Claire McLeod completed her Nuffield Research Placement in 2004 at the University of Edinburgh. She is now an Assistant Professor in Geology at Miami University.
What was your project about?
Evaluating the structure and composition of the subsurface using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). The geophysical approach to investigating the layering of the Earth beneath our feet uses radar pulses to image the rock layers underground. It is advantageous to geoscientists because it is non-destructive, you don’t have to dig up the ground to known what lies beneath! My project involved evaluating the rock and soil properties and composition at different sites across the University of Edinburgh campus in order to map the structure of the subsurface.
What path did you take after finishing your NRP and how has that led you to where you are today?
I knew from high school I wanted to pursue a career in the Earth Sciences. I had always been fascinated by the Earth, the landscapes and the processes that have governed Earth evolution through billions of years, I also love being outdoors and the field of Earth Sciences offered both. I was accepted into the Geophysics and the Geology program at the University of Edinburgh for 2004. When I applied for university I wasn’t sure which program would be the better fit for me but as a result of the NRP I accepted my place in the Geology program, as I realized the field of Geophysics just wasn’t the right personal fit for me but I strongly valued the experience which offered me the opportunity to develop my critical thinking skills as a young scientist and the unique opportunity as a high school student to interact with professors and lecturers in a higher education institution. This experience taught me very early on in my scientific career the importance of networking. This skill has proved invaluable. Since completing my undergraduate degree in Geology I completed my PhD in Geology and Geochemistry at Durham University in 2012 and moved to the University of Houston, Texas. I was a Post Doctoral Research Scientist for 3.5 years where I transferred my research skills and natural scientific curiosity to the field of Cosmochemistry and was provided with the unique opportunity to work with samples which were returned to Earth from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts in the 1960’s and 1970’s. As of August 2015 I am an Assistant Professor in Geology where I am fortunate enough to combine my passion for teaching with my love of scientific research and discovery.
Did your Nuffield Research Placement have an effect on the choices that you made after finishing school/college/university?
Yes, it helped me decide which degree program would be the best fit for me as an undergraduate student.
If you could give one piece of advice to Nuffield students about to start a placement what would it be?
Ask questions, stay motivated and engaged and make the most of this opportunity as it does have the potential to shape your career.
What would your advice be to young people thinking about a career in STEM?
A career in STEM can be challenging, rewarding, frustrating, engaging and incredibly exciting. What makes it fun is that science is all about discovery and every day you, your colleagues and fellow scientists in your field (and/or in other fields) are making brand new discoveries. You only have to look at the Twitter feed of NASA, National Geographic, NERC and Nature (to name but a few) to see how STEM fields are advancing the human races’ understanding of chemistry, biology, technology, medicine, geology, physics and so much more. The field of STEM is demanding but motivating and offers no end of opportunities for development, inquiry, networking and growth as a scientist but also as an individual. My career has required the absolute best of me, and there have been ups and downs, acceptance letters and rejection letters, good grades and bad grades. These ups and downs will continue but every failure paves the path for a future success (this may sound cliché but it is true). To succeed you need to learn how to fail, so don’t be afraid to fail! Learn something from it. If you want a career in STEM, make it happen. Obtain as much experience as possible and keep pushing forward. Let your career choice push you to being the best scientist and person you can be. But most of all, and perhaps this is the most important, whatever your career choice, enjoy it.