Describe your research using the ten-hundred most common words…

Online comic “xkcd” set a trend for explaining complicated things using only the 1000 most common words when they created this schematic of Saturn-V.  They have subsequently published more on how microwaves, plate tectonics and your computer work, using the same style.

tornado safety
Useful safety advice from xkcd

So we thought we’d jump on the bandwagon in a recent PhD group meeting, and have a go at explaining our research topics using the ten-hundred most common words. You can have a go yourselves, and tweet us with it @SocialMetwork on Twitter. Enjoy!

The Role of the Asian Summer Monsoon in European Summer Climate Variability – Jonathan Beverley

I look at how heavy rain in in-dear in summer makes rain, sun, wind and other things happen in your-up. This happens by big waves high up in the sky moving around the world. We might be able to use this to make a long know-before better and to help people live longer and not lose money.

Contribution of near-infrared bands of greenhouse gases to radiative forcing – Rachael Byrom

I study how the sun’s light warms the sky. This happens when these really tiny things in the air that we can’t see eat the sun’s light which then makes the sky warmer. I use computers to look into how this happens, especially how exactly the really tiny things eat the sun’s light and how this leads to warming. By this I mean, if I add lots of the tiny things to a pretend computer sky, all over the world, then will the sky also warm over all of the world too and by how much will it warm? This might be interesting for people who lead the world so that they can see how much of the really tiny things we should be allowed to put into the sky.

Wind profile effects on gravity wave drag and their impact on the global atmospheric circulation – Holly Turner

I look at waves in the air over high places and how they slow down the wind. When the wind gets faster the higher up you go, it changes how it slows down. I want to use this to make computer wind pictures better.

The pulsatory nature of Bagana volcano, Papua New Guinea – Rebecca Couchman-Crook

To be a doctor, I look at a fire-breathing ground thing with smoke and rocks on a hot place surrounded by water. I look at space pictures to understand the relationships between the air that smells and fire-rock bits in the air, and other stuff. It’s a very angry fire-breathing ground thing and might kill the near-by humans

Surface fluxes, temperatures and boundary layer evolutions in the building grey zone in London – Beth Saunders

I work on numbers which come out of the Met Office’s computer world. These numbers are different to what is seen and felt in real life for cities. True numbers, seen in real life, help to say how hot cities are, and how different the hot city is to areas that aren’t cities, with trees and fields, because of the city’s people, cars and houses. Numbers saying how fast the wind goes, and the wind’s direction, change in cities because of all the areas with tall houses. Finding times where the computer world numbers are bad for cities will help to make the Met Office’s computer give numbers more like the true numbers.

Cloud electrification and lightning in the evolution of convective storms – Ben Courtier

To be a doctor, I look at sudden light shocks from angry water air that happens with noise in the sky and how the angry water air changes before the light shock happens. I do this in order to better guess when the sudden light shock happens.


4th ICOS Summer School


The 4th ICOS Summer School on challenges in greenhouse gases measurements and modelling was held at Hyytiälä field station in Finland from 24th May to 2nd June, 2017. It was an amazing week of ecosystem fluxes and measurements, atmospheric composition with in situ and remote sensing measurements, global climate modelling and carbon cycle, atmospheric transport and chemistry, and data management and cloud (‘big data’) methods. We also spent some time in the extremely hot Finnish sauna followed by jumps into a very cold lake, and many highly enjoyable evenings by the fire with sunsets that seemed to never come.

sunset_Martijn Pallandt
Figure 1. Sunset in Hyytiälä, Finland at 22:49 local time. Credits: Martijn Pallandt

Our journey started in Helsinki, where a group of about 35 PhD students, with a number of postdocs and master students took a 3 hours coach trip to Hyytiälä.  The group was very diverse and international with people from different backgrounds; from plant physiologists to meteorologists. The school started with Prof. Dr. Martin Heimann  introducing us to the climate system and the global carbon cycle, and Dr. Alex Vermeulen highlighted the importance of good metadata practices and showed us more about ICOS research infrastructure. Dr. Christoph Gerbig joined us via Skype from Germany and talked about how atmospheric measurements methods with aircrafts (including how private air companies) can help scientists.

Figure 2. Hyytiälä flux tower site, Finland. Credits: Truls Andersen

On Saturday we visited the Hyytiälä flux tower site, as well as a peatland field station nearby, where we learned more about all the flux data they collect and the importance of peatlands globally. Peatlands store significant amounts of carbon that have been accumulating for millennia and they might have a strong response to climate change in the future. On Sunday, we were divided in two groups to collect data on temperature gradients from the lake to the Hyytiälä main flux tower, as well as on carbon fluxes with dark (respiration only) and transparent (photosynthesis + respiration) CO2 chambers.

Figure 3: Dark chamber for CO2 measurements being used by a group of students in the Boreal forest. Credits: Renato Braghiere

On the following day it was time to play with some atmospheric modelling with Dr. Maarten Krol and Dr. Wouter Peters. We prepared presentations with our observation and modelling results and shared our findings and experiences with the new data sets.

The last two days have focused on learning how to measure ecosystem fluxes with Prof. Dr. Timo Vesala, and insights on COS measurements and applications with Dr. Kadmiel Maseyk. Timo also shared with us his passion for cinema with a brilliant talk entitled “From Vertigo to Blue Velvet: Connotations between Movies and Climate change” and we watched a really nice Finnish movie “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki“.

Figure 4: 4th ICOS Summer School on Challenges in greenhouse gases measurements and modelling group photo. Credits: Wouter Peters

Lastly, it was a fantastic week where we were introduced to several topics and methods related to the global carbon budget and how it might impact the future climate. No doubt all information gained in this Summer School will be highly valuable for our careers and how we do science. A massive ‘cheers’ to Olli Peltola, Alex Vermeulen, Martin Heimann, Christoph Gerbig, Greet Maenhout, Wouter Peters, Maarten Krol, Anders Lindroth , Kadmiel Maseyk, Timo Vesala, and all the staff at the Hyytiälä field station.

This post only scratches the surface of all of the incredible material we were able to cover in the 4th ICOS Summer School, not to mention the amazing group of scientists that we met in Finland, who I really look forward to keeping in touch over the course of the years!


Managing your supervisor

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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.