One of the highlights of each year for the University of Edinburgh School of Geosciences postgrad cohort is the annual Gradschool Conference. This year was the 23rd Gradschool, held at the Macdonald Marine Hotel and Spa in North Berwick, Scotland, and by all accounts it was another roaring success.
The Gradschool Committee is run by the students of the School, and is re-elected every year with first year PhD’s. The Committee organises a number of now traditional events over the year, including a ceilidh in the spring and a welcome weekend for new PhD’s in October. Since the School of Geosciences was formed in 2002 from the merger of four existing departments in the University, Gradschool has come to represent a hugely diverse student – and research – population covering ecology, geology, geophysics, human and physical geographies, climate science, meteorology, and more.
The focus of the weekend in it’s current format is to provide a relaxed environment for students, mostly in the first year of their study, to present their research in front of an audience of peers, academics and some industry representatives. While the talks fill most of the weekend, from Friday morning to Sunday afternoon, there are plenty of opportunities to unwind, socialise, explore the local area on field trips, and foster interdisciplinary relations (usually in the bar or the spa…). The social highlight is the black tie dinner and ceilidh on the Saturday night; the unlucky ones have to be up for 9am on Sunday, though, for the first session of talks!
Traditionally, the conference has been held in the North of Scotland, with locations over the years like Ballachulish, Strathpeffer and Pitlochry. I was involved in helping to organise the 2013 conference, which we moved to the Barony Castle Hotel in the Scottish Borders, and home of the Great Polish Map of Scotland. The Committee this year kept the conference in the Borders, helping to pack more into the weekend.
With such a diverse range of subjects covered by the School of Geosciences, the weekend makes for a fascinating variety of talks and posters. I will admit now to not attending all the talks (I might have missed more than a session or two…), but those I saw ranged from “Greenland ice sheet motion insensitive to exceptional meltwater forcing“, “Ocean Oxygenation and the Rise of Metazoans” and “Geochemical tracing of groundwater pollution from unconventional gas production“…to…”Capital Mapping: Geographies of Enlightenment Edinburgh“, “Walking and Talking in Gaelic: Where is the language (going)?” and “The Geomorphology of Viking and Medieval Harbours in the North Atlantic“. Being part of this School is, I think, fantastic for broadening one’s horizons and just learning science.
The Conference wouldn’t be anything like the event it is without the support of the sponsors. The money pledged to the Conference allows the cost to the students to be kept as low as possible, although it has been creeping up over the past couple of years, reflecting the increasing costs of the conference venues and sponsors tightening their belts. It’s always a balance between offering the best possible experience for the students and having enough money to do so!
The sponsorship received also largely over-represents the oil and gas industry and it’s current ties to the School. When Gradschool was originally set up, it was primarily for the students of the Grant Institute of Geology and Geophysics, and as such there was a much larger representation of students studying in oil and gas related areas (such as sedimentology, seismics, etc.). This year, research presented by students in areas directly related to oil and gas was thin on the ground, although our sponsors remain very much in this industry sector. To be perfectly honest, other sectors simply don’t have the cash to support our (and no doubt many other) conferences every year, and so Gradschool still relies on hydrocarbon exploration money to help put on the weekend. Despite the Committee’s efforts to get sponsorship from environmental consultancies, NGO’s, research groups and so on, we are more likely than not to be turned down. Ordnance Survey and the British Geological Survey are relatively long-standing exceptions.
Regardless of who our sponsors are, they clearly see the immense value in supporting the Edinburgh Geosciences students, of which there are many flavours. Ask any of the industry reps at the conference and they’re likely to tell you how competent and engaging the student body are, and how much fun the weekend is. Thanks to our sponsors, and long may it continue.