Day in the life of Rebecca (PhD student):
Hi! I’m Rebecca – a 4th year PhD student at the University of Reading in England. I’m a meteorologist by background, having previously studied for an undergraduate Masters (MMet) in Meteorology, at the University of Reading and with a year at the University of Oklahoma in the US. Nowadays, I’m researching flood forecasting and predictability around the world – trying to find ways we can provide earlier indications and warnings of floods using a combination of meteorology, hydrology and numerical weather prediction! I work a lot with computer models, datasets of modelled river flow and precipitation, and forecasts. I’ve also recently started blogging about science, travelling for my PhD, and about life as your typical, everyday scientist over at theeverydayscientistblog.wordpress.com, or you can find me on twitter @BeccaLizE!
So without further ado, here’s a snapshot of a fairly typical day in the life of a hydro-meteorology PhD student:
8.15am: It was a lovely, sunny autumn morning today so I decided to make the most of it and head out for a short jog to the next village and back. Usually I head to the gym in the mornings but I’m trying to get back into running, and I love living in a little village in the English countryside, so it’s great to make the most of that!
9.20am: So unless I need to be somewhere first thing, I’m not really an early morning person. I know today’s going to be a late one, so I’m starting the day off a little later and enjoying a coffee and some breakfast after finishing a couple of chores at home and getting some fresh air.
9.30am: At the moment I’m a mentor for a free online ‘introduction to meteorology & weather forecasting’ course that’s run by the University of Reading and the Royal Meteorological Society. We have participants from various countries around the world and it’s amazing to see their enthusiasm for learning about the weather! I’ve taken myself off to my study space at home to see if there were any new questions on the discussion forum yesterday evening that I can answer.
10.56am: Having answered some great questions on the strange “red sky” we had here in the UK this week (caused by a mixture of Saharan dust and smoke from forest fires in Iberia being dragged up towards the UK by ex-hurricane Ophelia) and tropical cyclones, and having caught up on my emails and general PhD admin stuff… it’s time to do some blogging! Since I’m now in the 4th year of my PhD, I was asked to give a presentation to our postgrad discussion group on “10 things I wish I knew at the start of my PhD”, so this should make an interesting blog post with some of my top tips on surviving (and enjoying) a PhD! Usually I’d do my blogging in the evenings or at the weekends but sometimes I want to get my thoughts down in writing straight away 😊
12.30pm: Taking a short break to have some lunch before heading to the office for the afternoon. I enjoy doing my writing from home, but there are some things that just can’t be done from a laptop!
1.24pm: Arriving at the office for the afternoon – while I’m studying for my PhD at the University of Reading, I also collaborate with the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and I have a desk here too. ECMWF is a world-renowned centre for meteorological research and forecasting, and it’s somewhere I’ve wanted to work for quite a long time – so I feel pretty lucky getting to come and work on my PhD here! At the moment, the flags (one for each of ECMWF’s member state countries) are flying at half-mast in respect for those affected by the fires in Portugal.
1.54pm: After catching up with some colleagues and checking on how my data production is going (thankfully it’s going quite quickly thanks to the supercomputing facilities we have access to here!), it’s time for me to do some programming. This afternoon I’m working on speeding up a script which averages a river flow forecast over major world river basins, to provide a quick overview of the forecast for the whole globe, and improving the visualisation of some of my hydrographs. I mostly work with Python for my programming and data analysis, but I’m using R more and more as I discover how handy it can be for some of the statistics I need to produce on my enormous datasets. For my last paper, the dataset I was using had over 10 billion values per variable so programming is the only option for dealing with these!
3.22pm: Coffee breaks are essential! I had planned to just relax and chat, but actually ended up having a really interesting and useful discussion with one of the scientists working on the seasonal forecasting system at ECMWF – which should help with my next paper!
4.55pm: Finishing off some last minute prep for this evening and some meetings tomorrow morning at the University.
6-9pm: This evening I headed over to a local girls’ secondary school with one of my supervisors (Liz Stephens). We were representing our Water@Reading research group at a careers event, talking to young women about careers in research and academia, about our research topics, and about studying Geography / Environmental Science / Earth Sciences at University. It was great to see so many young women enthusiastic about studying science and the environment!
So that marks the end (well, after a very rainy drive home and a late dinner) of just one day in the life of my PhD! There’s a lot of computing involved at the moment, but every day is still pretty different – I also do some demonstrating for undergraduate degree classes and field trips, attend meetings and seminars on a huge range of topics related to my research, and get to present my work in cool places all around the world. When this much computing is involved, though, I try and get outside for some fresh air every day – here’s hoping the sunshine will hold up for more than a couple of hours tomorrow so I can enjoy the beautiful University of Reading campus!