EGU Blogs


10 Minute Interview – The new Science of Geocognition

We are back! After a few weeks without posting, we thought it was about time we blogged! I have a HUGE backlog of 10 minute interviews that I have to transcribe from EGU 2014. The General Assembly was a great place to meet lots of young scientists doing all sorts of diverse and extremely interesting research. I’ve already posted a couple of interviews I carried out at EGU 2014 (you can read the one with Cindy Mora Stock here and the one with Young Scientist Representative Sam Illingworth here), but there are many more to come.

Today is the first of those! I had the huge pleasure of meeting the lovely Hazel Gibson at EGU. We’d ‘met’ on twitter and I was a huge fan of the content she shares on the social media platform. A girl after my own heart, she is big into science communication and outreach :)! Talking to her was fascinating, her research is focused on the up and coming discipline of geocognition which is how people perceive and understand Earth Sciences. Think psychology meets Earth Science. Importantly, it explores how your background (are you a knowledgeable audience, e.g. a geology researcher, or a non-expert. e.g. a member of the public) affects how you perceive the importance and relevance of Earth Sciences. I wasn’t able to attend Hazel’s talk at the conference, which was hugely disappointing, so I can’t give you more details. However, if you are keen to learn more, Hazel’s excellent blog is a good place to start!

hgibson.jpgVital Statistics

  • You are: Hazel Gibbson
  • You work at: Plymouth University
  • Your role is: PhD – 2nd Year.


Q1) What are you currently working on?

I study what people understand about geology, from a psychology perspective: known as geocognition. It combines geology and psychology by looking at how different audiences understand Earth Sciences. A key point is, how do professionals, academics and the public (including policy makers and teachers – it s a broad audience and can be broadly divided between an expert/non-expert audience) communicate and perceive Earth Sciences.

Q2) What is a typical day like for you?

My time is mostly spent in the office; I spend a lot of time interviewing participants and transcribing interviews. I have to construct the interview results into a visual interpretation of what is in interviewees head. In a sense, I have to try and create a model of what they are thiking. I also spend a lot of time working on outreach at the university. I have recently been involved with the Lyme Regis fossil festival. To take part in that I’m having to travel straight from EGU to festival.

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

I am presenting an oral presentation at the EGU 2014 Assembly on Public Perceptions of geology. At the moment geosciences literacy models are used to build communication, if any models exist at all. But initial findings suggest that they don’t go far enough when comparing expert and non-expert perception of Earth Sciences because they are too logical and simplistic. When compared to a public model you get a lot of differences, not necessarily because the public’s model is wrong but because they haven’t had the training, so their mental models are different and structured differently, so it is misleading to think they are not logical.

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

I attended the unconventional gas conference and won a prize for her poster! This was a great achievement because the conference was mainly Industry lead. Presenting a poster on public perceptions of the subsurface to such a technically audience and wining a prize for it was very rewarding.

I would like to continue researching this field because it is a growing field. There is currently, lots of discussion from geoscientist about the importance of public understanding of Earth Sciences but not very much formal research. This means there are lots of avenues you can go down in this field, such as teaching. In the future I see myself teaching at Universities.

Q6) To what locations has your research taken you and why?

My research based in South west of the U.K. so I spend a lot of time in Devon & Cornwall particularly. These areas were chosen for my research due to there being a strong historical geology link, as the area used to be heavily mined and there are lots mining traditions which still remain. An interesting question I am trying to address is how does the cultural identity affects people’s perceptions of Earth Science?.

Q7) What is your highlight of attending the EGU 2014 Assembly?

The highlight of the Assembly is being able to meet other young researchers. You get very isolated as a PhD student. As an interdisciplinary student I often feel like strange, like I don’t belong to either research community my work sits within and that can lead me to think my problems are very much my own. The Assembly gives me the opportunity to meet and talk to people who are also doing interdisciplinary PhD. It’s nice to know there are people who are in the same boat as me.

Q8) If you could invent an element, what would it be called and what would it do?

Unobtanium – mineral that is in all the films. Solves the energy crisis and create clean fuel and clean itself up! It would probably glow as well.


