GeoLog

EGU GA 2017

I want you to stop being an early career scientist

I want you to stop being an early career scientist

In this guest post Roelof Rietbroek, EGU’s Union-wide Early Career Scientist Representative (2017-2018), speaks about the importance of reseachers getting involved with the Union’s early career activities to really reap the benefits of being part of the network.

With over half of the participants of EGU’s general assembly qualifying as an Early Career Scientist (ECS), chances are you are one too. But frankly, simply classifying as an ECS doesn’t provide much advantage. If you really want to reap the benefits of being part of this community you should act and engage. Contribute and help shape the scientific program, show your face and get known in your community while establishing personal connections beyond your ECS peers. Allow yourself to step out of your ECS niche and become part of the scientific community as a whole. The ultimate goal of EGU’s ECS framework and its representatives should be to facilitate this transition rather than merely forming a group of scientists at the beginning of their career, but it’s only going to happen if you step up.

So, when do you stop being an Early Career Scientist?

According to the official definition of the EGU it is clear that you stop being an Early Career Scientist (ECS) after 7* years since your last degree, but the truth is, this is a much more gradual process. Over the course of years, you aim to gain experience, establish a network, and become recognised in your field.

Although that feeling of being an ECS should slowly wear out over the years, it nevertheless makes sense to try to identify early career scientists within the EGU and support them in pursuing their careers in science or industry, establishing their networks, and sharing their scientific work. There is indeed a difference between someone at the beginning of their career and someone who has been working in the field for a while: experience. It should be stressed that although age often correlates with experience, it should not be considered as the criteria to determine whether someone qualifies as an ECS. For this reason, my predecessors worked hard to drive change within EGU by pushing for the renaming of young scientist to early career scientist, and updated the definition of an ECS to reflect experience rather than age.

Contribute to the General Assembly

In last year’s survey, well over half (58%) of the respondents indicated that they qualify as an early career scientists (ECS). It can therefore be expected that they also play a similar role in contributing to the programme of the General Assembly. So do ECS actually have their fair share of oral, poster and PICO presentations?

Compared to poster and PICO presentations, the amount oral presentation by ECS authors often fall below their participation rate. Possibly, ECS’s are signing up for fewer oral abstracts, but it’s also justified to ask whether unconscious biases are at play in the convener teams when finalising the programme? If you think of it, EGU’s presentation formats are not tuned to presenters with certain levels of experience, and all types are considered to be equally important. So there is no reason why the presenters of a specific type of presentation shouldn’t reflect the diversity of EGU’s participants. But let’s be honest, as conveners, maybe we do sometimes hear that little voice who tells us that the way of the least resistance is to grant that oral request to that well-respected colleague at the cost of an oral request of a lesser known PhD student.

But apart from raising awareness among session conveners, I think it’s equally important to tell ECS to be bold and engage with the session conveners. If you prefer an oral presentation, why not send the conveners an additional email on that paper which is about to be published and underline your willingness to give a talk?

There are plenty of ways early career scientists can contribute to the EGU’s annual General Assembly. Credit: Roelof Rietbroek.

Shape the programme

Understandably, first time attendees are unlikely to submit and convene sessions during the general assembly. But after a few years, you are actually in a good position to spot influential and emerging fields, which are the ideal session topics. The good thing about the bottom-up approach of the EGU is that every member can propose sessions and short courses for the General Assembly. And I would stress that the programme of the General Assembly crucially depends on input from the community.

Many short courses are already proposed and organised by ECS, and they’ve become increasingly popular over the years. But what about session convening?  Unfortunately, many ECS I spoke to were not aware of the possibility of proposing sessions, or felt it is not up to them to do so. Again, I would hope that ECS members  step up  and start to actively help in shaping the programme as they progress in their careers.

Ideally, convener teams should reflect the diversity of the EGU community. This means that a set of aging white male conveners is frowned upon, but a bunch of ECS from the same institute may also not be the best choice for a convener team.

Connect to researchers outside the ECS community

It might be tempting to surround yourself with ECS peers, with who you identify most strongly and with who you can share your common struggles. Growing a healthy ECS community certainly has it’s benefits and should be encouraged. But from a career and research perspective it definitely pays off to connect with more experienced scientists as well.

