Review of the Year- Dirt Doctors 2016

“In our final blog post of the year, PhD student Grant Campbell reviews the year of 2016 for Dirt Doctors”

It’s hard to believe that it is nearly the end of 2016! So much has changed. Our co-founder Olly Pritchard has graduated with his PhD and moved onto other things at Arup. Our other co-founder Becky Whetton is on the verge of submitting her thesis, and a few new players have joined the team. Siobhan Gardiner‘s exploits with gaining funding and her travels to places such as China have been well documented. Alex Cooke continues to do some fine work having recently become a chartered environmentalist. A relatively new addition to the team, Tom Storr, has provided his views from an agricultural point of view. Jack Hannam continues to offer her expert knowledge to the roles of science communication and potential for knowledge exchange. Then there’s me, Grant, the guy who keeps the Twitter feed and blog post page ticking over nicely.

In a nutshell, 2016 has certainly been variable in terms of the number of posts that have gone live on the blog. Undoubtedly, some of you may have missed a few of these along the way. In January, Caroline Drummond from LEAF discussed how to deliver healthy food and farming for future scenarios. Siobhan was at a particularly interesting conference about Science for the Green Economy. Meanwhile, in Scotland, I talked about the flooding activities that took place in and around my home town of Ellon in Aberdeenshire.

As we moved into February, Tom MacMillan from the Soil Association wrote about where organic farming fits in a sustainable future for agriculture. I talked about an e-learning course I worked on with Professor Mark Reed at Newcastle University which focused on how to fast track research impact. Finally, Siobhan gave us great news regarding the securing of a Scientific Outreach grant from the Royal Society of Biology.

In March, Siobhan went to the Female Researcher Network (FERN) meeting in London, designed for early career scientists & engineers (graduates, MSc, PhD students and Post-Docs too!) to learn about employability and important decisions on your future career. In a relatively quiet month for ourselves, I wrote a blog on my fieldwork activities in Dunkeld, Perthshire.

April and May were also quiet but Siobhan wrote an interesting piece regarding her Soapbox Science training day at the zoo. She also wrote about post-graduate research and the opportunities for funding, provisions and the highly trained skilled job sector.

June saw a flurry of posts with Alex discussing SEESOIL Early Careers event, which focused on future soil science opportunities. At the same time, we had guest blog posts from Willie Towers, a retired James Hutton Institute researcher. Willie provided thoughts on his career in soil science (more of this to follow later!). Another post came from Digital Soil Mapping expert, John Triantafalis based at the University of New South Wales. I was once again out on my travels doing some more soil-related fieldwork training with James Hutton Institute colleagues, this time in Dunoon in South Western Scotland, full of midges and sticky weather!! July brought one of the more unusual posts of the year, where Cranfield University research fellow Joanna Niziolomski talked about differences in corpse burial and their effects on soil health.

August witnessed a diverse range of blog posts from a number of guests. First, Professor Jane Rickson had a topical post regarding the policy implications of the recent Brexit vote on soil protection and practice. Then, Becky Whetton (who I mentioned earlier in this post!) wrote a blog discussing her experiences attending the International Agricultural Engineering Conference in Denmark. Tom Storr also discussed his PhD experiences so far in sustainable soil management. The end of August was to become an interesting evolution of the blog as it was at this time when we introduced a new theme asking experienced staff members from a range of different organisations to discuss Your Career In Soil Or Plant Sciences.

This series has resulted in a number of guest posts, and towards the end of the year we’ve had some interesting and experienced people in soil and plant sciences. They include:

We’ve also had our fair share of Knowledge Transfer and Open Doors/Science Communication activities as well.

  • I wrote a post about the Open Doors Day at the James Hutton Institute where we had over 450 visitors.
  • The rest of the Dirt Doctors team (Alex, Jack, Tom) along with the help of Lynda Deeks, Iain Dummett and Joanna Niziolomski talked about the Cranfield University event, Festival of Flight, where they highlighted soil science activities taking place.

There’s also been some time for reflection as to how well the blog post/Twitter site has grown over the past 2 years. Co-founder Olly found the time to write us a piece detailing his delight at how well Dirt Doctors has done since his departure from Cranfield. More recently,  #WorldSoilDay on the 5th December led to many Twitter accounts using the hashtag to highlight important soil issues, opportunities and nuggets of knowledge that will have been interesting to many followers. At one point during the day, the hashtag was trending on Twitter at #1 which in itself is an outstanding achievement for soil!

Overall, we are happy to say it has been a successful year for the Dirt Doctors. We’d like to thank the 514 followers who follow us on Twitter and to everyone who has read our blog posts or tweets throughout 2016. We’d also like to thank Zoe Payne at Cranfield University for advertising our blog posts each month to the PhD students and staff associated with Cranfield University. 2016 has been an interesting year for soil and plant sciences and I’m sure 2017 will be no different. We welcome any posts from PhD students, staff or any interested parties who want to post or talk about issues surrounding soil and/or plant sciences. If you would like to write something for us next year, then please do not hesitate to give Siobhan, Alex, Jack, Tom or myself Grant a Tweet or email and we’ll accommodate you in as friendly a manner as we know how.

All that remains for me to say is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best for a healthy, successful 2017 and keep following the Dirt Doctors for more whimsical soil and plant science musings!

Author: Grant Campbell