Favourite Thing: Fieldwork is the most fun of all, whether it’s in the tropical Indian Ocean, the stormy Southern Ocean, or high up in the Alps. I also really enjoy conferences, talking to people about whatever is brand new and exciting right now.
The Plume School, Maldon, 1991-1999
The University of Edinburgh
I completed my PhD and postdoctoral research at the University of Edinburgh, before moving to my current job.
The University of Leeds
I’m a lecturer in the School of Geography, University of Leeds. I conduct scientific research, and teach undergraduate and postgraduate students.
Me and my work
I study the chemistry and biology of the sea floor, finding out who lives there, and what they eat.
Even though we don’t see it very often, the sea floor is a very important place. It is home to a dazzling variety of organisms, many of which have not been seen before. I do experiments to work out what these animals eat, how they interact with each other (who east who!), and how the conditions in their habitats affect them. My experiments usually involve me going to sea, collecting seafloor sediment (mud), spending many hours carefully preserving my samples, and often getting very muddy. For a blog about my most recent research trip see www.jamescook.com, and scroll down for links called ‘Clare’s blog entry’.
The seafloor is also an important location in the global carbon cycle, as organic carbon in the form of dead plants and animals can become locked away in the sediment for millions of years. We have to understand how all parts of the carbon cycle work if we are to predict what may happen to our planet in the future.
My Typical Day
There’s no such thing as typical! It could involve juggling spreadsheets to analyse data, lecturing to students, or spending hours up to my elbows in mud.
I guess most days are spent in my office in Leeds. I arrive at 8.30am and check my e-mail. I’ll then get on with the work that I have planned, and this ranges from designing new projects, to analysing and writing up data from previous experiments, to planning and giving lectures. I’ll also often have meetings with colleagues to discuss new projects, the running of the school, or with my PhD student to check that her research is going as planned.
However, there are many days and weeks when I am not in my office. I might be at a meeting elsewhere in the UK or abroad, discussing results or future projects with people I work with from all over the world. I might be on a student field trip, teaching the next generation of scientists how to do fieldwork (the Alps and New Zealand are trips I will be doing this year). or I might be at sea, doing my own fieldwork. At sea a typical day might be 12 hours long, and might start in the middle of the night if that is when the samples arrive. Activities at sea include collecting, preserving and labelling samples, carefully studying seafloor animals under the microscope, and constantly monitoring my experiments to make sure that all the conditions (temperature, oxygen..) remain constant. On one of my recent cruises I had two exceptional days where I went to the seafloor in a submarine to collect the samples myself!
What I'd do with the money
Building and collecting materials to take into schools.
One of the most successful activities I’ve done is schools is a geology workshop/quiz. However, I no longer have a rock collection (it belonged to my previous employer), so I’d build up one of my own. I’d also love a second hand petrographic microscope to use in schools. Some good video editing software would also help with the outreach I do. Finally, I have designed a hands-on activity about marine biology sampling (called ‘who wants to be a marine biologist?’) involving a large tank of mud with plastic animals in it. The students can ‘sample’ the animals, then statistically analyse their results. I haven’t had the funds to build it yet…
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Optimistic, enthusiastic, and fun-loving
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Just one? R.E.M., amongst others.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Learning to surf is some of the most fun I’ve had recently.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I’d like to be able to teleport, so that I could instantly travel to all kinds of cool places. The others would involve health and happiness for everyone.
What did you want to be after you left school?
Ummm… er, I don’t think I really knew, or else I can’t remember. I know that I wanted to study the natural environment, and probably hoped for a job in that field (ha ha). So, I guess things worked out pretty well.
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
I’m afraid I have to confess to having been a bit of a teacher’s pet (ugh!). That’s not because I was desperate to be good, it was because I was too scared to do anything wrong. Anyway, the work I put in has got me where i want to be.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Without a doubt, going to the bottom of the Arabian Sea (1140 m) in ‘Shinkai 6500’, the world’s deepest diving manned research submersible.
Tell us a joke.
OK, I’m not good at this. At one end of the scale I have “Q. What’s brown and sticky? A. A stick!” (groan). At the other end there is a physics joke that I really like that goes “A bar walks into a horse…sorry, wrong frame of reference!” There’s also a really good philosophy joke (my husband is a philosopher) which goes “Descartes walks into a bar. The barman says ‘will you have a pint?’ Descartes replies ‘I think not’, and promptly disappears” (OK, Descartes is the “I think, therefore I am” guy, so if he says “I think not”…).