My time as BSG PG Forum rep

I am sitting on a train on my way to London for my final meeting as BSG PG Forum chair. It, therefore, seemed to be the perfect time to reflect on my year as chair and my time as part of the BSG committees. I have learnt a lot during my time in the forum; that it is worth taking on these extra roles even if you feel like you’re too busy; that the west coast of Wales is too remote to consistently make meetings (we just have too much weather affecting our trainlines!), and that there are some brilliant postgraduate researchers out there doing amazing geomorphology!


I agreed to the role in March 2014, when the end of my PhD seemed very far away, and taking on the chair role, after my initial one year stint as deputy chair, was something that would happen a long way in the future. As with everything, though, the time disappeared and now I am sat contemplating what I have and haven’t achieved. Being part of the BSG has been a great opportunity: I have chatted to a lot of academics I wouldn’t have met without this role; I have coordinated a wonderful group of postgraduate to produce some great blog posts; I have been frustrated at the lack of people who we’ve reached with our great newsletter; and I’ve realised you always have time to squeeze in things, even if you don’t think you have any time left. I have loved getting to know the ins and outs of the BSG and of reconnecting with geomorphology at the annual conference. I have found the lack of time I have been able to devote to the role, both in my short time as chair and on a day-to-day basis, frustrating. I had grand plans to make postgrads a greater part of the BSG, not just in numbers (where we are an overriding majority), but also development of the society. I quickly realised I had to scale back my plans and use my best asset, my organisation skills, to streamline the forum and make sure the little time we had to offer as a group was used wisely. This led to monthly blog posts, more emphasis on social media and less on producing brilliant, but little read, newsletters.


My regret for my time as chair is that I didn’t get the forum better known by the society’s postgrad members. I hope I have developed the forum enough that Danielle, the new chair, can build on what I have done and really get all BSG PG members involved. This is where you lot come in – there are loads of you out there, and we want to be there for you, but we need to know how you want to connect with us. To do that we need to decide what we can offer you, and the best way to get in contact with you. The forum is doing a brilliant job of representing you in all the BSG’s committees, and maybe that’s enough, but we don’t think it is! Some of our ideas are a PG conference, PG fieldtrips and getting our instagram account full of amazing geomorphology photos. But before we put the effort in to these we need to know what people think. We are always looking for new postgraduate forum members as well, so if you wan to do something career-enhancing and interesting, then get in touch on Twitter.


Being postgraduate forum chair may not have been a huge role, but it has been important to me. I have seen how many passionate geomorphologists are out there, and how much they want to share their science. The BSG has got a lot of things right, one of the big ones being the support they provide to postgraduates with their grants. I’m leaving my role feeling sad I am no longer a part of the society’s organisation, but sure I will be back in the future!


God luck Danielle.


Over and out…


Morgan Gibson

(PhD at Aberystwyth University)

Publishing your first scientific paper

By Kate Winter


You have written your scientific paper, addressed co-author comments, and now you are ready to show off all your hard work – congratulations! Now you just need to decide where to publish your work and battle through the submission process. Here are a few tips to make the process as easy as possible:

1.Choose your journal

If you haven’t already done so, the first thing that you need to do is target an appropriate journal. It may be tempting to submit your article to one of the top journals in your field but remember that these journals are very competitive and the projects that they publish tend to be ground-breaking studies with great significance. If you don’t feel that your research has a large inter-disciplinary significance, therefore ruling out popular journals like Science and Nature, but you aren’t sure exactly where your work should go, take a look at your reference list and note down which journals publish the papers that interest you most. Now go and have a look at the websites of these journals.


Most authors compare journals by looking at their impact factor, cost to publish and even speed of publication. The impact factor, which tends to be a well-advertised single or double digit number is the easiest way to compare journals as it signifies the average number of times that articles from the journal have been published over a given time span (often two years). A quick comparison of impact factor values could therefore give you an indication of how many people will reference your work, and therefore how many people will get to know your name and your research findings.

