When did you start to think about a PhD, and what sparked your interest?
I initially considered entering PhD research as a recent graduate back in 2000, but because I started university aged 24 I was keen to start working as a geologist. My plan was to keep an eye on PhD opportunities and apply after 5 or 10 years. As it turns out, it was 17 years before I fully focused on the life goal and worked with Carl, Seb and Rob on a CENTA funded postgraduate research post. But as they say, it’s never too late to follow your dreams!
How does your personal background shape your research interest?
My love of our planet and all things geological has always been a part of me but I never had the chance to study it at school or college. As I grew up and travelled I was regularly struck by the magnificence and complexity of geological systems, and it led to the decision to apply to university to study. I have spent a lot of time in Ireland, so having the opportunity to study one of its most beautiful areas seemed like a dream come true.
Did you face any challenges when putting together your PhD application? How did you tackle those challenges?
Having been out of education for so long I found myself doubting my credentials and my abilities; it was a tough few months around the initial application. The first application failed to receive CENTA funding, so the research team and I put our heads together and rewrote the plan and application for submission in the following year. Thankfully, that was successful and here I am.
Any top tips for students who are interested in scientific research but may also be the first in their family and circle of friends to do a PhD?
I’m the first in my family to ever carry out research at PhD level, so it’s quite a responsibility! That said, I have a number of friends who have worked on and received their doctorates so it does have an achievable feel. Having a solid idea of what you will actually be doing once you start is a really good idea. Reading up on your area of research and posing plenty of questions to yourself can be really helpful, too. It all comes down to your desire to research your area of interest, so you need to be really interested and engaged with that. Building relationships with your supervisors is important, but so is building your network of doctoral researchers, postdoc researchers, published academics, etc. who are working in your field. Many will be appreciative if you get in touch to share your new area of research and talk about your thoughts on potential collaboration. To sum up, I would say ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ – so think big and ask the big questions.