Lava lake fieldwork trip lays groundwork for student’s volcanology career

An undergraduate student from the Department of Geography accompanied academic staff on a research fieldwork trip, as part of a Global Learning Opportunities in the Social Sciences (GLOSS) initiative that gives students the opportunity to work as research associates.

Masaya Volcano, Nicaragua
The Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua last erupted in January 2016.

Dr Tom Pering researches the remote sensing of volcanic gases, using ultraviolet cameras to measure the amount of sulphuric gases being emitted by volcanoes.

His research also involves measuring and recording other data, such as seismic signals, sound measurements, and thermal measurements, which helps him to understand what’s going on beneath a volcano’s surface.

He was joined on one of his fieldwork expeditions by second year undergraduate Rebecca England, who was looking for a route into practical work-experience focusing on volcanology.

It’s no good sending students off with research which is 10 years old, the idea of these degrees is to provide them with state of the art knowledge about the world and what’s going on.

Dr Tom Pering

Teaching Associate

The joint trip, studying Masaya volcano in Nicaragua, was the result of a successful application to the faculty’s Global Learning Opportunities in the Faculty of Social Sciences (GLOSS) Awards; which exists to support students’ learning by providing international research opportunities.

Rebecca says: “I went to Tom to ask him if he knew of any internships within volcanology, because that’s the field that I want to go into and I’d tried looking myself but couldn’t really find much because it’s quite a niche field.

"That’s when he mentioned GLOSS, which was run by this faculty and it was the only way of getting undergraduate experience in that field, I think. It was very beneficial.”

With aspirations of going on to masters study, Rebecca is sure that her experience in Nicaragua will be invaluable at supporting her application, because she now has demonstrable research experience.

This opportunity has also fed into laying the groundwork for her future career and, possibly, PhD study.

“They’ve [Tom and team] published some papers on the research they did and because I helped collect the data, my name’s been put on that paper which was really good and will obviously help further my masters if I want to go the PhD route, because it means I’ve already got that little background in it,” she says.

Dr Tom Pering's vlog on being a volcanologist before and after fieldwork.

Hands-on experience

A large part of Tom’s research involves using high-tech, specialist equipment – such as the UV cameras - and software to record the data he collects; something he doesn’t tend to introduce to his students until their third year, but Rebecca had the chance to get this experience in early.

She says: “It’s hands-on, in-field experience, so I got taught how to use the UV cameras and how to do a little bit of coding; it was just laying out the technical side of it.

"And when we came back I had about five weeks in the University processing the results, so Tom showed me how to use different computer software to process the data.”

Tom believes that using his research to support and enhance teaching is extremely beneficial to students, which is why he chooses to implement software skills for his students and wouldn’t rule out taking a student on another fieldwork trip in the future.

“I think research-led teaching is one of the most important things academics can do, because it forces you to keep up to date with the current research in the field.

"It’s no good sending students off with research which is 10 years old, the idea of these degrees is to provide them with state of the art knowledge about the world and what’s going on,” Tom explains.

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