Robert Andrew Jamieson
PhD Student in Paleoclimatology
University of Durham
What do you get up to on a typical work day?
My typical work day varies quite a lot, depending on what exactly I’m doing that week. Most of the time I can be found at my desk in the open plan area reading papers, writing things up or processing data. Other days I spend most of my time downstairs in the labs, preparing and running samples on ICP-MS or milling sample powders to date. Interspersed with all this I spend around 4 hours a week demonstrating for undergraduate classes and labs. Slightly more than 4 hours a week is spent drinking cups of tea.
And of course every so often I actually get to do fieldwork.
How did you get into your field?
I did an Undergraduate degree in Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow and during this time had the fantastic opportunity to do summer work in one of the labs there. During the course of that project I realised that I really enjoyed applying analytical chemistry to Earth Science topics – particularly paleoclimatic reconstructions. To bolster my applications for PhDs in this subject area I then did a Geochemistry Masters at the University of Leeds to broaden my chemistry knowledge.
What advice would you give anyone wanting to get into your field?
You need something to mark you out from the herd of other similarly qualified candidates. A good degree in Earth Sciences/Geology isn’t enough. Try to get summer work or an internship in a lab; make sure your final year research project is relevant and done well (and ideally publishable); do a relevant Masters; and/or pick up an ancillary set of skills which are relevant (computer modelling, chemistry expertise, etc.).
Also, when selecting a project take your time to find one which is right for you. Don’t just hope to apply to every PhD or Masters in your subject area, make sure that the project and the supervisor are a good fit for you.
Best/most exotic field location you have visited?
My PhD field areas (which I regrettably have not yet been out to) are Belize, Turks & Caicos and Bermuda – they certainly qualify as exotic. However the best fieldwork I’ve ever done has to be one of the various locations on the West coast of Scotland. If (!) you get decent weather there’s no place more beautiful.
The South of Spain wasn’t bad either.
Hammer or Hand lens?
Hammer; there’s never been anything I can see with a hand lens that I can’t make out with the naked eye.
Dante’s Peak is the best geology movie (other than Deep Core).
Lab or Field?
Tricky, I love both, but field work edges out ahead.
Best/Worst thing about your job?
Best: Self-directed research is incredible. Being able to decide what you want to look at is a great feeling.
Worst: Admin woes and university bureaucracy. You can’t imagine how much of a faff it is sometimes.