Why become a Royal Meteorological Society Student member?

This week the Royal Meteorological Society (RMetS) published their strategic plan for the period of 2018 to 2020, and here at Social Metwork HQ we thought it would be a splendid idea to reflect on the benefits of being a student member of the Royal Meteorological Society.

An important benefit in my opinion is that when becoming a member of RMetS you join a well-established community who hold enthusiasm about the weather and climate at its core. Members come from all corners of the world and at different stages of their career spanning the entire range: from the amateur weather enthusiasts to professionals.  nicole-kuhn-450747As a student, being an RMetS member can lead to conversations that could develop your career and bring unexpected opportunities. This has been greatly enhanced with the RMetS mentoring scheme.

RMetS host many different types of meetings, including annual conferences, meetings hosted by regional centres, and national meetings. Additional gatherings are held by special interest groups, ranging from Weather Arts & Music to Dynamical Problems. Meetings on a regional and national scale provide a platform for discussion and learning amongst those in the field. DEhXj9AXkAARyMM.jpg largeFor a student, the highlight in the RMetS calendar is the annual student conference. Every year, sixty to eighty students come together to present their work and develop professional relationships that continue for years to come. This year’s conference is hosted at the University of York on the 5th and 6th July 2018 (more information). After two student conferences under my belt (see previous blog post), I would highly recommend any early career research scientist attending this event. It serves as a platform to share their own work in a friendly atmosphere and be inspired by the wider student community.

nasa-63030Other benefits to becoming an RMetS student member include eligibility to the Legacies Fund, grants and fellowships, and receiving a monthly copy of Weather magazine. Most importantly though, through becoming a RMetS member you support a professional society who are committed to increasing awareness of the importance of weather and climate in policy and decision-making. Alongside this week’s publication of RMetS’ strategic plan, both the Met Office and NASA have published press releases stating that 2017 was the warmest year on record without El Niño. The atmosphere and oceans of our planet are changing at unprecedented rates: rising sea levels, reductions in Arctic sea-ice, and an increased frequency of extreme weather events to name but a few climate change impacts. Becoming an RMetS student member does not only benefit your career and knowledge, but also supports a society that is committed to promoting and raising awareness of weather and climate science.

Surviving the Viva

Email: d.l.a.flack@reading.ac.uk

Recently in the department we have had a fair number of students submitting their PhD theses and awaiting or completing their viva.

For many students at the start of the PhD the viva seems a long way off and can often be thought of as a terrifying experience. So why then do many PhD students come out of their viva saying that they enjoyed it? and is it really as XKCD portray it?

Thesis defense according to XKCD

With the help of some former PhD students (Hannah Bloomfield, Sammie Buzzard, Hannah Gough and Leo Saffin) we’ve come up with a summary of our own experiences and some advice for people just about to go in.

But before I get into that I’ll briefly explain a little bit about the viva. The viva is (alongside writing the thesis) the examination for the PhD. Its essentially an oral exam where you sit and talk about your thesis and the area surrounding your field. The viva can last anywhere between 90 minutes and 5 hours, depending on how much you have to talk about (and how much you or your examiners talk). The result from the viva is as follows: Fail; Major Corrections requiring another viva; Pass: Major corrections; Pass: Minor corrections (the most common) and Pass: No corrections (very rare), and at the end of the day it’s the pass or fail that matters.

So what can you expect from a viva? Well, as with each PhD each viva is different (hence why this post is a collaborative effort). Even people’s nerves are different, some go in feeling confident, whilst others are still fairly nervous about it (which of course is very understandable). I certainly was in the nervous camp, but I would have been disappointed if I wasn’t because I always feel I perform better if I am nervous beforehand. Indeed, many of us who are initially nervous become relaxed as soon as we get into the swing of things and the questions start flowing. Furthermore, many examiners (not all) will know and understand that you will be nervous so will immediately put you at ease by saying something along the lines of “I really enjoyed reading your thesis and you don’t need to be worried about the result.” This last statement is probably key for anyone going into the viva – by the time it gets to the viva your examiners have already decided the result, the viva is mainly to check that you did the work.

Looking at the recent experiences of the PhD students I have broadly classified the viva into three types, Presentation,Traditional” and Thesis covering described below.

Presentation (Hannah Gough):

Hannah was asked to produce a presentation for her viva. She did find this useful as it was a good way to settle into the viva and bring across the aims and key conclusions of her thesis, at the same time highlight what she felt was the most important figures in her thesis. After the presentation, the examiners asked questions on her entire thesis. These ranged from points of clarification, to the wider implications of her work.