In many cases this will lead to win-win situations. Scientists who have proposals funded may be on the lookout for qualified PhD’s and Postdocs, or some researchers may be able to put that method you’ve developed to good use with their data resulting in a joint publication. And quite often, you’ll find they know a lot of other people in your field, which they are happy to introduce to you.

During the GA, there are several events and programmes which encourage such exchanges. The “Early Career Scientists Networking & Careers Reception brings together early career researchers and award winning researchers. Furthermore, in 2018, the EGU is again organising a mentoring scheme. Within that programme, ECS’s are matched with established scientists,  and during the GA the mentee and mentor will meet up regularly.

Growing pains

All in all, I see the role of the EGU’s Early Career Scientist Representatives not to simply give a voice to you as an early career scientist , but rather to encourage you to move on.  This involves listening to you and identifying the growing pains of becoming a respected scientist or industry professional.  But also to promote your active engagement as early as possible, which is ultimately what the EGU thrives on.

By Roelof Rietbroek, EGU’s Union-wide Early Career Scientist Representative (2017-2018)

 

Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post that expresses the opinion of its author, whose views may differ from those of the European Geosciences Union. We hope the post can serve to generate discussion and a civilised debate amongst our readers.

Five top tips to apply for small grants

Five top tips to apply for small grants

Stephanie Zihms, the ECS Representative for the EMRP Division (and incoming Union Level Representative) has applied for a range of small scale grants (<£15,000, ca. 16,965€). At this year’s General Assembly, she was one of two speakers at the ‘How to write a research grant’ short course, where she shared  insights from her successes and failures. In today’s post she tells us about the top five lessons she learnt in the process of applying for funds.

Publications and grants are an important aspect in academia and success in both areas necessary for career progression. Frustratingly, many grants are only available to researchers with open-ended or permanent contracts and since practice makes perfect you don’t want your first grant proposal to be for a million pounds, dollars or euros.

Instead, there are plenty of (often unknown) small scale grants available to fund anything from a trip to a conference through to a field campaign and to support some of your existing work. Applying for these gives you valuable insight when it comes to writing larger-scale grants and shows future employers you have a go-getting attitude.

  1. Start early – start small: Travel grants, internal support grants, field work grants – these all count and will help you get better at writing in a proposal style, learn the language of different panels and get used to the format of a proposal. You might also get a chance to learn how to budget and justify certain costs, a big aspect of proposal writing.
  2. Always ask for feedback: Not only on the grants you didn’t get but also on the ones you secured. It will tell you what the panel really liked about your proposal and you can highlight that even more next time.

    Some feedback from my successful Royal Academy of Engineering Newton Fund application. Credit: Stephanie Zihms

  3. Get training: See if your university or institution offers grant writing or academic writing courses – even if you’re not working on a proposal when you attend this training will come in handy when you do. You are also likely to make some good connections with people that will be able to help you when you do start applying.
  4. Get help: Either from colleagues, connections you made during a writing course, a specialised office within your university or even from the institution offering the grant. See if you can get previous applications that were successful to help you make sure you get the language right.
  5. Write, write, write: As an academic you will spend a lot of your time writing so it’s good to get lots of practice and make writing regularly a habit. I try and write for 1 hour every morning before I head to the office and I attend a weekly writing group on campus. Or join a virtual writing group via Twitter for example #AcWri or #AcWriMo for November – since it is Academic Writing Month.

    Set up for our weekly Hide & Write group. Credit: Stephanie Zihms

Do you have any top tips for securing your first grants? If so, we’d love to hear them and share them with the GeoLog community. Please share your experiences and suggestions in the comments below!

Stephanie’s full presentation can be downloaded here.

At the upcoming General Assembly, Stephanie will be delivering a workshop on how to apply for small scale grants. Full details will be available once the conference programme launches, so stay tuned to the EGU 2018 website for more.

By Stephanie Zihms, the ECS Representative for the EMRP Division (and incoming Union Level Representative)

EGU 2018 will take place from 08 to 13 April 2017 in Vienna, Austria. For more information on the General Assembly, see the EGU 2018 website and follow us on Twitter (#EGU18 is the official conference hashtag) and Facebook.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Of ancient winds and sands

Imaggeo on Mondays: Of ancient winds and sands

Snippets of our planet’s ancient past are frozen in rocks around the world. By studying the information locked in formations across the globe, geoscientist unpick the history of Earth. Though the layers in today’s featured image may seem abstract to the untrained eye, Elizaveta Kovaleva (a researcher at the University of the Free State in South Africa) describes how they reveal the secrets of ancient winds and past deserts.

