Anna McGairy

University of Leicester


The early Palaeozoic evolution of Vietnam


  • Dr Tom Harvey (University of Leicester, UK)
  • Prof. Mark Williams (University of Leicester, UK)
  • Prof. Sarah Gabbott (University of Leicester, UK)
  • Dr Giles Miller (Natural History Museum, UK)
  • Prof. Toshifumi Komatsu (Kumamoto University, Japan)
  • Dr Phong Nguyen (Vietnam Institute of Geosciences and Mineral Resources, Vietnam)

PhD Summary

Northeast Vietnam is relatively underexplored, geologically speaking. There are several Palaeozoic-age sequences with abundant fossils yet to be studied systematically. During my PhD I hope to produce an integrated account of the early Palaeozoic geological and biological evolution of northern Vietnam. I will do fieldwork in key areas to collect samples of rocks from Cambrian to Devonian in age, and work with Vietnamese geologists to map the geology on both local and regional scales. The fossil assemblages recovered will be combined with lithological observations to produce the first regional stratigraphy and geological history for the area.

The fossil assemblages will also provide insight into major animal radiations and extinctions across the Lower Palaeozoic, including the ‘Cambrian explosion’. Microfossils like ostracods (bivalved crustaceans) are really useful for palaeoenvironmental analyses and I will use these to determine the environment the fossilised organisms were living in.

Previous activity

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Cambridge, where I did the integrated master’s in Natural Sciences. Early in my degree I did a combination of geology and biology before focusing on Earth Sciences in my final years. The Earth Sciences course included an independent geological mapping project, and I was lucky enough to map a region of Newfoundland, Canada near the town of St Anthony. For my master’s project I worked on the taxonomy of Ediacaran rangeomorphs, enigmatic frondose organisms that lived on the seafloor ~565 million years ago. I was able to do more fieldwork in Newfoundland for my master’s research (this time on the Bonavista and Avalon Peninsulas) to make silicone rubber casts of the key fossils I used in my research. I really enjoyed the fieldwork aspect of both projects and I’m excited to do more as part of my PhD!

Why did you choose doctoral research?

I’ve always been interested in palaeontology; I grew up along the Yorkshire coast where it’s really easy to find ammonites and other Jurassic fossils. My master’s project gave me a good insight into academia and made me want to pursue further research and produce original contributions in the field that interests me most. A doctoral project is the perfect way to combine all my interests: fossils, fieldwork and research!

Why did you choose CENTA?

The emphasis CENTA places on developing skills that will be useful in any career path really appealed to me. There is a real effort to give students the best opportunities for their future beyond their PhD – not just while they are on the programme. The collaboration between institutions is also really valuable as from the beginning of the project you are able to form a network across the programme.

Future plans

I hope to apply the research and science communication skills I develop throughout my PhD to a position where I can make a difference in the environmental sector. I will be able to develop good networks through both the collaborations with CENTA institutions and internationally through my supervisory team and on fieldwork.