Whilst most of the time a PhD student is locked up in a lab or tied to a computer all day, occasionally sent out to entice people into science at an outreach event, some of us are lucky enough to get opportunities that are a bit out of the studious norm. Last month, I spent a couple of weeks away from the trials and tribulations of research to attend and help at the Actinide XAS (AnXAS) conference in Oxford, followed by a trip to Wales to demonstrate a first year Environmental Science field course.
AnXAS was held at The Queen’s College at Oxford University and, as a Manchester-dweller for my entire university career, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the gravitas of our venue for the week. However, it proved to be the perfect venue for an equally extravagantly named conference ‘Actinide X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy’ in which XAS users from around the world came to update everyone on their work, the facilities available, and all the cutting-edge research that is currently being performed. The week proved to be both interesting and useful, as when I wasn’t donning my fetching sky-blue ‘Conference Coordinator’ t-shirt, I was presenting a poster and getting expert eyes cast over my current research.
A brief few days of research back in Manchester punctuated the conference and trip to Wales where I lent a hand to some of future environmental scientists in the field. Whilst being less than adept at the geology sections of the field course (I was somewhat naïve and flabbergasted by the vast complexity of rocks), I managed to delve into the depths of my undergraduate chemistry knowledge as we explored Acid Mine Drainage on Parys Mountain. In between climbing the dizzying heights of Cadair Idris studying atmospheric science, and combing the sand dunes of Ynyslas for biodiversity and chemical data, the students also explored the ideas of geological disposal of radioactive waste, which I felt much more comfortable explaining. The week was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the city and a fantastic experience in teaching the undergraduates.
As May begins, I’m finally back in the lab and the office to power on with the PhD life, however, I hope this brief piece has shown that being a PhD student isn’t all science and stress and sometimes climbing a mountain is one of the best ways to develop your career!