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Laura Roberts-Artal

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.

Making the most of your PhD – Part I

It’s been a busy few weeks and one of the reasons for it has been that I’ve recently taken part in an entrepreneurship competition.

I attended a three day workshop, where me and my team were given training and guidance on innovation and how to commercialise research. At the end of the three-day workshop, teams present and pitch their ideas for an imaginary environmental start-up company in competition with each other. I wrote a blog post on the whole experience for my lab blog (, apologies for the shameless plug!), to which I also make regular contributions. I’ve attached a link to the post about the entrepreneurship competition here.

Commercialisation of research may not be an area of interest to all of our readers, so that’s why I’ve chosen not to include the full post here. However, the post very nicely introduces another post that I’m preparing, which I hope will go live in the next couple of weeks: Making the most of your PhD. In that post, I’m going to explore how, although the main focus of a PhD is undoubtedly the research you are conducting, there are lots of opportunities out there for you to maximise the skills you can gain during the PhD process. Like I say, keep tuned to the blog in the next couple of weeks for more on that front!

10 Minute Interview – Volcanic Lightning, amongst other things!

It has been a while since our last 10 Minute Interview, we thought it was time to post another.

They are proving to be some our most successful posts. Sourcing people to take part hasn’t been too difficult (yet!) but if you think you might like to contribute, Dan & I are always looking for people to speak to, so don’t hesitate to get in touch if you think you might want to help us!


Image courtesy of Sandra Karl

So, this weeks interviewee is Sandra Karl, for Leeds University. I  met Sandra a few years ago, at the BGA conference (see my post about the conference). At this year’s conference we had a lot of talk about, as we are at very similar stages in our PhD (the very scary final year) and have both been thinking about career options etc… If you remember from my post about BGA, Sandra gave one of my favourite talks and her research interestingly combines volcanology and seismology.

Vital Statistics

  • You are: Sandra Karl
  • You work at: School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
  • Your role is: final year PhD student


Q1) What are you currently working on?

My PhD investigates one specific type of volcano seismic signals, called long period seismicity. After doing a lot of work with numerically modelled data I have most recently started to look at real seismograms, in the nature of a case study based on Soufriere Hills Volcano in Montserrat, West Indies. I try to analyse the waveform shapes and amplitudes as well as apply moment tensor inversion and location techniques to the data to gain information on the depth and location the earthquakes were generated, as well as the physical mechanisms within the volcanic edifice that yield the seismic signals under investigation.


Q2) What is a typical day like for you?

After checking my emails and dealing with urgent matters right away I usually set up a to-do list for the day (yes, I am German and can’t get through a day without a list!). The rest of the day  I then usually spend on active research and some thesis writing. During term time student contact hours loosen up my day a bit which is great! I get to do demonstrating on various geophysics modules such as Time Series Analysis and Fundamentals of Geophysics.

And of course, because my job title is after all still PhD STUDENT more than one day a week ends with a brief visit to the pub with some of my PhD fellows!


Q3) Could you provide a brief insight into the main findings of your recent paper/research?

I am currently writing a paper about the main findings of my PhD. We aim to show that the commonly used point source assumption for seismic sources in tectonic settings cannot always be adapted into volcanic settings. In particular, the physical process underlying volcanic LP events is the rupture of a spatially extended source, the magma column in the conduit.


Q4) What has been the highlight of your career so far?

While at the IAVCEI 2013 conference in Japan earlier this year I, for the first time in my life, saw a pyroclastic current and volcanic lightning in the eruption cloud of the erupting Sakurajima volcano in Kagoshima.

Events like this really remind me why I chose to become a Volcanologist!


Q5) To what locations has your research taken you and why?

Since starting my PhD I have been travelling a lot, for many different reasons. Oral or poster presentations at international conferences have taken me to: San Francisco (USA), Vienna (Austria), Colima (Mexico), Kagoshima (Japan), Bristol (GB), Oxford (GB), Cambridge (GB),  and Durham (GB). As a demonstrator on student field courses I have visited Lanzarote and Pembroke (Wales). And to undertake field work for my or a colleagues projects I also went to Turkey and Montserrat.


