BSSS Early Careers Research Conference 2015

Earlier this week, the British Society of Soil Science (BSSS) hosted an Early Careers Research Conference at the University of York. Running since 1986, the conference brings together vibrant PhD students in the area of soil science.

BSSS regard an important aim of the conference ‘to provide a platform for early career researchers to present their work and network with their peers and colleagues. This conference is, therefore, an excellent opportunity for students to showcase, discuss and disseminate their work in a formal setting‘.

Both myself and fellow Cranfield University students attended. The conference, for me anyway, was the second that I have participated in and I was therefore excited to meet up with some familiar faces that I met at the Dirt Science course in March at Cranfield University as well as some new faces too.

The conference took place over two days but I (coming from down the road from the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen) decided to go down the day before with a few fellow Hutton colleagues and some students from the University of Aberdeen. The day almost didn’t get off to a good start as I nearly forgot my poster presentation which I had laid down in the waiting area at Aberdeen Train Station. Luckily, I realised before getting to the turnstile!! A lucky break! The rest of the journey down was fine (apart from the fact that it was a pretty busy train journey – I remember one of my fellow Hutton colleagues referring to it as like a cattle market!). Never mind, we reached York in one piece and with a good tea and night’s sleep behind me I was ready to get stuck in at the conference the next day!

Day 1 kicked off with a welcome address from Liz Baggs from the University of Aberdeen. This was followed by a very useful talk from Margaret Oliver, Editor-in-Chief of the European Journal of Soil Science, who gave us insights in how to write good academic papers and the submitting of papers; a highly interesting talk and for me, very useful.

The rest of the day was split into different segments. The first section comprised of Poster Presentations which took place over lunchtime before the first of 4 sessions of presentations. Poster topics covered such issues as greenhouse gas fluxes, pesticide use in Sierra Leone and the impact of lime on soil phosphorous availability and grass production.

My own poster presentation

My own poster presentation

Afterwards, BSSS Student Representative Conor Murphy of the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute led a discussion on what we, as students, required from the British Society of Soil Science. This led to an engaging discussion in which I’m sure some interesting things have come out and which have the potential to happen in the future. Personally, I contributed that in no matter what format, try and make sure your voice and science is being heard. Whether it is across social media such as Facebook and Twitter (I was tweeting throughout the conference using the #BSSSPG2015– via my personal Twitter handle @Stato_Grant) or through any other medium, make sure you are getting recognised. Science is dog-eat-dog.


Use of Twitter at the conference

The day was wrapped up with another session of presentations. It is here that I make a personal acknowledgement to my Dirt Doctor colleague (and co-founder) Rebecca (Becky) Whetton whose presentation on Hyperspectral imagery of a cereal crop canopy was excellent. This was despite a technical problem which resulted in her headings on her presentation slides disappearing! I kept smiling for her though and she did really well indeed!

A blurry Becky Whetton presenting

A blurry Becky Whetton presenting

The day ended with a drinks/mingling/dinner session which was great and furthermore involved a very interesting double talk from Wilfred Otten of the University of Abertay and Willie Towers from the James Hutton Institute talking about what soil science means to them. They had to do this in 20 slides, with an allocation of 20 seconds per slide. Definitely not easy! They both did extremely well, but I think Wilfred definitely showed his competitive side for sure! After all the drama, food and excellent conversation, we all parted for some rest before Day 2.

Otten vs. Towers

Otten vs. Towers

Day 2 kicked off with an excellent talk by Dr. Chris Humphrey, founder of Jobs on Toast which is a blog dedicated to help both Masters and PhD students find fulfilling careers outside of academia. He talked to us about effective CV writing and some of the skills and techniques we should be thinking about and using as part of our own PhD projects. This will be very useful when moving out of the academic bubble and beyond.

Chris Humphrey - Jobs on Toast

Chris Humphrey – Jobs on Toast

There were 5 key points that I took from Chris’s talk:

  • Capture your transferable skills
  • Decide on target sector/career
  • Get right work experience
  • Write a good application letter and CV
  • Tell a great story at interview

He was a really nice guy and I would personally recommend following him on Twitter @chrishumphrey as he has some really good advice for any person in academia looking at any alternative routes.

The day then continued on with more talks. It is here that I acknowledge 2 further Cranfield University colleagues: Alexandra Cooke and Benedict Unagwu. Alex was supposed to be chairing the first session of talks on Day 2. However, due to factors that were out of her control she couldn’t make the conference at all. This was a real shame for me personally as I was looking forward to catching up with her again and potentially follow up on our blog post that we wrote together whilst on the Dirt Science course back in March. However, Benedict did make it, and his presentation was on the application of organic wastes to restore the soil health of a degraded soil. Again, another impressive talk and unlike Becky, he didn’t have any technical issues…maybe technology doesn’t like Becky?

Ben Unagwu giving his talk

Ben Unagwu giving his talk

After a short break, Robert Hardwick and Andy Lloyd from BBSRC and NERC respectively, talked to us about the postgraduate and postdoctoral opportunities that each of their respective research councils have available; a very good mix I have to say. Will need to check out and recommend to people especially those who are funded by these bodies. Two really nice guys as well who certainly know their stuff. Lunch followed and after we had another brainstorming session on what the International Year of Soils 2015 and beyond should include. The conference session concluded with talks ranging from alternatives for UK Blanket Blog Management, modelling of soil organic carbon and organic carbon in drylands.

Al in all it was a great 2 days and I personally learnt a lot…and ate plenty of cake!!

Follow and continue the conversation on twitter using #BSSSPG2015


Author: Grant Campbell


Cover Photo: Victoria Burton (@SoilScholar)