EGU Blogs

Make the Most of your PhD

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons, user Uri Rosenheck

People decide to do a PhD for a whole host of different reasons. Some are driven by wanting to explain the unknown, whilst others see it as a means of securing a better job. No matter what your reasons are there is one certain thing, you’ve got to enjoy learning and you’ve got to be curious. A PhD trains you in the arts of research, independent and critical thinking, and in geology, there is most likely a field or lab based element.  You’ll gain technical communication skills through delivering poster and oral presentations and no doubt, excellent organisational skills and how to manage your time effectively and efficiently (can you tell I’ve been writing job applications lately?). All this training is expected of a PhD.Whilst my main drive for doing a PhD was certainly the research aspect of things, I was also aware it would give me a lot of other skills that might benefit me further along my career. I see my PhD as a great opportunity to learn about a host of different things (not just science related) and enrich myself, and my CV, in the process.

So, here are a series of posts that list things you might want to get involved with to really make the most of your PhD ( the list is by no means exhaustive!). In today’s post I’ll list training opportunities that have a direct application to science (and based in the UK). The opportunities to develop your skills are almost endless, so stay tuned for a series of follow on posts that will include details of opportunities in other areas such as teaching, public engagement, policy, industrial placements, peer review… The first few posts will mostly cover opportunities that are UK based, but in future I’ll also list international (mainly European) opportunities. I’m very keen that these lists evolve and are added too, so please comment on this post and let me know of any other courses and opportunities I might have missed out.

And finally, before we do get onto the list, learn from my mistakes! Try and make the most of training opportunities and extra-curricular activities in your first and second year. I only began to appreciate everything my PhD had to offer in the way of training late in my second year and now that I’m coming to the end, I’m finding I’m wanting to be involved in lots of things, whilst wrapping up my research and thinking about my next career step. Juggling all of these is no mean feat.


NERC (Natural Environmental Research Council)

The majority of courses offered by NERC are free of charge (and in some cases even transport and accommodation expenses are covered). Current NERC-funded PhD students and early career researchers in the environmental sciences are eligible. However, depending on demand, a limited number of the funded places may be available to applicants who do not meet the criteria.

  1. For the 2013-2014 session, NERC currently have 42 courses on offer ranging from Geophysical skills development for environmental scientists to Marine taxonomy and habitat survey to Understanding uncertainty in environmental modelling. You can find a full and detailed list here.
  2. In addition NERC sponsor the Environment YES Competition – a young entrepreneurship scheme which I’ve written about previously.
  3. Public Engagement Course – I highly recommend this course having attended just a few weeks ago myself. It’ll give a lot of insight into how the media works and how to plan and prepare outreach activities.
  4. NERC Policy Internship Scheme – the style varies, so keep tuned to the website for further details.



The European Geosciences Union sponsors a number of Training Schools that tend to be quite specialist. The training schools are defined by a theme, technique or approach. You can find details of past and future opportunities here.


British Geological Survey (BGS)

The BGS offers a wide range of courses, both academic and industry related.  You’ll have to contact the training section if you want to know about course fees, scheduling and availability. You can find a list of all the courses on offer at the website. I’ve listed some example courses below.

  1. Description and classification of rocks and soils for engineering purposes
  2. Introduction to physical hydrogeology
  3. Quaternary field mapping: Upland Britain
  4. Tectono-sedimentary architecture and modelling applied to exploration, carbon sequestration and fluid flow
  5. Geostatistics


The Geological Society

The geological society offers a limited number of courses (which tend to be pricey), but does have a large number of free lectures all across the country on a variety of subjects. See the events listing for details of lectures, workshops and meetings in your area.

  1. Geomorphological Processes Workshop – The CPD course includes 5-days tuition, course booklet and learning resources.
  2. Forcing and predictive models of change Workshop – Consideration of future forcing of geomorphological processes and landform change are essential for modelling and quantifying hazard and risk.
  3. Groundwater Contamination and Remediation Workshop–  The course introduces the fundamental principles and factors that govern the fate of pollutants in the groundwater environment.
  4. Geohazard Risk Analysis & Communication – The module will review various approaches and case work on how the results of hazard and risk assessments are communicated and acted upon.
  5. Groundwater Modelling Workshop – The course develops basic understanding of the mathematical representation of flow processes in models.
  6. Risk Mitigation, Planning and Engineering – This module will cover approaches to geohazard risk management including planning and development controls, monitoring and dissemination, engineering schemes, current legislation, guidance and funding mechanisms
  7. Borehole Design, Construction and Operation – This course provides a detailed understanding of the principles and practice of borehole design and maintenance.

That’s all for now. Next Week: Generic PhD Training Courses.

I couldn’t have compiled these lists on my own, so a big shout out and thank you to the people who helped me along the way: Dan (of course!); Eva Lantsoght (of the blog PhdTalk, one of my all-time favourite blogs, which I highly recommend you follow); Chris Dean (of Imperial College, more on Chris in the form of a 10 minute interview in the near future); Jon Tennant ( our fellow EGU blogger over on Green Tea and Velociraptors) and also Flo Bullough  (our fellow EGU bloggger at Four Degrees).

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Laura Roberts Artal is the Outreach and Dissemination Manager at The Water Innovation Hub (University of Sheffield). Laura also volunteers as the Associate Director of Communications for Geology for Global Development. She has also held a role in industry as Marketing Manager for PDS Ava (part of PDS Group). Laura was the Communications Officer at the European Geosciences Union from the summer of 2014 to the end of 2017. Laura is a geologist by training and holds a PhD in palaeomagnetism from the University of Liverpool. She tweets at @LauRob85.

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