In summer 2016 we toured the Western US in a minivan. We visited many of the gems of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, such as Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon, The Arches, Bryce Canyon, White Sands Monument… But the most precious and memorable for me was Zion National Park in Utah. This canyon is a unique and special place. First, because you access it from the bottom, unlike most of the other canyons, which you observe from cliff tops, such as the Grand Canyon. Thus, as you drive along the road, leading into Zion National Park, you look upward into the magnificent cliffs and rock temples. Small hiking trails lead up to waterfalls, arches and breathtaking views.

The cliffs of Zion National Park are built of Navajo Sandstone and display aeolian deposits, which have been shaped by winds, on a massive scale. They are the remnants of an ancient fossil-bearing sand desert, one of the greatest and largest wind-shaped environments that has ever existed on Earth.

In the Early Jurassic, up to 200 million years ago, the Navajo desert covered most of the Colorado Plateau (which today includes the states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona). Fossils, found in these sand deposits, include ancient trees, dinosaur footprints and rare dinosaur bones.

In Zion National Park, the thickness of sand deposits reaches 762 m. Beautiful cross-beds are cross-sections through fossilized towering sand dunes. They indicate the direction of the ancient winds, which were mainly responsible for moving and accumulating the sand in the Navajo desert. On the top, the Navajo sandstone is abruptly truncated by a regional unconformity, which indicates the erosion of the overlying sediments, and is covered by Middle Jurassic sediments. In remains unknown how much of the Navajo sandstone was eroded from the top of the formation during this weathering episode. It might be that the thickness and height of the Navajo sand dunes used to be even more impressive than it is now.

The cliffs of Zion National Park. Pictured is Checkerboard Mesa (South-Eastern entrance to the Zion National Park. Credit: Credit: Elizaveta Kovaleva.

By Elizaveta Kovaleva, post-doctoral researcher at University of the Free State, in South Africa

Movement of ancient sand is one of the winners of the 2017 Imaggeo Photo Contest.

References

Ron Blakey and Wayne Ranney, Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau, Grand Canyon Association, 2008, p.156.

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

 

GeoTalk: Hellishly hot period contributed to one of the most catastrophic mass extinctions of Earth’s history

GeoTalk: Hellishly hot period contributed to one of the most catastrophic mass extinctions of Earth’s history

Geotalk is a regular feature highlighting early career researchers and their work. Following the EGU General Assembly, we spoke to Yadong Sun, the winner of a 2017 Arne Richter Award for Outstanding Early Career Scientists, about his work on understanding mass-extinctions. Using a unique combination of sedimentological, palaeontological and geochemical techniques Yadong was able to identify some of the causes of the end-Permian mass extinction, which saw the most catastrophic diversity loss of the Phanerozoic. 

Thank you for talking to us today! Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little more about your career path so far?

Many thanks for inviting me here. I am currently working at the GeoZentrum Nordbayern, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg as a post-doc researcher.

I grew up in a small coastal town called Haiyang, east to the major city Tsingtao in North China. I moved to central China for university and majored in Geology at the China University of Geosciences (Wuhan) in 2004-2008.

This was followed by an exciting, 5 years split-site PhD program in which I spent two and a half years in China for field work and palaeontological training; half a year at Erlangen Germany for stable isotope and geochemical studies and the final 2 years at the University of Leeds, UK for training in sedimentology.

After my PhD, I successfully applied a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and become an honourable Humboldtian.

In late 2015, two years after my PhD, I had 31 peer-reviewed papers including two in Science but was not fully prepared for the job market. It was already near the end of my fellowship. I only applied for one job—the O.K. Earl postdoc fellowship at the California Institute of Technology, US, but I didn’t get it. Completely unprepared for the situation, I was unemployed for about half a year.

I considered this the first setback in my early career. It taught me a valuable lesson; since I applied various research funding and fellowships and have never failed.