N.B. If you are just starting out on the writing for publishing journey, choose your journal before you start writing – the process will take a while and you don’t want to get to the end and find you need a rewrite to fit to your chosen journal’s specifications. 

3) Register for an account 

Once you have chosen the journal that you would like to submit your work to you should register for an account with the journal. This is free and easy to do, but worth doing early as it takes a while. From there you will be able to look up author guidelines on word, table and figure formats. The most important thing is to find out if your manuscript fits the specified word and figure limit of the journal. If your paper fits these specifications you can start to look at other details like whether the article should be written in British or American English, how the reference list should be laid out, how figures should be saved (pdf, eps etc.) as well as what resolution and size they should be.

2) Write your covering letter

After editing your manuscript to fit the journals specific requirements, the next port of call may be to write a cover letter to advertise your fantastic manuscript. As with all letters, it is best to use letterhead paper, with your institution, postal address, e-mail address and date on the right hand side. Address the letter to a specific editor if possible and in the opening paragraph ask them to consider the manuscript for publication. Include the title of your manuscript along with a brief statement (a sentence or two) about why you think the paper is important and why the journal should publish it (i.e. summarise the main conclusions of the paper). The letter should be short and succinct so aim for about half a page to a page of text then sign the letter off with your signature and full name (typed out).

3) Gather information needed for submission

After you have your manuscript and cover letter you may need to note down some more information in an old school note pad before you start the submission process (you may want to do this with a member of your supervisory team by your side). This may include;

  • Full names (including any middle initials) of co-authors, as well as their institutional postal and e-mail address.
  • A list of key words or index terms that relate to your article which can be used by future readers to search for your article. Note that these could be specific numbered terms which you will have to look up on the journals web page before submitting your work.
  • Bullet points highlighting the key features/findings of your article. These should be short and are often limited to a maximum number of characters.
  • A list of potential reviewers for your manuscript (3 – 5 reviewers are often required), including their full names, e-mail address, institution and institution postal address. Recommended reviewers should be experts in their fields and should be able to provide an objective assessment of the manuscript. If you are unsure who to put down have a look through your references to see who you frequently reference as they are likely to be the experts in your field.
  • Note down any conflicts of interest with potential reviewers. As reviewers should have no financial interest in the paper, no prior knowledge of your submission, should not have recently collaborated with any of the authors and should often not be at the same institution as any of the authors on your manuscript it is a good idea to jot down the names of anyone who fulfils this category who may well be considered an expert in your field by the journal editor.
  • If you have used any copyrighted material in your paper, from sources like the internet or other papers you may need to provide written proof from the owners of the publishing rights that you have permission to reproduce the material.
  • Information on any grants received which relate to the project and their unique numbers. You should also be honest about whether the funding sources had any role in the study design, data collection, analysis and interpretation of the data.
  • The number of words in your article.
  • The number of figures in your article and whether you want them to be in colour or black and white.

Once you have all of this information, set aside an hour or two to work through the submission process, making sure to add in all the required information as you go along, and tick all the necessary boxes. Near the end of the submission process you should be able to check your uploaded files, please make sure you do so, as a missing or old file could really hinder your chances of publication.

4) Just before heading to the pub…

Once you press ‘submit’, but before you head to the pub to celebrate remember to send out a quick thank-you e-mail to those who helped you to write the paper (remember to attach the submitted manuscript and figures). It will be appreciated and you may need their help again very soon to address comments raised during the peer-review process!

Best of luck with your submitted article!


Fieldwork report: Khumbu Glacier, 2015

By Scott Watson

Back in October, Owen King and I travelled to the Khumbu Glacier in Eastern Nepal, accompanied by two of our supervisors Duncan Quincey and Ann Rowan. The aim was to collect field data on how the glacier is thinning year-on-year, and to validate and improve our satellite remote sensing observations that have been the focus of our PhDs prior to fieldwork.