Hazel undertook her undergraduate degree in physical geography with geology at Plymouth University. She then moved to Masters in hazard assessment, at Portsmouth University. Her first job was as an engineering geologist in Brisbane. The position gave her the opportunity to save lots of money, which allowed her to move onto a working as a volunteer in Mt St Helen’s as a ranger for a season. This role gave Hazel her first taste of public engagement and she enjoyed it so much she realised this was the career for her. After her time at Mt St. Helen’s she went onto the Natural History Museum in London and worked as a science educator and then moved onto a role as an Earth Science Identification Officer – identified what people sent in! She us now back at Plymouth University completing her PhD.

 If you’d like to get in touch with Hazel you can reach her on email or twitter.


Is it your duty to communicate your science?

Hello everyone!

Gosh! It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, I apologise! I am in the deepest, darkest hole that is called thesis writing. To make matters worse, the post today isn’t even my own! Having said that, it is a a fantastic guest post  by Ekbal Hussain. on why scientist SHOULD communicate the science that they do!


Ekbal’s main interest lies in natural hazards and he feels passionately about science communication and the importance of divulging our scientific knowledge to the wider public, particularly those at risk of natural hazards. He is currently undertaking his PhD in geodetic monitoring of strain accumulation along the North Anatolian Fault in Turkey. I highly recommend his blog, Climate and Geohazards hosted by Climate and Geohazard Services at Leeds University. Ekbal tweets at @ekh_rocksci.

In the post today Ekbal outlines why it scientist should communicate their science. I agree, we certainly do that on a regular basis by attending conferences and producing papers, but Ekbal argues we have a responsibility to make our research accessible to other, much wider, audiences. What is the best method for reaching those audiences? Undoubtedly face-to-face communication is paramount, but a a man after my own heart, Ekbal is a huge advocate for the use of social media, particularly twitter. I’ll finish with this, as Ekbal says, when it come to twitter: JUST DO IT!

After the really great discussions at the science communication splinter meeting at the EGU General Assembly on Monday, I felt inspired to write up some of my thoughts on why science communication is so important.

All scientists have a responsibility to communicate their science. To a large extent that is exactly what happens. We write scientific papers and present at conferences. These are all important forms of communication. However, I believe that we also need to communicate it to the non-scientists and the non-specialists.

Why? Well for multiple reasons: to inform and educate others particularly if the the scientific results could impact their lives, e.g. natural hazards and climate change, raise awareness of your field and the dynamic nature of science.

For me, a very important aspect of science communication is to inspire! You may one day become the world leader in your field but after you retire who will take over the mantle from you? We obviously love what we are doing, (yes yes, I know research has its ups and downs but we love the science really). So we have a responsibility to encourage, enthuse and empower the younger generation to get involved with the geosciences and equip them with similar communication skills so they can do the same.

We all have a responsibility to inspire, for without it the flame of discovery in our science will fizzle out and leave the world a much darker place. (That’s a really cheesy line, but I’m quite proud it …)

At the splinter meeting we discussed the importance of science communication via social media compared to face-to-face communication.

Undoubtedly both are very important and applicable in different settings. I am a great fan of face-to-face communication. Because you can directly share your love and passion for your subject. So be naturally appealing, be enthusiastic and energetic and use all the tools at your disposal. Be expressive with your hands, your face and your eyebrows because these all give social cues to the listener to become more engaged and attentive. There is nothing worse than an inattentive audience. Use your charisma to reel them in.

Face-to-face communication does not have to wait till you are in a classroom either. You can communicate science to your housemates, to your friends, on the train, to the person sitting next to you in the plane etc. Make Everywhere your playground and the World your audience!

In terms of digital communication…. just do it! Why? because you are helping to populate the internet with good, correct science. So when the concerned citizen wants to know about the risks of fracking in his/her neighbourhood and they Google ‘fracking risk’, make sure your blog is the first hit!

Maybe more importantly, you are doing it for yourself too. By writing blogs and tweeting you are developing skills in communication and dissemination of what is actually fairly complex knowledge. These are very valuable skills not only for an academic career but for a non-academic one too.

At the risk of waffling, I’ll end here and encourage you all to talk, write, be enthusiastic and engaging. Stop hoarding all that love for your science and let others experience it too!


