2. Field trips and Fiestas

Hi, my name is Phil Emmerson, I am a second year PhD student at the University of Birmingham and the Annual Conference Session Coordinator for the PGF.

This week has been a good week as far as capturing PhD life outside of the simple mechanics of writing and researching a PhD. The week for me has been mostly spent demonstrating on the first year field trip but ended with celebrations of the completion of one of my good friend’s vivas so has had a great theme of the beginning and ends of University life which is quite nice.

For most undergraduates, week six of term is ‘reading week’ a chance for many to do anything but read. At Birmingham however, first year geography students have it a little different. Its field trip week, which involves a trip to one of a number of locations in the UK (sometimes against the enthusiasm of the students as this tweet from one of ours shows).

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For the second year running I was demonstrating on the Monmouth Field Trip. So the first day was spent in and around the Forest of Dean, where in theory we show the students the ‘birthplace of tourism in the UK’. Popular because of its picturesque scenery. Unfortunately Monday was the foggiest day that the country had seen for quite some time which made visiting viewpoints slightly less exciting (as our favourite tweeter expresses nicely).

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Having spent the day in the Forest we then went to the field centre where we were treated to an amazing and well needed lasagne before the students were treated to a lecture on meteorology. This was a rare chance for me to catch up on my emails, which seems to have become a more sporadic event over the last few weeks as my PhD research has ramped up and I am spending less time in front of a computer.

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The second day of the trip was the meteorology day which was a chance for me to reengage with the physical side of geography (a once a year foray for me). There were two experiments to do in the morning with my job being first aider/horse avoider.


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The afternoon was group work and presentations so I again did some work of my own before sitting down to mark their presentations with the two lecturers and the other PhD student. Marking physical geography work is something that I find quite difficult because I don’t really know the content that well but amazingly the marks came out quite similarly across the 4 markers so everyone was happy.

Day 3 was the human geography day so I felt much more within my comfort zone. We were splitting the students between Monmouth and Ross-on-Wye where they would be investigating the ‘secret lives of Market towns’. My job was to be posted in Ross with that half of the group. The day in Ross is actually fairly boring for the staff members and I seemed to revert to more childish activities (away from the eyes of the students of course). The Ross Hedgehog Hunt around the local church is a first favourite, as is Costa coffee and tiffin.

On the return from Ross we picked the other half of the group up from Monmouth and then made a quick trip to see the Rockfield studios which is where a number of famous bands and songs have recorded, including Bohemian Rhapsody which we played on the bus while we sat there. I have to say that I’m a little surprised to find a studio like this in Monmouth but hey I guess why not. The afternoon was group work and presentations again, although slightly easier to mark when it is a topic that you understand better.

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After a late night of celebrating the end of the field trip we were up at 9am, ready to head back to Birmingham. It was a slightly nervous but exciting day. My friend Colin was being Viva’ed and although he had a fantastic PhD he was extremely anxious going in. He came out all well in the end however, and so we all headed in to town to celebrate with Mexican food and a few beers. We have had a couple of people pass through over the last few weeks which is great to see when you are feeling like the end is an impossible target.

Weeks like this are great, they give you a real reminder of all the joys of being a PhD student and the great range of people that you get to meet and interact with all of the time. Back to my own research next week though and perhaps weeks like that are a story for another blog post…