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Pippa Stevens - British Antarctic Survey

Our ‘A Week in the Life’ series focuses on industry insights from Cantabs as they intern in numerous sectors. Make sure you stay updated either via Facebook or our mailing list.

Hi, I am on a six week research placement at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in the Air, Ice and Climate team. I am trying to understand how and why the width of the tropics is related to the age of air in the stratosphere; this is important to help us understand global warming. What does a typical day look like? The hours are pretty flexible, but I generally work a 9am – 5pm day. Most of my day is spent writing code, running trials and manipulating data sets. There are around ten summer students currently working at BAS, and the variety of research between us is incredible: from analysing the diets of wandering albatross using chemical traces in their feathers, to modelling Jupiter’s ionsphere! Aside from individual work, I have a lot of interaction with my supervisor, and several seminars are given throughout the week. How did you hear about this placement? I found out about work at BAS through a friend who worked here last summer. If environmental science isn’t your scene, there are many fascinating ‘UROP’ (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme) placements available every year, which span the sciences. However, in science, often the best way to find opportunities is often to simply email the group leaders in the area you are interested in (most email addresses are on faculty websites!) and go along and chat to them. What have you learnt from your internship? I have learnt a huge amount about atmospheric science, and am now far better at coding in Matlab! It is easy to learn about scientific areas outside your speciality, as everyone is very willing to share their experiences; I have been lucky to have had a tour of the BAS aquarium, fossil collection and and ice core laboratory (at -25 degrees). A word of warning: don’t get too swamped by coding and huge data sets, always ask for help if you’re struggling, and always have an end goal in mind. What advice would you give to someone else looking to gain experience in this sector (or get a place on your internship)? Valuable research experience is easily available in most areas of science, especially in Cambridge and if you are willing to work for free; in most cases, your college will be able to give you funding for living costs/accommodation if the work is related to your degree. Even if research isn’t your dream career, a science placement will teach you valuable data analysis skills, and a huge amount of knowledge that will help you in your degree. All that is required is a bit of research, a keen email and one informal chat/interview with a supervisor!

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