The Polar and Alpine Change degree at Sheffield has been a personal highlight in my education and career

Oliver Barlett (PAC alumni)
Oliver Bartlett
Lecturer in physical geography
MSc Polar and Alpine Change alumni
PAC alumni Oliver Bartlett dicusses his time as a student at Sheffield and his career since graduating.

What has your career path been since leaving Sheffield?

Since leaving Sheffield in 2016, I completed a PhD at the University of Exeter in 2020 and since then have worked as a Lecturer in Remote Sensing and Geography at the University of Hertfordshire. I also spent one summer in 2018 as a visiting researcher at Stanford University as part of my PhD. 

What does your current role involve on a day to day basis?

In my role as a lecturer in physical geography and remote sensing at the University of Hertfordshire there are various tasks that make up my job. 

In my day to day, I am often designing and delivering lectures, tutorials, and practicals in physical geography and remote sensing. I regularly teach day fieldtrips, as well as longer residential fieldtrips to give students the opportunity to experience the environments I teach them about and to develop skills I mention in my lectures hands-on. I also play a key role in supporting and mentoring students, serving as a personal tutor and year tutor for first-year students.

Part of my role also involves supervising student research projects at BSc, MSc and PhD level. Here, I support and guide students as they navigate the research process and develop their own expertise in remote sensing and their chosen aspect of physical geography (usually something involving ice!).

Throughout the week I will also work on my own and collaborative research projects involving remote-sensing of cold-environments. This work includes analysing archival satellite imagery, large environmental datasets, and planning field work, as well as conducting fieldwork using unmanned aerial vehicles. 

What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?

As a lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire, the most fulfilling aspect of my job is the opportunity to inspire and encourage students to reach their full potential. It's especially gratifying to provide students with opportunities to explore new places and acquire new skills that they might not otherwise have the chance to experience.

Conducting research is a highly rewarding and intellectually stimulating pursuit. The flexibility to allocate time for personal development and contribute to the advancement of science is a challenging and fulfilling experience.

Finally, the opportunity to travel to and experience spectacular polar and alpine landscapes is a privilege that I deeply appreciate. During my time at the University of Hertfordshire, I have had the chance to visit Svalbard and the Swiss Alps for both research and student trips. The opportunity to personally enjoy these magnificent (and usually cold) environments while also giving others the same experience is a truly rewarding aspect of my job.

What did you enjoy most during your time in the School of Geography and Planning?

The Polar and Alpine Change degree at Sheffield itself has been a personal highlight in my education and career. Throughout this course it was great to be working at the forefront of polar and alpine research with likeminded course mates. Through the School of Geography and Planning it was fantastic to regularly have opportunities to go on a variety of field trips and to learn how to use a wide range of field and lab equipment. 

Were there any particular modules, lecturers or researchers who really inspired you?

During my time at Sheffield, I was fortunate to have exceptional mentors who inspired me to do what I do today. All the staff on the PAC course were incredibly engaging, enthusiastic, and collegiate, I felt a real part of the ICERS team on the course which made the experience all the more rewarding and encouraged me to pursue an academic career.

Dr Felix Ng was my supervisor for both my BSc and MSc dissertations and pushed me to reach new heights in my research skills. His guidance and mentorship have made a lasting impact on my development as an academic. Dr Ann Rowan was my co-supervisor for my PAC project and her passion and expertise in debris-covered glaciers continue to inspire my research in this area. 

The 2016 Polar field trip to Svalbard, led by Professor Andy Hodson, was a life-changing experience that fuelled my passion for research and sparked my desire to give others the opportunity to explore incredible polar and alpine landscapes they might not otherwise have the chance to.

On this trip I was also had the privilege of being taught by fellow Sheffield alumni Drs Tristram Irvine-Fynn, Aga Nowak, and Phil Porter (who I now work with at UH). Their passion for the Arctic and immense cold-climate knowledge were, and still are instrumental to me doing what I do now. 

Finally, a very close (and incredibly fortunately, safe) encounter with a polar bear (Keith) has also given me the story of a lifetime that I have been dining out on ever since!

What skills did you develop at Sheffield that you use in your current job?

My time at Sheffield was a hugely valuable experience. It developed my skills in GIS and remote sensing, I would not be a lecturer in remote sensing if I had not been inspired in it while at Sheffield! The PAC field trip was a particular highlight, as it allowed me to gain hands-on experience working in the High Arctic, thanks to this I now get to plan and lead field trips to polar and alpine regions for undergraduate students myself.

It was great that the PAC course was really hands-on, providing opportunities to put into practice what you learn in the lecture theatre. As a result, I owe a lot of my fieldwork, laboratory, and computer skills to the degrees I completed at Sheffield.

What aspects of your experience in undertaking the PAC Research Project have helped in your current job?

The PAC Research Project directly enhanced independent working, communication, and subject-specialist skills I use day-in day-out as a lecturer. Through the project, I gained a deep and cutting-edge understanding of remote sensing, geomorphology, and numerical modelling, all of which I use in my work and now teach to students at BSc, MSc and PhD level. Completing a year-long individual project also taught me the importance of self-motivation and enhanced my ability to learn new skills on my own.

This has proven to be useful in my job as I manage various administrative and teaching responsibilities while also keeping up with advancements in remote sensing and data science. Finally, I had the opportunity alongside my supervisors at Sheffield to publish my PAC Research Project, so it continually contributes to my overall research career and profile.

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