Bristol from three perspectives

Choosing where to do an Earth Sciences PhD can be a difficult decision. It’s a real balancing act, ideally combining the research strengths of a department, the project in question and the city where you’ll end up living for three years. Here we hear about Bristol from three PhD perspectives: the leaver; the new arrival; and the one who stayed.

Pete Tollan
MSci Geology (Bristol 2006-2010); PhD Geology (Durham 2010 – )
IMG_0298Leaving Bristol was always going to be a tough move. For my own research interests, high temperature geochemistry and igneous petrology, the department is easily one of the best places in the country, and the world, to conduct such research. Despite this, I felt moving away from Bristol was in my best interests early on in a research career. I based this decision on a desire to experience other working environments, to establish new connections with other scientists and institutes, and also on the exciting scientific questions that my PhD at Durham University would be attempting to answer.

Often the transition from undergraduate lectures and minor research to full blown PhD research can be a significant challenge. Many people beginning a PhD are overwhelmed by the lack of structure and direction, and the requirement to quickly develop working independence. However, the excellent MSci program at Bristol, the diversity in expertise of staff, and their willingness to provide advice and help gave me the skills that allowed me to fit in easily at Durham, and made the early stages of my PhD research significantly less of a hurdle to overcome. For example, the research projects offered to final year MSci students are designed to emulate the style of research done during a PhD, and supervisors aware of the desire for the student to continue in academia encourage greater independence and accommodate work outside of term time. The regularity with which I continue to talk about Bristol, much to the annoyance of colleagues at Durham, is testament to the great start to research I had during my time at Bristol.

Elspeth Roberston
MEarthSci (Oxford 2005-2009); PhD Geology (Bristol 2010 – present)

I always loved Bristol from the day I came to interview for an undergraduate place. Since then I always considered the city and university as somewhere I would love to live and work. I chose to go to Oxford in the end and I loved every minute of it (except the exams…).Elspeth

I took a year out after Oxford, mainly for a bit of an academic breather but also to ascertain whether a PhD was the right option for me without the distortion of final-year stress. I quickly realised it was, and applied for PhD projects for the 2010 intake.

Two and a half years later I still can’t recommend Bristol enough! It’s been my favourite city to live in my far. It’s vibrant, dynamic, walkable and close to cracking country side. Coupled with the geophysics and volcanology research groups being internationally leaders, Bristol is the perfect spot.

Charly Stamper
MSci Geology (Bristol 2006-2010); PhD Geology (Bristol 2010 – )

Pete & Charly on a metamorphic fieldtrip to Naxos during 4th year MSci at Bristol.
Pete & Charly on a metamorphic fieldtrip to Naxos during 4th year MSci at Bristol.

I never intended to stay at Bristol for my PhD. I’d had four great years in the department doing an MSci in geology, but was ready to move elsewhere for the next step in my academic career. I applied, and interviewed, for metamorphic-themed NERC projects at other UK universities, yet nowhere was quite ticking all the boxes. Then an opportunity came up at Bristol to work with Jon Blundy on an ERC funded project involving volcanism in the Lesser Antilles. Although it was a shift away from my MSci project, and what I thought I wanted to research, the opportunity was too good to turn down (plus there was Caribbean fieldwork involved).

Taking the Bristol PhD ended up being an easy decision, and I definitely don’t regret being flexible and being prepared to stay. There have been a few odd moments, such as walking into the staff common room for the first time, and demonstrating practicals I’d taken myself four years previously. During the last two years I have seen a completely different side of the department; there is always a constant flux of interesting and cosmopolitan academic staff, and I think this has helped stave off any feelings of inertia. The worst bit is definitely that they keep your undergraduate photo for your ID card, meaning I’ve had the same horrific photo since 2006!

I know that some people in academia say that you shouldn’t do your undergraduate and PhD at the same place, but I truly feel like the most important aspect is have a stimulating project and inspirational supervisors. For me, this just happened to be at Bristol.


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About Charly and Elspeth

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One thought on “Bristol from three perspectives

  1. Funnily enough Charly (and Pete) I remember demonstrating those self-same practicals (and Arran) to you guys when you were 1st years. Way to make a guy feel old….

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