PhD in The taphonomy of the Cambrian Explosion in North Greenland
University of Durham
What do you get up to on a typical work day?
One good thing about being a PhD student is having the ability (to a certain extent!) to create your own working schedule. My typical working day can vary from working in the office, being down in the lab, using the Scanning Electron Microscope, going on field work or attending conferences. Being in the early stages of my PhD has meant a lot of my time currently is being used researching and getting to grips with the current literature.
My main research is based on The Cambrian Explosion, which represents a significant and important interval in Earth’s history. It marks an increase in the diversification of complex animal body plans and the expansion of marine ecosystems. The Cambrian fossil record is incredibly biased towards the preservation of shelly (biomineralised) skeletons, however it is also home to some areas of exceptional soft-bodied preservation, such as the Burgess Shale, Chengjiang and Sirius Passet. There is still a poor understanding of the different taphonomic pathways leading to these spectacular Lagerstätten. The role of preservation is a key factor in mediating diversity and therefore critical in understanding the processes responsible for the Cambrian Explosion.
I have been fully trained on the SEM over the last month so a lot more time will be getting spent looking at my samples and running elemental maps to help understanding the taphonomic pathways in the Sirius Passet.
I recently attended the Pogressive Palaeontology conference in Leeds where I was able to present my research as an oral presentaion on the day. Today I am sitting in the office, drinking coffee and getting things sorted for the Earth Science departmental conference, where I will be presenting three posters.
How did you get into your field?
I studied for my degree in Earth Sciences and throughout these four years I delveloped a strong interest in Palaeontology. After graduating I moved on to do a Masters in the field of Evolutionary Biology to get more experience in biology. During my degree I also took part in a sumnmer internship with Dr Al McGowan which helped me gain more experience into the palaeontological side of Earth Sciences!
What advice would you give anyone wanting to get into your field?
I would advise to look for opportunities to work with specialists in your field of interest, even if it is just something small it is important to have experience and build relationships with people in the field. Also, just having a degree is not enough, I worked full time during my undergrad and masters and although it was hard going it has definitely helped me in building non – academic skills which are just as important.
Best/most exotic field location you have visited?
It's not exactly exotic! But one of my favourite places to visit is actually where I grew up in Burnmouth in the Scottish Borders, where my love for fossils started! There are some great sites there and there is talks of the missing link in Romer's Gap being found…
Hammer or Hand lens?
Lab or Field?
Lab is it's raining and field it it's good weather!
Best/Worst thing about your job?
Best; getting to do what I love on a daily basis! I am grateful everyday that I get funded to try and unravel the mysteries of the Cambrian Explosion!
Worst; Thinking you have read everything you can about a topic then discovering another paper which completely contradicts your hypothesis!