How to become an ice-core scientist
Tuesday, 11 July, 2023
For some early-career researchers (ECRs), it is clear right from the beginning of their studies, perhaps even earlier, what path they want to take and where they would like to end up in their careers one day. But, the four ECRs who have joined PAGES as guest editors for the next edition of the PAGES Magazine come from very different backgrounds – none of which included a background in ice-core science, specifically.
Read on to find out how extremely varying backgrounds, from very different countries, still led these four young researchers to become ice-core scientists, and make an appearance as guest editors for the PAGES Magazine!
The four of you are in Bern for a month to work on the DEEPICE issue of PAGES magazine as guest editors. Who are you :-)?
Lison: I am Lison Soussaintjean. I am French and currently I work at the University of Bern, in Switzerland.
Ailsa: I am Ailsa Chung, I come from Scotland and am working at Université Grenoble Alpes in France.
Niklas: I am Niklas Kappelt, I am German and I am working at Lund University in Sweden.
Florian: I am Florian Painer, I am from Austria and I work at the Alfred-Wegener-Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany.
Lison and Ailsa, what are your backgrounds, and how did you get into ice-core science?
Lison: I studied the climate system (atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere) during my master’s degree. For my master’s thesis I investigated the chemical composition of meteorites and the presence of extraterrestrial material in ice cores. And during my master’s, I discovered the history of ice cores. These mysterious objects, which come from distant and extreme lands and are full of valuable information about the past, are fascinating to me. Today, I measure nitrous oxide in ice cores to reconstruct the past atmospheric concentration of this greenhouse gas.
Ailsa: I did my masters in physics working on different projects which included material science, raman spectroscopy and python simulations. I chose ice-core science because I wanted to apply the physics I learned in my masters to the real world, and I like cold places! Now, I use a simple model and data from radar surveys to look for places in Antarctica where there could be very old ice.
Niklas and Florian, what did you study, and what are the topics of your PhDs?
Niklas: I studied atmospheric chemistry with a focus on air pollution in the urban environment and the removal of pollutants. I was fascinated by the possibility to use ice-core data as a window to the past, and now I develop a new dating method for ice cores using radionuclides.
Florian: Ice is a cool mineral ;). During my masters in geosciences and applied mineralogy I became interested in the molecular structure of water and ice. I worked on the upcycling of an industrial by-product to clean wastewater from heavy metal contaminants. Now, I study the structure of ice and how air molecules are stored inside it.
The DEEPICE doctoral network trains a new generation of 15 early-stage researchers in ice-core science. Why did you choose to join the DEEPICE program?
Lison: I had read about the Beyond EPICA project and was immediately hooked when I learned that a network of PhD students was being created as a parallel project.
Ailsa: I liked that there would be an instant connection with other ECRs so we could go through our PhDs together. I also like the variety of training offered by the DEEPICE program, including learning skills for a career outside of academia, as we are doing now as PAGES editors.
Niklas: DEEPICE is a well-organised project with a clear goal and this appealed to me.
Florian: I joined the DEEPICE network 6 months later than the other students, so I chose the PhD position because the topic sparked my interest. However, I am very happy to be part of the network.
Florian, what was it like joining the network 6 months later?
Florian: Immediately after starting my project, I was able to join the DEEPICE – Finse training school in Norway. This was the perfect introduction to the network as I was able to meet all the ECRs and other participants of the DEEPICE project, in person. In the beginning, I felt the pressure of having to catch up but the other ECRs helped me to overcome the difficulties associated with starting a PhD, since they had all just done it.
What is DEEPICE?
DEEPICE is an EU funded training network for 15 PhD students working in 10 different countries to advance ice-core science. It is a project that promotes collaboration in ice-core research and enables young researchers to establish a network. Our PhD projects fall into three categories - technical developments, understanding the processes behind the climatic signals and modeling tools. This body of knowledge will be used to analyze and interpret the Beyond EPICA ice core, which could reach up to 1.5 Myr old.
There are three training schools which are part of the DEEPICE program:
1. Introduction to ice core analytical techniques and snow science fieldwork training;
2. Statistical methods in ice core; and
3. the upcoming communication training school organised by PAGES.
What makes DEEPICE unique?
Niklas: We are part of a network which also includes many ice-core researchers and senior scientists from across Europe. This network is something that can take a while to build and so being part of it as PhD students helps us to more easily develop as scientists.
Lison: Our training includes secondments to various universities abroad. These experiences allow me to discover other working environments, and become more open-minded. The connection with other non-academic partners is great for developing skills that will be useful for pursuing our careers inside, or outside of, academia. This is the case for us four at PAGES, where we are learning editing.
Ailsa: Not only does each student work on a different aspect of ice-core science but we all have backgrounds in different scientific disciplines. When we have a question, there is always someone who has the right knowledge to discuss it.
Florian: We organise virtual “scientific coffee” meetings, where ECRs have the chance to present the current status of their project and get feedback or advice from the others. It is a great way of staying up to date about each other’s research and learning about different areas in ice-core science.
What is it like being a PAGES Magazine editor?
Florian: It’s interesting to get an overview from all the different topics of the PAGES articles. It is difficult for me to take a step back and to think of the broader audience when editing.
Lison: It’s a helpful exercise for us in the DEEPICE network to find out more about the topic other students are studying.
Ailsa: It is challenging to review articles rather than responding to reviewer comments, which is what we do most often as ECRs. It’s also nice to get a perspective on all the other things which go into producing the magazine such as the editorial, formatting articles, checking the style is consistent, etc.
Niklas: It’s fun to have discussions on the science and clarity of texts. Most of my work as a PhD student is sitting in front of a computer, so it’s great to collaborate with others.