Hutton Postgraduate Student Conference 2017

“In this recent Dirt Doctors post, Grant Campbell reviews the recent James Hutton Institute Postgraduate Student event in Birnam”

On Thursday and Friday last week, I joined PhD students from Aberdeen and Dundee James Hutton Institute sites for our Annual Postgraduate Student event at Birnam Arts Centre. I go to this event every year for a number of reasons. Firstly, it provides an excellent opportunity for PhD students like myself to showcase the science we’ve been up to over the course of the last few months. Secondly, the event provides opportunities to broaden everyone’s awareness of the wide range of other projects that students are up to and thirdly, it gives me an excellent incentive to network with other people, particularly those I haven’t seen in ages, and pick up a few ideas on future work and opportunities.

The day started with a welcome address from the head of the Postgraduate School, Craig Simpson and then moved on to second year presentations which centred around themes of wind energy conflicts, biofuel production, grasslands, the role of phosphorus in carbon sequestration, barley for brewing and distilling and nematodes. Afterwards, we were then provided with a very interesting talk from guest speaker Richard Uridge from ACM Training who talked to us about ‘Staying in Control of the Message’ – an excellent, quirky presentation which contained a sack of potatoes and a Frankenstein Mask! This was to give us some experience on how to deal with tricky questions and comments proposed when being interviewed by a media representative.

After lunch on Day 1, we then had a look at the first year Poster Presentations  where again there was a wide range of subjects that were being discussed ranging from potatoes, barley, landscape perceptions and carbon dioxide and methane fluxes in peat bogs. The standard of these were very high indeed particularly this one from Adeline!

The day ended with more second year presentations with pesticides, barley and root-soil interactions the main topics of discussion before an interesting networking session with Alison Bennett entitled “How to make friends and influence Nobel scientists or how to get yourself a free beer”. This social networking session involved us being split into groups trying to find out 5 things that connected us together – some of the groups found this much harder than expected! The second session involved chatting with students and postgraduate supervisors who we had not met before and had we achieved this for 3 minutes or longer, we got given a token which led to a free beer. Winner! The day ended with a lovely evening meal at the Royal Dunkeld Hotel where networking discussions continued.

Day 2 commenced with the final session of the 2nd year presentations which included sphagnum mosses, more nematodes, Rural Areas comparisons in Ukraine and Scotland, aphids, barley, seaweed and potatoes. After a short coffee break, it was then time for the Academic Dragons Den, the session where I and fellow 3rd year PhD students took part in. The criterion for this was to give a short grant-funding pitch for 5minutes on what you would like to do if you had some money to do some extra research and also talk about what would be the impacts of your research. I was third in the pecking order for this and my idea was to look at future ideas for Digital Soil Mapping, Modelling and Assessment particularly focussing on the soil biology/micro-biology component at GlobalSoilMap scale (100m) for GB. As you can tell from the picture below, I really gave a passionate plea to the panel! I really enjoyed giving doing this as it gave me experience of giving a short synopsis of an idea in a short space of time – something that can be very difficult for me (thanks to Rupert Hough for the picture)!

Plenty more high quality Dragons Den pitches were given to the panel before lunch. Afterwards, Jonathan Snape from James Hutton Ltd gave us an introduction to the world outside of PhD life and planted the notion of how to improve your entrepreneurship skills. Some more Dragons Den pitches were given and then it was down to who won the prizes in the competition at the finish.

Sadly, my pitch didn’t win a prize. However, I got some really useful feedback from the panel and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience as it almost certainly was another boost to the development of myself as a PhD researcher! I always enjoy the Hutton Postgraduate School event each year and I’d highly recommend events like this to fellow PhD students as you do broaden your horizons on what else others are studying and who knows, you mgiht end up working with others in the future…

Author: Grant Campbell

Twitter: @Stato_Grant