Read deeper into your chosen subject and develop your own niche area as you go on to write your dissertation.