Location of our field site in the central Himalaya

The Khumbu Glacier is the highest glacier in the world and every year a small section of it becomes the home to Mount Everest Basecamp. Travel to the glacier involved a seven day walk from the nearest airstrip at the village of Lukla, which included two acclimatisation days to cover our ascent from 2,800 m to ~5,000 m. The highest elevation we reached (excluding a brisk jaunt up the small trekking peak Kala Patthar) was ~5,300 m at an unusually quiet Everest Basecamp, which was deserted following the recent earthquake.


Our campsite (left) and the lower debris-covered area of the Khumbu Glacier (below)

1Everest region background

It’s widely known that debris-covered Himalayan Glaciers in this region are losing ice mass year on year, although the presence of a thick layer of sand and rocky debris delays their response to climate change. The glaciers are currently out of equilibrium with climate, and will continue to thin irrespective of any contemporary slowdown in climatic warming. The debris cover, which is generally thickest at the terminus of the glaciers and becoming thinner at higher elevations, changes the spatial distribution of melt. Generally speaking, highest melt rates occur where the debris is thin or absent, whereas thick debris insulates the ice beneath.

Supraglacial ponds (i.e. existing on the surface) and ice cliffs are widespread on the low-gradient, debris-covered areas of the glaciers. Ice cliffs can range from several to tens of metres high, and ‘ponds’ can be over 100 m in diameter. Although data are limited, it is thought that ice cliffs and ponds contribute highly to overall melt at a glacier scale. At ice cliffs, bare ice is melted by incoming solar radiation, and ponds are similarly warmed and transmit this thermal energy to the ice below, or through conduits draining into the glacier.

The area of surface water ponding is increasing on the Khumbu Glacier and individual ponds are coalescing, which are likely to form a large glacial lake in coming decades.

Field data

The debris-covered area of the Khumbu Glacier is ~10 km long and the lower ~5 km is stagnant, whereas flow exceeds 60 m a-1 in the ice fall. Our work was predominantly in the lower 6 km where ponds are coalescing and large ice cliffs were present.

The high-altitude rugged topography, hazardous access, and unstable behaviour of the debris-covered glaciers means that field data area limited and hard-earned. Crevasses are minimal on the lower Khumbu Glacier but ice cliffs and topographic highs are constantly changing as the ice melts beneath. The hummocky topography was unstable and would often slump, making it hard to cover any nominal distance. Each hummock was essentially a rocky, ankle-twisting version of the Gladiators Travelator. Our Nepali guides were invaluable in this environment for route finding and helping carry our field equipment. A fine-resolution satellite image base map on a GPS device also made locating the cliffs and ponds considerably easier.

Ice cliffs: structure-from-motion and multi-view stereo (SfMMVS)

A photographic survey tailored to the requirements of the SfM-MVS workflow was conducted around each ice cliff selected for study, which basically requires photographing the environment from as many different locations as possible (i.e. 1- 2 hours clambering around the Khumbu Travelator). Specialist software (e.g. Agisoft Photoscan) is able to match the images and create a 3d point cloud representing the ice cliff and surrounding environment. Visible ground control points were distributed around each cliff and georeferenced with a dGPS before the photographic survey so the model could be scaled and georeferenced.

A preliminary example, which can be navigated in 3D is available at:


Example of a 3D ice cliff model

Pond surveys

The ponds forming on the surface of the glacier can broadly be split into two classes: those with active meltwater inflows (e.g. from adjacent ice cliffs), and those that are hydrologically isolated from any melting ice and thought to be relatively stable through time. My monitoring strategy involved deploying thermistor strings in a range of ponds to measure their thermal regime. These temperature loggers were deployed using an inflatable dinghy (christened HMS Khumbu), which was kindly borrowed from a fellow PhD student also working in Nepal. Most ponds were frozen at their surface by the end of the campaign, so access though ~10 cm of ice was required for logger retrieval (an ice screw/ ice axe combo worked well).

During our next field campaign, I plan to collect distributed depth measurements across a number of ponds to derive bathymetry, and hence determine the water storage volume of the ponds.