In early 2016, I was offered a postdoc position in a big project from the German Science Foundation (DFG forschergruppe) at Erlangen. I am very happy to be involved in the project and work again with many German and European colleagues.

Meet Yadong, pictured on fieldwork in the Himalayas. Credit: Yadong Sun.

During EGU 2017, you received an Arne Richter Award for Outstanding Early Career Scientists for your work understanding the end-Permian mass extinction. Could you tell us a little bit more about this period during Earth’s history?

The end-Permian mass extinction, which happened 252 million years ago, is the most devastating crisis seen in the Phanerozoic (the period of time during which there has seen life on Earth). However, the ultimate killing (or triggering) mechanism of this mass extinction is not fully understood and has been intensely debated for years.

Many fossil groups, in the ocean and on land were completely wiped out. The end-Permian mass extinction had profound influence on the evolution of life on Earth; such was the scale of the dying at this time. Extinction losses appear non-selective; virtually no groups escaped unscathed.

In the oceans some of the most abundant organisms such as the brachiopods (two-shelled organisms), radiolaria and foraminifera were almost (but not quite) eliminated whilst the rugose corals, tabulate corals, goniatites and trilobites were forever lost.

On land, the dominant herbivorous animals, the pareiasaurs, together with the gorgonopsids, the top predators, were lost. They lived in a world in which the dominant trees were the seed-bearing gymnosperms (e.g. glossopterids, gigantopterids, cordaites). All these groups, together with many other animals, including diverse insect groups, failed to survive the extinction.

After the mass extinction, the Early Triassic world was a time of extraordinary low diversity with the same monotonous communities found everywhere. For example, there is a 5 million year gap during which corals are not found in the rock record.

On land this included assemblages dominated by a shrub-like tree fern called Dicroidium, whilst the dominant animal was Lystrosaurus a pig-sized herbivore, belonging to a group called the dicynodonts.

In the world’s oceans, in the immediate aftermath of the extinction, it was the mollusks which occurred in the greatest numbers; a bivalve called Claraia was prolifically abundant just about everywhere.

It took an unusually long time (around 4-5 million years) for the biosphere to start recovering from the end-Permian mass extinction. This is much longer than after other mass extinctions and has lead scientists to speculate that the harsh conditions, responsible for the extinction in the first place, may have persisted for long afterwards.

At the same time, ocean chemistry was probably very different to modern day Earth. The oxygen levels in seawater were very low.

Despite the debate, what do scientists know about the causes of the end-Permian extinction?

The causes of the end-Permian mass extinction are, as a matter of fact, not perfectly understood. There are many different hypotheses. The key is to test the different hypotheses.

At the moment, we know with quite some certainty that anoxia (no free oxygen in seawater) and high temperatures both likely contributed to the end-Permian mass extinction.

Around the time of the extinction, there was massive volcanic activity in present day Siberia, known as the Siberian Traps. The lavas they left behind are known as the Siberian flood basalts. The eruption of the super volcano triggered global warming, voluminous volcanic CO2 inject to the atmosphere could lead to ocean acidification. This is because CO2 reacts with water and becomes carbonic acid (CO2 + H2O ↔ H2CO3). This is a very new and popular hypothesis to explain the mass extinction.

However, I myself am not fully convinced by the ocean acidification theory for the end-Permian mass extinction because there is a lot of evidence for carbonate over-saturated conditions at this time too. Carbonate saturated conditions mean that seawater contains very high concentrations of species such as CO32- and HCO3. They easily combine with Ca2+ and precipice as limestone and calcite cements. High concentrations CO32- and HCO3 have a buffering effect which inhibit the reaction forming carbonic acid. Therefore, it is not really possible to have ocean acidification and carbonate over-saturation at the same time. More detailed studies are needed to investigate this paradox.

In the past, some scientists proposed a sudden cooling or bolide impact as potential causes for the extinction, but these theories are no longer popular because of a lack of evidence.

In your presentation at EGU 2017 you spoke about how the extinction was accompanied by a rapid temperature rise, from 25 °C to 32 °C. How were you able to establish that such a significant temperature rise occurred?

I use oxygen isotope thermometry from conodonts: an extinct eel-like creature. Oxygen has two isotopes—18O and 16O. The ratio of the two isotopes in an animal is proportional to temperature from the oxygen isotope ratio of the water they ingest.