Happy communicating!



P.s. Follow me on twitter: @ekh_rocksci

P.s.s. And check out my blog on climate and natural hazards:

10 Minute Interview – Live from EGU 2014

Today I had the great pleasure of interviewing Cindy Mora-Stock.

It was a great success as I was finally able to put a face to the twitter handle that I’ve been following almost from my first days on Twitter.  What’s even better is that I can safely say I’ve come away from the interview having made a new friend, as Cindy and I hit it off straight away. The final bonus of choosing to do some 10 minute interviews at EGU 2014 is that I’m actually speaking to people face to face, rather than arranging the interviews via email, you simply can’t beat having a conversation with someone!

Cindy is presenting her research on Friday morning, 10.30-12.30 at session GMPV37 Volcano monitoring with instrument networks: novel techniques, observations and interpretations – Blue poster hall B779. Cindy has also published a number of papers, details of which can be found here.

For these live interviews from EGU2014, I’ve introduced a new question  regarding the interviewee’s experience of the conference. Remember, I’m on the look out for people to interview, so PLEASE get in touch via the blog or on twitter (@lauRob85) if you’d like me to feature you and your research!

Cindy_MoraVital Statistics


Q1) What are you currently working on?

Seismicity and velocity structure of the Villa Rica Volcano, southern Chile.

Q2) What is a typical day like for you?

I would say there is never a typical day. As soon as I get into work I catch-up with colleagues and friends in the office. At the start of every week I like to make a To-Do list for that week and I set out to accomplish something from my To-Do list every day: that might be a figure, a section of code or writing something up. My day tends to end between 6-7pm dependant on how successfully I’m getting through the To-Do list.

Q3) What has been the highlight of your career so far? And as an early stage researcher where do you see yourself in a few years time?

The answer to this question has to be two fold.

Firstly, having had the opportunity to communicate science to people who may have limited scientific knowledge, through studying and researching geosciences.

Being able to visit and get to know places off the beaten track and the scenery of those locations is what really ignites my passion for science.

In a few years time, I’d like to be working at a University or as a researcher at a volcano observatory. Whatever I end up doing, I’m sure I want to continue to be involved with science through science communication, maybe through working in museums or a career in science communication.

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

I have two favourites: 1)The Chile desert – although I’m not a big fan of places without shade, the experience of being in a place without water, mobile phone signal, water or shelter makes me ask myself the question: If something happened to me out here, what would I do? The colours, structures and geology you can observe in the desert are incredible! 2) A national park in Chile (I can’t quite remember the name, sorry!). There is an amazing view point where you overlook a forest burnt down by a volcanic eruption, but in between the skeletal looking trees you can see new trees growing. That place makes me realise just quite insignificant humans are and how planet Earth would continue on regardless if the human race where to die out.

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

Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture! What your research focuses on might seem insignificant at times, but there is someone out there who does care and to whom your research matters. Motivation is really important!

Q7) What is your highlight of attending the EGU 2014 Assembly?

The opportunity to meet up with old friends and colleagues who work at other institutions and countries as well as meeting and networking with new people.

The short-courses and workshops are also a highlight for me. A couple of years ago I attended a Fourier Series short-course which taught me more in a couple of hours than I learnt during a whole module at University!

Q8) If you could invent an element, what would it be called and what would it do?

Transportanium – an element that would allow tele-transportation. It is important that it is good enough at its job that your body’s atoms aren’t chaotically rearranged once you reach your destination, so that you are still yourself.


When not studying volcanoes and their assocaites seismicity, Cindy can be found head banging at a metal music festival or bar! You can contact Cindy via twitter @Cindy_Sismologa

Some personal perspectives from a PhD student on the peer-review system

This is a follow-up to a previous post from September 2013 entitled ‘Soliciting peer reviews from PhD students’. In that piece, I summarised the responses I’d received from a number of editors of peer-reviewed journals in the field of Quaternary Science having asked them their feelings on soliciting peer reviews from PhD students. Some recent events, most significant being the acceptance of my first paper and being invited to review a manuscript a manuscript for the first time, have encouraged me to outline my personal experiences.