Deploying temperature loggers in a supraglacial pond


Scott Watson is a PhD student at the University of Leeds and a BSG Postgraduate Committee member. Scott’s fieldwork in 2015 was supported by a University Research Scholarship, the Royal Geographical Society, the British Society for Geomorphology, and water@leeds.


BSG Windsor workshop

A gust blog from Rachel Betson, a PhD student at Aberystwyth University.

The British Society for Geomorphology’s Windsor Workshop is an annual event held in the Cumberland Lodge, Windsor Great Park. Its aim is to introduce first year PhD students to the world of academia and to prepare them for what to expect over the next three years.

The Cumberland Lodge was a wonderful place to stay with incredible views across the park and into Windsor (I’d recommend the walk up to the Copper Horse for a particularly stunning view – the image below does not do it justice). The rooms were great and the food was exceptional – 3 course meals, twice a day! This, along with the other entertainment on offer within the lodge made it the perfect location for a relaxed learning and working environment.

Rachel1The view into Windsor from the Copper Horse

After an introductory session and evening meal (one thing learned quickly on the workshop is that all sessions were scheduled around food), the first session of the workshop was a discussion on the philosophy of science. Whilst this was a challenging initial topic (especially for 8.30pm on a Monday evening!), it ended up being a very interesting and thought provoking session.

The sessions in the following days ranged from learning how to code to creating an entire PhD project in an afternoon and then presenting the design for this project to the rest of the group – a task that ended up much less daunting than it originally sounded! There was also a session on computer modelling, which in itself was extremely varied (for example, one could simulate various CO2 scenarios or simulate a game of Tetris). We also had the chance to present our own PhD projects to small groups. This was a really helpful exercise as it allowed us to provide feedback to others and get feedback from students with a range of backgrounds and therefore with a range of viewpoints. Overall the workshops, lectures and seminars gave vital information for how to present both our research and ourselves to both peers and broader audiences.

As previous years have, I would really recommend any first year PhD student whose project involves geomorphology to attend the workshop. Not only because it provided a lot of technical training and interesting discussions, but also because it gave us a chance to discuss the more social side of a PhD and I quickly came to realise that I wasn’t the only one feeling nervous about starting a PhD!


Academic poster design. It doesn’t have to be a minefield

I recently went to a conference with my first academic poster. Firstly, no one mentions how awkward posters are to cart around on public transport, let alone walk with. Before you do anything, get one of those cool poster tube carriers that have a strap* disclaimer: if you laminate an A0 poster it will not fit inside the carriers! Secondly, if you are wondering how an earth the poster is going to be attached to the wall, don’t panic. Little bits of sticky back Velcro are usually provided so you can attach it to the display boards.

Ok. So we’ve got some logistics out of the way, onto the design. Many academics seem to think that a poster is the poorer cousin to a talk at a conference. Everyone wants to do a talk; it is seen as more prestigious. However, I think if you make an eye catching poster that draws colleagues in, you have more of a chance to discuss your research with them, potentially creating useful contacts for the future and receiving advice on how to take your research forward. In a nutshell, that dreaded word; networking.


Top tips

  1. Choose the right software for you

The first thing I did before I put cursor to page was to google academic poster design software. After trawling through pages, the most common theme was do not use PowerPoint. There is nothing wrong with using PowerPoint but I think there is software out there that is more suited to poster design. If your university has access to Adobe Illustrator I would recommend trying that (mine does not unfortunately). Or you could try Inkscape, which is basically like a free version of Illustrator. This is what I used, it is easy to get the hang of and you can align text and images accurately. Other options which I have not explored are CorelDRAW, LaTeX, QuarkXPress, Scribus.


