View all news

Stepping outside your comfort zone

Alice on an oceanographic cruise

PhD research geology fieldwork

20 January 2016

Alice Marzocchi is a PhD student and Marie Curie early stage researcher working on the MEDGATE Project, as part of the School of Geographical Sciences. Her main topics of research are palaeoclimate modelling and oceanography, studying the climate of several millions of years ago, with the idea of using the past to inform us about the future. In particular, she is interested in the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean.

Alice Marzocchi is a PhD student and Marie Curie early stage researcher working on the MEDGATE Project, as part of the School of Geographical Sciences. Her main topics of research are palaeoclimate modelling and oceanography, studying the climate of several millions of years ago, with the idea of using the past to inform us about the future. In particular, she is interested in the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean.

Alice first heard about the ‘I’m a Geoscientist’ digital outreach event from a colleague, and thought it sounded like an interesting opportunity to step outside her comfort zone. She had already taken part in several public engagement activities and is a STEM ambassador.

Secondary students were invited to interact with five ‘geoscientists’ – researchers studying earth sciences – from different Universities across Europe, by asking questions and chatting about anything they are curious about. The students judged the answers to crown one scientist the winner, who received €500 to spend on further public engagement activity.

Students asked all sorts of questions, even some outside of Alice’s main area of expertise. This meant that she sometimes had to do some quick research herself to answer them. Some of the questions involving ethical or moral choices were also challenging, particularly those that don’t have right or wrong answers.

Other questions covered important issues such as climate change and the use of fossil fuels. Alice said: “I think as scientists we need to be careful when handling these kind of questions; you don't want to sound like an alarmist, but you also want to convey the importance and urgency of some of these matters. Given that you are talking to young students, you also don't want to scare them off too much!” 

She really enjoyed taking part in the daily chats, which could be extremely fast-paced: “Everybody was literally firing questions at us and they all wanted an answer. A lot of questions were really interesting and showed a lot of curiosity.

“The fact that the students were chatting from all over Europe was also great. We even had a class from a primary school. It was mainly the teacher typing for them. That was really sweet!”

Taking part in the event made Alice think about how to communicate her research in as simple terms as possible, as well as learning more about topics slightly outside her speciality.

“I spent some more time thinking about how I could make my research topics as accessible as possible to people who are not experts in my field of study or that are members of the public. 

“‘I'm a Geoscientist’ is a great opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and think about how to communicate your research in simple and understandable terms. It also gives you a chance to communicate with students from all over Europe, convey passion about your work, and try to inspire the new generation of scientists.”

Further information

The European Geosciences Union blogged about the 2015 competition here.

Alice’s profile on I’m a Geoscientist, Get Me Out of Here!

Read another UoB ‘I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here!’ participant’s public engagement story.