Q6) Do you have one piece of advice for anyone wanting to have a career similar to yours?

Before accepting a position make sure that you are entirely certain what the project you will work on includes! In order to be successful in a PhD and stay motivated and enthusiastic you have to love what you are doing, and commit to it on a daily basis. Over the years I have met many PhD students who started a PhD because they ‘were offered’ one, and found themselves looking out for other options after a very short time.


Q7) If you could invent an element, what would it be called and what would it do?

Snadrium – The Snadrium would start to glow one day before a volcano is about to erupt! This would make eruption forecasting much easier, and could save many lives!

Sandra completed her undergraduate degree and M.Sc at the LMU in Munich, Germany. While a student there, she visited Colima in Mexico as a volunteer working at the Volcan de Colima, which made her decision do pursue a PhD in Volcanology very easy! Sandra then came to the UK as a PhD candidate in 2010. Volcanoes are not only her job but also her passion, and her goal is it to climb a volcano on every continent of the Earth one day.
Outside Volcanology, she does a lot of running and other sports to stay sane!

10 Minute Interview – Life as a Museum Curator

Fridays are hard enough, so we thought we’d help you get through the day with a really interesting 10 minute interview, all you need now is a spare 10 minutes and your favourite hot drink!

This week, we speak to Gillian McCay, assistant curator at the Cockburn Geological Museum at the University of Edinburgh. The museum is a fascinating place to visit, holding over 130,000 specimens as well as other materials. Gillian is proof that an Earth Science background can take you down many employment routes and she is definitely one of those unsung heroes of geology; keeping geological treasures safe and cataloged for future generations of Earth Scientists.

Vital StatisticsGillianMcCay

  • You are: Gillian McCay (PhD) (I don’t call myself Dr… it sounds funny)
  • You work at: School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh
  • Your role is: Assistant Curator at Cockburn Geological Museum and Teaching Technician


Q1) What are you currently working on?

Several things! During term time I am always busy making sure that the labs and equipment are ready for practical classes – the summer is over and teaching has started! On the Museum side of things I am currently working towards an exhibition based on the theme of a Victorian Cabinet of Curiosities to be held in the University of Edinburgh’s Main Library. This space regularly has exhibits of around 20 – 50 objects… this exhibition will have close to 150 objects – the biggest display the University Collections have shown! – with around 40 specimens from the collection I care for.


Q2) What is a typical day like for you?

My day is really variable depending on the time of year. I ALWAYS start by turning on all the cabinet lights in the display cases and checking that nothing is amiss with the objects on show. During term time I then have a tour of the labs to make sure everything is in order there as far as equipment and specimens for teaching go – this can take anything from 10 mins to 40 mins depending on materials required for that day. After that, if everything is going to plan, I will try and get on with some museum projects such as cataloguing some of our collection (the catalogue of our historical collection currently only covers about 6000 of our 60,000 plus objects), doing environmental checks in our storage areas or doing some admin for our museum accreditation.


Q3) Does your job allow you to have any academic outputs?

My job doesn’t currently demand that I produce academic papers, but I am interested in developing the skills to publish in Curation Journals such as Geological Curator. I am currently getting a lot of Charles Lyell’s personal papers digitised and hope that these could be the basis of a really interesting project.


Q4) What has been the highlight of your career so far? As an early stage researcher where do you see yourself in a few years time?

I have had a few amazing things happen since I started my job last year. I held a small object handling session for a delegation from the European Space Agency, which was great fun. I have also had the shock of finding specimens collected by Charles Darwin during his time on the Beagle that had gotten ‘lost’ in the collection here! As a permanent member of staff I could still be here 10 years from now and although moving to a bigger collection would be interesting I feel quiet attached to the objects I care for in the Cockburn Museum.


Q5) To what locations has your research taken you and why?

Currently my Job mostly takes me to Museum Store Rooms, so it’s not that exotic… but some of the things you get to see are amazing!!!


