Melise Harland

Melise Harland

Why did you decide to do a PhD at Leeds?

I had done my undergraduate degree at Leeds so I had started to look around for PhD projects elsewhere, for a change of environment and to gain experience working with a new group of people and a different approach. But when I was asked if I was interested in applying for the project at Leeds, I just couldn’t turn it down. The project was just what I was looking for.

How do you think a PhD degree has helped you develop?

My PhD gave me the opportunity to be responsible for my own research, leading to an increase in confidence in my own abilities. It made me realise that you can do anything you want if you want it badly enough which led to me making big changes in my life, all for the better.

In terms of my career, the PhD gave me a good grounding in several areas including organisational skills, how to develop a research project, where to find useful information and it gave me contacts that have proved to be invaluable. My work initially involved a massive literature search that would have been very daunting if I hadn't already had the experience of trawling through a huge amount of material for my PhD project. The experience of writing a thesis has also helped me in the production of numerous reports at work. In general, my PhD experience meant that I already knew how to approach the work involved in my career without being launched onto a huge learning curve.

Please give a brief profile of your career path to your current job:

I left school with very few qualifications and had a series of non-academic jobs, mostly shop work. Whilst working for electrical and mechanical engineers as a secretary I decided to finally try to get some qualifications at the age of 30 and started doing Open University (OU) courses. I really enjoyed the study part-time for two years but have worked out that it would take me another twelve years to get a degree doing it through the OU, I decided to take the risk and apply to do a degree full time. I had enjoyed the Earth Sciences modules of my OU courses most so I applied and to my surprise was accepted by the University of Leeds to do a BSc in Geological Sciences. In 2001 I was awarded a first class honours degree but had no idea what career I wanted to do. I ended up working for a year for the Turbidites Research Group and Rock Deformation Research at the University of Leeds before starting my PhD. When I completed my PhD in 2005 I still had no idea what career I wanted to do so I started to look around for jobs and apply for grants to do post-doctorate research whilst doing some research assistant work for my PhD supervisor (Jane Francis). Jane then mentioned that CASP were looking for staff and that she thought I would really enjoy working for them. I sent CASP an e-mail introducing myself and saying I was interested in working for them. They asked me to send my CV and after two visits, one to see what the place was like and another for a formal interview with the trustees I was offered a job to work on the Palaeozoic Margin of Baltica Project.

What are the challenges and rewards of your current job?

CASP is a registered charity but most of our research money comes from the oil industry. This means that when we are thinking of new projects we have the challenge that the project cannot just be on a topic that you are interested in scientifically, it has to be relevant to the oil industry. It also means that the salaries are lower than you would get in the industry.

This kind of career wouldn’t suit everyone, we do a lot of travelling either doing fieldwork, visiting companies to do workshops or attending conferences so you have to be flexible enough to be able to work long hours and be away from home for extended periods.

For me, the major reward of my work is that I get to do some amazing if a little extreme fieldwork. Last year I went to Siberia for three weeks, rafting down a river in the Yenisey-Khatanga Trough in the far north and making camp at outcrops we wanted to work on. This kind of work also means that I get to collaborate with people of different nationalities and cultures and find out about their lives and how they work.

What direction do you want your career to go in the future?

I don't really have any plans for my future career at the moment. I know that sounds bad but if anyone would have told me ten years ago that I would end up with a degree let alone a PhD I would definitely not have believed them. I have been given so many fantastic opportunities that have just turned up and I’ve taken, that I now think if I make plans it will blinker me to any possibilities that are put in front of me. All I know is that I want to continue working as a geologist and being able to do fieldwork to remote and wonderful places.