Traditional” (Hannah Bloomfield, Sammie Buzzard and Leo Saffin):

The more “traditional” viva asks you to summarise your thesis for the first 3-5 minutes and then goes through the thesis asking about wider implications and where your work fits in, basic theory, parts of the thesis they are unsure about and implications of your work (amongst other things).

Thesis covering (myself):

Essentially, all we did was go through my thesis cover-to-cover discussing bits specifically related to my project (some minor wider implications/knowledge) and comments that they had on my work.

So why do people enjoy the viva then? Well, there is a fairly simple answer to this question. You’ve been doing work for between three and four years and now you get to discuss it in detail and the examiner can see that you know what you are talking about and will often ask some interesting and thought provoking questions that you either haven’t considered or didn’t necessarily view as important.

Other things that are worth mentioning about the viva, before going on to our collective advice, is that most of the time (unless you spend a while talking about basics of your area) the viva doesn’t feel it is taking as long as it actually is (2 hours feels like 15 minutes – I’m not just saying that, it really does!) – it’s essentially the old saying “time flies when you are having fun”.

So, that’s a brief overview of the viva and our experiences, so how do you actually survive it? Our collective advice would be as follows:

  1. You are the expert in your thesis – so don’t panic – your examiners don’t know as much about what you did as you do.
  2. The examiners are not there to trick you, they are just checking that you did your work – they’ve already made the pass/fail decision.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for breaks from time to time (your examiners may want a break too).
  4. Don’t look at the clock (if there is one in the room). All you will then do is think about how long you have been in the viva.
  5. Bring food (biscuits, etc) and enough to share with your examiners.
  6. Prepare a simple 3-5 minute overview of your thesis and know it well – generally you will be asked to summarise your thesis.
  7. It can be useful to read a couple of your external examiners papers – just to find out a little bit about them at the very least.
  8. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to be explained in more detail so you know exactly what they want.
  9. Eat something before you go in no matter how bad you feel.
  10. Try and get a good night’s sleep beforehand.
  11. Don’t be afraid to say how you would do things differently, after having had time to look back at it.
  12. You are the expert in your thesis – so don’t panic – your examiners don’t know as much about what you did as you do.

With that all I can say if you are facing a viva soon is good luck.

A special thanks to all the former PhD students that helped provide information for this blog: Hannah Gough, Hannah Bloomfield, Samantha Buzzard and Leo Saffin.

Managing your supervisor

Written by: h.l.gough@pgr.reading.ac.uk

You’re going to be working with them for a while. Supervisors, like projects, are all unique and have their own ways of working. Lots of us have banded together to give tips and advice on how to ‘manage your supervisor’ and by that we mean make the road towards a PhD a little bit easier.

For those of you looking to start a PhD, getting the right match between you and a supervisor is key. PhDs are already stressful enough without a strained supervisor-student relationship.

Know how they work

Supervisors all work differently. Some will leave you to wander for a bit before drawing you back to the point, and others will provide a map of where you’re going. There’s no right or wrong but sometimes their methods can get frustrating when you start comparing supervisors.

Find out the best way to contact them. Some never reply to email and others are never in the office or dislike being disturbed. Figure out between you and your supervisor the best way of getting in contact.

Personal and work balance

Some supervisors are happy to talk about personal problems. Others aren’t. Again, neither option is right or wrong, but it’s something you have to be aware of.

Ask for things

A PhD is intended as a personal development training programme and not just for writing a thesis and publishing papers. Don’t be afraid to ask to do something different, such as environment-Yes, internships, field work and summer schools to name a few.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Manage expectations

Saying yes to all the work they give you is only going to lead to disappointment for them and you. Be honest with the amount of work you can do, and say when you’re having a bad week. They’ll understand. Say when you’ve got enough on your plate already.

Know how long they take to read things, otherwise you’ll end up disappointed when the feedback you expected on a certain day doesn’t arrive.

Don’t expect them to be on email 24/7. Likewise, let them know that you’re not going to be checking emails at 3am either.

Know their style and expertise

Some come across more critical than others, some highlight the good as well as the bad. Their subject may make them biased on certain topics. Knowing their expertise allows you to tailor questions for them.

This is a lot more relevant to people with multiple supervisors, as often you can get two conflicting opinions and have no idea which one to accept. This happens, and it does teach you some diplomacy skills, but don’t go picking sides.

Get advice from other students

Chances are, other students will be supervised by your supervisor. Ask them for hints and tips of how they work. Ask about pitfalls to avoid and helpful tips. They might even have a manual on how to deal with them! There is a camaraderie between people who share the same supervisor!

If you’re still stuck and doing a PhD at Reading University, there’s an RRDP course by the graduate school called managing your supervisor. Definitely worth going to.