Connecting through PhD student Rebecca Couchman-Crook

What do I research?

I started my PhD with the University of Reading and BGS in September 2017, studying the pulsatory nature of Bagana volcano in Papua New Guinea. It is an andesitic volcano, with a persistent SO2 degassing plume, making it the third largest volcanic source globally. It has thick, slow lava flows 100 m high that arrive in pulses lasting a few months, and has ash venting from the dome at its summit crater. Roughly once a decade it has a VEI 4 eruption, and we want to understand better the processes that cause this cyclicity.

How do I use blogs?

I am the editor for the University of Reading’s Meteorology Department PhD student blog – The Social Metwork. This has been running for about 2 years, putting out weekly blog posts on a Friday, covering everything PhD students get up to, with a focus on Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

Topics covered are anything from conference summaries, such as the most recent Volcanic and Magmatic Studies Group conference in January, to fieldwork and summer schools in Sweden, to websites perfect for distracting you during your coffee break. We like to make science accessible and engaging, as well as cutting-edge.

Perhaps most importantly, the blog provides an outlet for PhD students to publicise their recent papers and research from their thesis. There are posts from students at every stage of their PhD journeys, just starting out at conferences, to those with multiple papers and international conferences under their belt.

Taking on the role of editor of the Social Metwork Blog allows me to engage in science communication to a wider audience, and enhances the skillset I get from undertaking a PhD. It also allows me to see what research people in the Department are doing, and allows for networking and interesting conversations and opportunities to arise.

How do we increase visibility?

We tie the weekly blog posts into a Twitter account that I also run. There is a post on a Friday that advertises the most recent post, but we also use it as a platform to engage with other institutions and individuals.

Twitter is a useful space to get summaries of new science research and initiatives in a concise way. It’s very easy to improve visibility of PhD students’ work on there, as students retweet each other, and other accounts that the Social Metwork is linked to will also retweet. We had great success with a Citizen Science project Solar Stormwatch and getting public engagement with it via Twitter.

It is also an informal space where the realities of PhD student life can be shared, such as coding troubles and the highs and lows of writing papers. It links PhD students from different institutions working on similar themes, and is a useful way of keeping in touch with academics you have met and their latest research output. It is also a great way to find the information you need quickly using a network of people who have faced the same problems as you, or know where to find the journal article you are after.

Rebecca Couchman-Crook is a PhD student funded through the BGS University Funding Initiative (BUFI) and is supervised by Prof Geoff Wadge (Reading) and Dr Julia Crummy (BGS). The aim of BUFI is to encourage and fund science at the PhD level. At present there are around 130 PhD students who are based at about 35 UK universities and research institutes. BUFI do not fund applications from individuals.