Asia Hoile

Asia Hoile completed her Nuffield Research Placement in 2016 at Cardiff University. She went on to present her work at The Big Bang Fair.

Why did you apply for a Nuffield Research Placement?

I applied for a Nuffield Research Placement after being advised to do so by my biology teacher and head of year. I was aware that previous students from school had participated in the scheme, however I didn’t know much about the placements before applying.

What was your project about and did you know anything about the area before you started the placement?

The project I worked on at Cardiff worked to understand why landslides continued to occur 8 years after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake and prolonged rainfall in the Sichuan province in China. For my Nuffield project, I chose to investigate how geology in Qipan Gully affected the rate of recovery of hillslopes following landslides. I had very little knowledge previous to my placement.

Was the placement what you expected it to be?

My placement exceeded all expectations!

I can honestly say that I loved every minute of participating in landslide research and have learnt so much from the experience. I must admit, the thought of four weeks of research with two students and two academics, none of whom I’d met before, seemed a little daunting to say the least. Despite this, we were welcomed onto the REACH team with open arms, and our placement ended up lasting six weeks altogether.

Never did I expect to form such close friendships with my fellow Nuffield students, to the extent that we are in regular contact and competed together at the Big Bang Competition. My supervisors’ dedication and enthusiasm for the project was inspiring, and always felt that my opinion was valued.

Given the opportunity, I would go back to the project in a heartbeat!

How did your supervisor help you with your project?

Our supervisors had the perfect balance of encouraging us to work independently and develop our own ideas, yet always providing us with advice and support whenever it was needed. Our supervisors always showed genuine interest in our work which developed my confidence, helping me to convey our project findings in a passionate manner at the Nuffield celebration event.

I believe this approach gave us a real taste of research by allowing us the freedom to focus on personal areas of interest and gather our own results, which ultimately led to findings that had never been seen before.

In addition, we participated in a reading group with our supervisors and other subject experts to critically analyse research papers. This allowed us to understand the peer review system, where papers are critically reviewed before publication.

We were also fortunate enough to experience the virtual reality sandbox, which allowed us to understand how topography affects the flow of water down a hillslope and hence where landslides or erosion might occur.

Our supervisors also organised fieldwork around South Wales to help us understand the context of our research. Visiting sites such as Porthkerry, Blaencwm and Aberfan in particular served as a poignant reminder of the devastation caused by landslides and the everyday threats they pose to those in the surrounding areas. It was even more astonishing to learn that the landslides in China were up to sixty times larger than that of Aberfan.

Has your experience helped you to decide on a career path?

Completing my placement has given me the confidence to strive for success and has informed me about higher education from the perspective of researchers and lecturers within the university, for example learning about completing a masters or PhD. Before attending my placement, I was considering applying for veterinary science at university. After completing my placement, I decided to apply for a combination of biology and geology integrated master’s courses.

My experience at Cardiff has made me keen to pursue a career in research upon leaving university, whatever subject route I choose.

What advice would you give to students applying for a Nuffield Research Placement?

I’d tell them to definitely apply for a placement, as there is absolutely nothing to lose. Even if your placement isn’t your subject of choice I’d 100% still try it as you never know where it may lead you!

Initially biology was my first choice of subject when applying for a placement, yet I was offered an Earth Science placement. Looking back I would never change my given placement as it has allowed me to make friends for life, develop new skills, allowed me to take advantage of opportunities and has opened so many doors, even resulting in me changing my mind and applying for Earth Sciences at university.