  1. Think outside the box

 The whole point of a poster is to be eye catching and draw colleagues in. Once they are intrigued, they will ask questions and your poster will be memorable. The poster below for example, by Gareth Morris, is eye catching, simple, and leaves you wanting to know more. You can find out more about this poster here:

Fran1The poster entitled Humber in a Box presented at BSG 2015 really brings to life Dr Chris Skinner’s and Dr Tom Coulthard’s research combining gaming technology and existing geographical models to predict flooding and sediment fluxes in the Humber Estuary Here they used Google Cardboard and headphones alongside the poster, which allowed colleagues to place their phone inside the Google Cardboard, plug the headphones in, and view the model in 3D via YouTube. Even though this is not related to my research interests I instantly want to watch their model.

Fran2The article on inspired me to try something different, and although I ended up with more text than I initially wanted, I got the right reaction at the conference. I had a great hillshaded Digital Elevation Model (DEM) of my study site that I wanted to be the star of my poster. This was printed in 3D and I had red blue glasses with my poster for colleagues to view it. Everyone was excited to put the glasses on, and I think it was this element that won the best poster competition at the Quaternary Research Association (QRA) Postgraduate Symposium 2015. To view a raster image in 3D follow the instructions in ArcScene and export the image.




   3. Clear structure

Having a clear structure allows you to guide the reader through the poster, making it easier to digest the content. Numbering your figures and text boxes is an easy way to do this.


  1. Less is more

There is nothing worse than a poster with too much text, and in a room with 20 plus poster in, it is likely to be overlooked. Figures should have priority over text, as these will draw people in to read your poster and ask questions. My poster word count including figure captions and poster title (but not references) was 700. Try and limit it 1000 words max. Titles and headings are best in a sans-serif font e.g. Arial, whilst other text can be in a serif font e.g. Times New Roman, at a minimum 22 point size. References can be smaller; I used a minimum of 16 point size for my A0 poster.


  1. Print drafts and get comments

If you are making an A0 poster, print a copy at A4 or A3 size to see what it looks like. You should be able to read the text. Get some comments from your supervisor and other PhD students. I had 3 or 4 drafts before I printed it in the A0 version. If your University offers fabric printing, use it. It may cost more but you can fold your poster, thus removing the awkward transportation and liquid proofing issues.


  1. Go with your instinct

By all means take on board the comments by your supervisors, but if you don’t agree with them on certain aspects then don’t be afraid to do it your way. It is your poster. If you think it doesn’t present your research in the way that you want, then you are not going feel confident in presenting it. If you want to do something bold that doesn’t have much text and goes against traditional posters your supervisors may advise against this. However, if you come back from a conference and your poster was the most talked about or you won a prize, then it was worth sticking to your guns.

      7. At the conference

Stand by your poster and let colleagues read through it, you don’t need to give them an in-depth tour. They will ask questions if they are interested.





Beyond your PhD: Dr Emma Shuttleworth, Research Associate

I’ve had a funny old route to where I’ve ended up. I started out doing a Maths degree at University of Liverpool in 2001, but realised in my second year that multidimensional space and financial futures weren’t my thing and transferred over to Geography where I’d done some subsidiary modules. I graduated with a respectable 2:1, but didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life so I took a couple of years out working in various admin roles before deciding to head back to Liverpool to do a MSc in Environment and Climate Change. This is where things started to come together. I managed to get a bit of teaching experience demonstrating on undergrad field trips and set myself up with a really interesting dissertation on archaeological soil samples (it was interesting, honest!). I started to realise that I wanted to pursue a research career. However, towards the end of my MSc there wasn’t really anything that I was interested in on offer, so I spent another year out of academia. In amongst the travelling and temping jobs, I spent a lot of time Googling the kinds of thing I might be interested in researching (erosion, geochemistry, environmental magnetism) and up popped the research profile of Martin Evans at Manchester with a list of postgraduate opportunities that included all of my key words. After a couple of emails, a meeting where I turned up an hour late, and a hasty read of Geomorphology of Upland Peat, I had submitted my research proposal, and a couple of weeks later was told that Ihad been granted a teaching bursary to support my PhD tracing sediments in the eroding peatlands of the Peak District.


