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Thinking of studying earth sciences?
"As an international student, starting my MSc in a foreign country was slightly intimidating. How would this year differ from my previous education? How would I handle the transition? I could only place my nerves behind me and take each day as it came. With support from the department I eased into my courses and began a fascinating year.
I tailored my courses to my area of interest some, I indulged in a few
outside my comfort zone. This was the most rewarding decision I made
during my MSc. I expanded my breadth of knowledge whilst taking modules
appropriate for my intended area of research. Modules within the
Geography Department are also available to MSc students; geography
courses exposed me to research and faculty outside of the Earth Science
Summer research opportunities in
the Earth Science Department span the various realms of geologic
research. Whether your interests fall in palaeoceanography,
volcanology, or geomorphology, the research opportunities are there.
Throughout the summer my project advisor was more than available to
guide me through laboratory techniques and answer any questions I had.
My summer project gave me the opportunity to dive into a subject that
had fascinated me since my undergrad and gave me access to both newly
published research and state of the art laboratory equipment. Although
success in the MSc is largely determined by self motivated study and
work, the department support was always there. Faculty gave detailed
feedback on coursework and were more than willing to go over material
outside of class hours.
Along side modules, MSc students are required to attend the department weekly lecture series. This became one of my favourite events of the week. Researchers from around the world were invited each week to share their new findings. I looked forward to Tuesday evens where I was exposed to subjects I would otherwise not know about.
Looking back now I find many highlights in my MSc year. I enjoyed my role as the Student academic representative for the MSc of Geoscience program. This allowed me to deepen my involvement in the department; an open dialogue between staff and student was always valued and maintained. My most interesting course work consisted of a field trip to the south Germany. We had the opportunity to study the Nördlinger Ries impact crater that formed about 14.3 million–14.5 million years ago. This field trip not only united our masters class, but introduced new field techniques and exposed us to unique a geological site.
There has never been a better time to be a geoscientist. Opportunities after a MSc are by no means limited; from mining and oil companies, education, environmental consulting to climate change research, a deeper understanding of earth’s systems is essential. I could not recommend the MSc of Geoscience with more confidence. Expect to meet students from all over the world. Expect to work with incredible researchers. Expect a rewarding challenge."
My decision to study an MSc in Geophysical Hazards was one of the best I have ever made. It is a subject of our times, full of intrigue and fear of what our planet is capable of and questions why populations choose to, or are forced to settle in such precarious locations. This field of study is not widely understood in the outside world. My first degree in Meteorology and Oceanography caused much confusion and people would often assume I was an astrologer, astronomer, an expert on the zodiac or studied "rocks and that yeah?” Equally now, when asked what I study 'Geophysical Hazards' is simply not enough and I must reel off a list of "glamorous" hazards such as volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunami, hurricanes, tornadoes etc.." which creates an air of fascination amongst listeners at work or in the pub. Typical questions are "How long do we have before London is under water? Could a volcano affect the UK? When will the next "Big One" strike on the San Andreas Fault? Or will we experience an asteroid impact in our lifetime? As well as attempting to curb flights to exotic locations in an attempt to fight climate change my friends are now also worrying about the impact of a volcanic winter after the next super eruption.
I would advise students starting this course that they are about to embark on a fascinating journey to discover how complex volcanic systems work, potential methods of predicting eruptions and earthquakes, ways to mitigate floods and tsunamis and manage disasters in general. The course offers a unique opportunity to combine science with social perception with the key goal of minimising risk to threatened populations. Students are offered the opportunity to learn from scientists who have extensive knowledge and expertise in their field. For example, volcanologists who have spent years working at various active volcanoes, earthquake modellers from leading insurance companies in London, top hydrologists and meteorologists, who are pioneering up to the minute research projects on climate change or tropical storm risk. Students also have a unique opportunity to interact with experts from a wide range of industries from NGO's to insurance to disaster management. This assists decisions for life after graduation, be it academic research and field work at insurgent calderas or catastrophe modelling in the city.
During the course you will acquire a range of IT
skills such as GIS and Matlab. You will also develop your presentation
and independent research techniques. These will provide essential tools
for future careers. Day visits to a seismic observatory and the
environmental agency’s flood forecasting operations centre are arranged
as well as a field trip. This year’s field work involves a trip to
Italy. Firstly, to observe the flood defences in Venice and then to
visit the Vaiont dam in the Italian Alps; where in 1963 a mountain side
collapsed into the reservoir, sending a gigantic tidal wave over the
dam, crashing into the village below and killing 2000 people.
Students are given time for directed reading of published literature written by the lecturers and other scientists. Having the confidence to answer the questions posed by the lecturer during their presentations, without being afraid of giving the wrong answer is vital. You will not forget your mistakes, and usually the most obvious answer is the correct one. Speaking to lecturers afterwards is the best way to exchange ideas and find out useful sources of information for project ideas or careers. The demonstrators who assist during practical sessions are studying PhDs. They may have useful pearls of wisdom up their sleeve for potential research projects and you will find them very approachable. Utilize the model answers provided to formulate your own solutions and ideas. Coursework requires concise writing within strict word limits and you soon learn how much can be expressed in a few words. Extensive reading usually leads to an improved writing style. Lectures notes contain references which allow students to research further into their preferred areas of study.
Becoming familiar with a range of case studies of past disasters helps improve our understanding of potential hazards and how to mitigate them, i.e. develop preparedness plans and devise evacuation routes. Lessons learnt by volcanologists in past volcanic crises, for example at Mount Saint Helens in USA, 1980, Nevado de Ruiz in Columbia, 1985 and Pinatubo in the Philippines, 1991, provide guidelines as to how to manage a future crisis. Scientist must look beyond the immediate threatened areas and consider secondary hazards, such as mudflows and tsunami, to populations in more distal areas. Communicating with important personnel such as mayors and religious leaders can help gain confidence amongst populations and encourage them to cooperate with evacuations orders.
From my experience scientists are very open people keen to share ideas and debate a subject until suitable conclusions are reached. Take advantage of this as two heads are better than one. You are sometimes thrown in at the deep end and expected to solve problems alone such as forecasting if a lava flow will reach a populated area or locating the epicentre of an earthquake using seismic records from three recording stations across the globe. Discussing practical problems with fellow students opens your mind to new ideas and perspectives. Defending your ideas orally gives clarity to the argument you have formulated. There is usually more than one correct answer so, if you can support your argument with sufficient evidence do not be afraid to defend your point of view.
Undertaking postgraduate study is a huge commitment. Organizing and managing your time appropriately is essential, especially if you have a part time job. Finding a balance between lectures, research, coursework and revising along with some time off to relieve yourself from mind-boggling scenarios of inundation by pyroclastic flows or escape from a 30m high wall of water will be the key to your success. However, despite all the hard work, when a subsequent catastrophe strikes you may have contributed to a successful mitigation of the disaster.