Reconstruction of temperatures for the end-Permian mass extinction is not easy since most shelly fossils died out. Those preserved are often subject to burial changes and therefore no longer preserve the original environmental information.

On the other hand, conodonts survived the end-Permian mass-extinction and are ideal for oxygen isotope analyses. They are very tiny (typically ~300 micro meter long) and consist of biogenic apatite. Apatite has 4 very robust P-O chemical bonds and very difficult to be altered after burial. Therefore, measuring oxygen isotope ratio of conodonts could help solved the problem.

However, because conodonts are so small and rare in rocks, I had to collect 2 tons of carbonate rocks dissolve the rock in acetic acid and pick the conodonts one by one under a binocular microscope, to get a big enough sample! It was a lot of work and required a lot of patience.

A Triassic conodont from south China. Credit: Yadong Sun.

That certainly sounds like painstaking work! Once the tedious task was completed, how were you able to link the temperature records you deciphered from the conodonts with the mass extinction?

All living creatures have a thermal threshold, also called thermal tolerance – the temperature range which they are able to tolerate to survive. It varies significantly amongst different groups. Most animals, on land or in the oceans, cannot live in environments that are consistently hotter than 47 °C. However, certain groups of desert ants and scorpions have developed special mechanisms and can survive 53 °C for a very brief time. Another example is the elevated seawater temperatures which contribute to high death rates of corals.

High temperatures supress photosynthesis. In most C3 plants, at temperatures above 35°C, photorespiration exceeds photosynthesis, wasting the energy generated by the plants.  in most C3 plants. Under such circumstances, C3 plants will stop growing and probably die shortly after. Maximum growth rates of single-celled algae in the ocean are normally achieved below 40°C.

A significant rise in seawater temperatures has many negative effects. One of them is that the amount of oxygen dissolved in seawater decreases as temperature rises, while animals use up more energy to perform even the simplest tasks. . This is one reason for which most marine groups prefer environments < 35°C.

These observations tie mass extinctions with temperature increase.

For our study, once the oxygen isotope ratios of conodonts are measured, we can use it in an equation to calculate the absolute temperature of the seawater at the time. The results show significantly higher ocean temperatures than today. We know the equation explains the relationship accurately because it was established in aquariums where scientists raise fishes in controlled temperatures. As temperatures are known, they measure the oxygen isotope of the water and fish teeth and established the oxygen isotope—temperature equation.

What do your findings mean for the current understanding of the causes of the mass-extinction?

This is an excellent question. There are quite some studies which postulate global warming as a potential killing mechanism for the end-Permian mass extinction. There is a link between the timing of the massive eruptions of the Siberia Large Igneous Province and the end-Permian mass extinction, which has led scientists to propose different warming scenarios. They are all correct, but they are not able to show direct evidence for their hypotheses or quantify the temperature change.

Our data show the worst-case scenario in terms of temperature rise and the mass mortality of species. This does not necessarily imply high temperatures killed everything because many adverse environmental conditions could trigger synergetic effects (for example low oxygen levels). Our study set an example for comparison.

Our results mean that rapid warming, such as what we are encountering at present, is truly worrying.

Yadong, thank you for speaking to me about your reasearch. As an award winner with an impressive career so far, what advice do you have for early career scientists?

Europe is probably the best place in the world for young scientists. It provides considerable fair funding opportunities and many possibilities to work with other scientists in the EU.

However, it is undeniable that fixed positions in academia are rare and highly competitive. It is always the best to go to meetings/conferences at least once a year to showcase your research, meet colleagues and seek collaboration opportunities.

Research projects nowadays are much more complex. Many tasks cannot be done by one person or one team. The success of a young scientist cannot be achieved without the support of senior scientists as well as the community.

Also don’t be shy to contact people and always be prepared for the job market. In the post-doc stage, if your project is very challenging, the best strategy is to work on some small projects on the side and keep publishing.

Interview by Laura Roberts Artal (EGU Communications Officer)

References

Sun, Y. Climate warming during and in the aftermath of the End-Permian mass extinction, Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 19, EGU2017-2304, 2017, EGU General Assembly, 2017