Reviewing my first paper

Late last year an email out of the blue from an Editor of a peer-reviewed EGU Open Access journal arrived in my inbox inviting me to review a manuscript. I initially presumed the Editor in question had read my recently-published blog post and was following up my expression of interest, but the timing didn’t work; I received the email before the post went live. I’ll elaborate on my experience of the reviewing processes in a moment, but after I had returned my review, the Editor kindly gave me some feedback on my review and told me how I’d come to their attention: it turned out a colleague had seen a talk I gave at a recent conference, the Editor examined my online profile and judged my knowledge base to be appropriate. This certainly confirms that aiming to give oral presentations from an early stage in your PhD can lead to unexpected rewards!

The Open Access profile of EGU journals means the full manuscript is available as a Discussion version; I spent considerable time scanning the manuscript while deliberating about whether to accept. I have no qualms in admitting I was nervous! By accepting the invitation to act as a reviewer, I was, in essence, responsible for deciding whether the rigour and relevance of the work was sufficient for it to permanently enter the realm of published research. This quote from Dr Stephen Keevil (KCL) in the ‘Peer Review: The nuts and bolts’ report on the role of a reviewer was definitely on my mind:

“…to act as a gatekeeper for quality in an area of science that I know and care about”

In the end, I decided to undertake the review because I felt comfortable that my background knowledge was sufficient to assess where the work fit in the current state of science and whether the investigation carried out met the stated aims and also that sufficient more specialist expertise I’d gained during my PhD would enable me to comment on the rigour and methodology of the research.

I was most anxious about my lack of detailed knowledge pertaining to the environment from which the samples were collected. I have a general idea of the local topography and landscape but I know very little about the geology, climate and landscape history of the area in question. These characteristics can have enormous effects on the sedimentary record and I felt this was not fully addressed in the paper; thus, several questions I posed in my review sought clarification on this aspect. However, this was not the principle aim and other researchers with experience working in the same region would not require such detail to be included in a paper and I remain unsure whether it was appropriate to focus on these aspects so much.

It was interesting to read the response from the authors explaining how they had addressed the comments from both reviewers. Looking at the final published version, my view is that the majority of my suggestions to the authors were explicitly addressed but a couple of my more substantial queries (related to geomorphic setting) were deemed not sufficiently important as to alter their findings. The Editor clearly felt their revisions were sufficient and what I believe to be an interesting and high-quality manuscript is now published.

Submitting my first paper

The acceptance of my first peer-reviewed manuscript a couple of weeks ago was wonderful, although I imagine the feeling of seeing it published online with paginated formatting and a DOI number will be even more gratifying! The process has been a tremendous experience and I cannot emphasise enough to other PhD students the value of going through the peer-review system at an early stage (obviously substantive results are necessary!). Obviously it looks impressive on your CV but the reviewers raised questions that I had never before considered (and neither had my Supervisors!); I have no doubt my overall PhD, not just this paper, will be substantially improved by this experience.

Diagram from the 'Peer Review: The Nuts and Bolts' 2009 report from the Voice of Young Science network.

Diagram from the ‘Peer Review: The Nuts and Bolts’ 2009 report from the Voice of Young Science network.

The three reviews were largely positive and some of the comments were quite pleasing. The reviews were very different in terms of their length, detail and principal concerns but all three raised very good points that I needed to address. One section ultimately was removed from the original manuscript; While deleting hundreds of words was disappointing, it also made me realise I had been rather narrow-minded and too focused on one particular area of my own research and had missed some of the wider implications. I think this is easy to do when undertaking a PhD but is definitely a useful lesson. One reviewer examined the manuscript in extraordinary detail and offered numerous constructive comments and I am extremely grateful for their efforts. While I recognise the time commitment required, I do hope my future submissions receive a similar degree of attention from reviewers and it has certainly inspired me to ensure if and when I am invited to review again, I invest equivalent time and effort.

Most importantly, the revised manuscript is without doubt much better than my original submission. The Nuts and Bolts report indicated 91% of researchers felt their last paper was improved after peer-review and I certainly include myself in that section. Please do get in touch on Twitter or the Comments section if anyone has any questions about my experiences.