Sediment sampling in the Peak District

My final thesis was very different from the project that I proposed back in 2009. Initially I was very methods driven, and focussed on trying to answer a very specific research question about the timing of contaminated sediment release, but as I progressed opportunities came my way which changed the shape of my research. I applied to the Moors for the Future Moorland Research Fund to cover some of my fieldwork costs, and ended up spending a considerable proportion of my PhD looking at the effects of peatland restoration, which is something I hadn’t initially considered but almost certainly helped me secure my current job. Early in my second year, one of my supervisors introduced me to The Nicest Man in Geography, Simon Hutchinson (a moniker that is well deserved and almost certainly true), who introduced me to the wonderful world of field portable XRF. This led me to write my first paper and began an invaluable collaborative and mentoring relationship that is still in place today.


Martin, Simon and the XRF

I submitted my PhD in September 2014, and I’ve been working as a Research Associate in the Upland Environment Research Unit at the University of Manchester since August 2014. My job is linked to Tim Allott’s tenure as Head of School, so while he’s being a big cheese, I’m keeping his existing projects going, helping to develop new research agendas for the Unit, and covering his teaching. Those eagle eyed temporal statisticians amongst you will notice I actually started my job a month before I submitted my thesis, which meant I applied and interviewed for the post and started teaching when I was in the throes of writing up. This possibly wasn’t the best way of timing things, but I couldn’t have passed up the opportunity. Luckily, Tim was very understanding and didn’t pile on the work straight away… that came later!

When I first started, Tim had been working on an extensive peatland restoration hydrological monitoring programme called Making Space for Water for more than 5 years, and Phase 2 of the project was months away from wrapping up so I had to hit the ground running! The project had generated huge amounts of data that needed collating and analysing before we could report to the funders, so I had to get my head around the numerous field sites and monitoring campaigns, and more importantly learn everything there is to know about peatland hydrology (I am a simple geomorphologist after all!). At the beginning I felt like I was drowning in spreadsheets and constantly being whisked from one deadline to another without really knowing what was going on, but by the time we produced the final report I’d got to grips with everything and felt like a proper member of the team, and am now helping to plan MS4W Phase 3.


Making Space for Water: Kinder Edge before and after restoration

In addition to working on MS4W, I’ve also had time to continue to develop my own research and outreach interests and get valuable lecturing experience. Now that MS4W Phase 2 is over, I’m concentrating on writing up the final papers from my PhD and moving into new research areas. I’m still involved in the BSG, sitting on the Outreach Committee through my role as the Society’s Press Officer and coordinating the Communicating Geomorphology Working Group, and I’ve also become the EGU GM Division ECR rep. While most of last year was spent covering Tim’s teaching, this year I’ve branched out and am co-convening a final year undergrad module on the British Uplands and I am part of a team which is developing a new residential fieldtrip to the Spanish Pyrenees. I’m also hoping to introduce a new geomorphology module to our teaching programme next year.


The Dream Team, Pyrenees 2016 recce (Christine Lane, me, Will Fletcher, Gareth Clay, Abi Stone)

So, if you’re still with me, why have I just given you a potted history of the last 15 years of my life? I suppose the overarching message from the way I’ve done things, is that it’s OK to not have it all figured out and it’s OK to change. I’ve gone from being a mathematician, to a soil scientist with a side-line in archaeology, to working in the press office of Hollyoaks (that’s a whole other story), to becoming a geomorphologist with a healthy respect for hydrology. It’s good to be flexible – like I said; my PhD ended up a very different beast to how it started out, but by embracing the unexpected I extended my research interests, developed my network, and ultimately made myself more employable. I used to think that a lot of my success had been because I happened to be in the right place at the right time (funding calls that suited my research, happening to know someone who knows someone who could help me out, things cropping up just when I was in a position to take advantage of them) but I’m increasingly realising that I was only in the right place at the right time because I put myself there. There is a certain element of luck and timing when it comes to postdoctoral work, but you massively increase your chances of finding and being a considered for jobs by putting yourself out there, being adaptable and taking advantage of all the opportunities that come your way. It’s worked for me so far anyway!