Q6) Do you have one piece of advice for anyone wanting to have a career similar to yours?

Get hands on experience… I was lucky and fell into museum/collection work, but if you want to get into it, it’s mega competitive. Some people volunteer for years before finding a paid position so it’s a massive bonus if you can start early and get involved with university collections during your degree.


Q7) If you could invent an element, what would it be called and what would it do?

Time-travellum (Tt) – it would power the time machine I would build so I could go back and see amazing geological events.


Gillian is originally from Northern Ireland but moved to Scotland as a fresh faced undergrad studying geoscience in St Andrews and later moving to Edinburgh to do a PhD. Although she still thinks of herself as a Field Geologist, these days she mostly chases “free living” rock specimens round the School of GeoSciences Grant Institute making sure they get back to their homes in the cabinets. Gillian enjoys visitors and encourages curious artists and members of the public to come and visit the rocks she cares for.

Introducing The 10 minute Interview!

The Ten Minute Interview is a feature we will run regularly as part of our blog.

Dan and I feel passionate about promoting the work of Early Career Researchers (ECRs) and also all the people behind the scenes who actually make research happen. The unsung heroes of our labs if you like; technicians and support staff. The key idea is that it shouldn’t take long to read these interviews, you should have enough time to do so whilst you drink your morning coffee or have a quick tea break in the afternoon. The interviewees details are at the bottom of all the posts, so if you find the person particularly interesting, get in touch with them!

Kicking off the ten minute interview feature is Elliot Hurst, one of our lab technicians at the Geomagnetism Laboratory at Liverpool University. Elliot has helped me out with a lot of my research, particularly all the fiddly bits associated with the instruments I use. I should say he is very patient with me and has dug me out of a hole a fair number of times!

Vital Statistics

  • You are: Elliot Hurst (
  • You work at: University of Liverpool Geomagnetism Laboratory
  • Your role is: Laboratory research technician


Q1) What are you currently working on? I work simultaneously on a variety of different projects, depending on the demands of the lab and the main ongoing research at the time.  Currently my time is split between carrying out microwave palaeointensity experiments on pottery sherds from the south west Pacific islands and cataloguing, sampling and measuring magnetic remanences on a collection of rhyolites and basalts I helped drill from Scotland.

Q2) What is a typical day like for you? I normally spend most of time using several of the machines in the lab, measuring magnetic remanences or various magnetic properties in different rock or pottery samples.  The rest of my time is divided up amongst making small repairs on the lab equipment, preparing samples for measuring and training visitors and students in the operation of our machines.

Q3) Does your job allow you to have any academic outputs? In a way, yes.  While I don’t write papers myself, the majority of the work I do in the lab contributes significantly to the results shown in papers, and in the next couple of years I am hoping to have my work included in several of them.

Q4)What has been the highlight of your career so far? I’d probably have to say when I went to Lincolnshire, digging up part of an early Iron Age site.  We were involved in helping trying to date the site using archaeomagnetic techniques, and our results may show that the site is one of the earliest examples of iron workings in Britain.  I’m really looking forward to see where my career takes me in the next few years though.  It’s early days yet!

Q5) To what locations has your research taken you and why? I mostly just live in the lab, but I have been to Lincolnshire for a quick excavation of an early Iron Age site, and I recently went to Scotland to help take rock cores from a number of outcrops.

Q6) Do you have one piece of advice for anyone wanting to have a career similar to yours? Keep in contact with your teaching staff after you graduate university.  I would never have known that my position was available unless my lecturers were easily able to contact me.

Q7) If you could invent an element, what would it be called and what would it do? Netherrack from the game “Minecraft”.  I know I’m not inventing it as such, but it would be awesome to have a material in the real word that could burn indefinitely!


I am originally from Ramsbottom in Lancashire, and I came to Liverpool in 2006 as an undergraduate student studying geophysics.  Once I graduated, I worked for a year in a customer service centre before starting working for the Geomagnetism Group in 2011.  In my spare time I enjoy hanging out with friends, playing computer games, and spending time outdoors.