Hunor Deak on being a social media rep

One of our committed social media reps  Hunor Deak shared his experience of being social media rep for the School of GeoSciences:

It can be very enjoyable as it allows you more to connect with students and with the lecturing/research staff. This position allows you to share your and other’s story with the school and the wider world. Along with your work being promoted free of charge this post allows the enhancement of your CV on many levels. Sometimes the post can be challenging when in the field, as this job requires you to deal with the public a great deal. This means that communication and transparency is key in order to achieve success.


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Berlin Fieldcourse 2016


Field trips are an integral component to the study of geosciences. However, I am not talking about physical geography trips to the great outdoors, rather I will be sharing my human geography field trip experience. If you follow Edinburgh Geoscience’s other social media channels, then you may have seen my Instagram and Facebook posts about my Berlin field course. Now that the assessment has been completed I can show you, from start to finish, what goes on in a human geography field trip.

What is a human geography field course?

“The Berlin field class is a research elective that provides an opportunity to develop skills in designing, planning and doing research in Human Geography.”

“It is an introduction to Berlin and grounds several major themes in Urban, Cultural, and Social Geography.”

-Berlin Research Elective Handbook

Berlin: September 3-10 2016

The group consisted of 24 students and 5 members of staff. We flew out from Edinburgh Airport on a Saturday Afternoon, and arrived at the Berlin-International Youth Hostel. After settling into our rooms (about 4 people in each) we set out for a quick drink in the city.

The following two days consisted of tours, explorations, and introductions to certain human geography themes in Berlin, such as memory-making through monuments. During these first couple of days we decided, in our teams of 3-4 students, how we would go about our research. In the semester before the summer holidays we had attended a workshop where we decided what our topic would be, so not to arrive in Berlin empty-handed. There was a diverse range of topics, including kite-flying, memory-making, urban gardens, the geography of “cool”, use of public parks by refugees, etc. During Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we gathered empirical data and created a presentation on Friday. Saturday morning before flying back to Edinburgh we presented our analysis of the data, receiving feedback from our peers and lecturers.

Throughout the week there were a couple of nights where the whole group of students went out clubbing to experience the famous party scene in Berlin. We also had group dinners, where we had interesting conversation and the staff passed down to us their geo-wisdom. Field trips always prove to be great bonding and friendship building experience, creating a much-needed support system of peers before taking on fourth year.

My Topic: urban gardens

My team decided to focus on urban gardens, as they create a new kind of space within cities. We visited a couple of gardens before deciding to research Prinzessinnengarten, a relatively new urban garden in the city centre, in the neighbourhood of Moritzplats. This garden is unique because of its mobility, nothing is planted directly into the ground. The soil is too toxic as the space used to be a wasteland of a destroyed shopping centre. Also, the space is only leased, not owned, by Nomadic Green (the non-profit which runs the garden) from the City of Berlin. With this temporality in mind, we explored the aims of the garden, who worked there, who visited there and why, and how the garden is run.

Research: gathering empirical data in Prinzessinnengarten

The goal of this field course was to test a variety of creative methodologies, so we tried out several in garden. We created a survey, which we called the “word tree” where we asked visitors to write one word describing why they were in the garden. The words were written in leaves that were part of a drawing of a tree, in keeping with the theme of nature. The next creative research method we executed was combining garden tours with photo elicitation, where instead of documenting by taking our own photographs, we asked our tour guides to take a picture of their favourite part of the garden, using our smart phones. Here we experienced a co-production of knowledge. The conversation where the guides told us why they had chosen a specific place as their favourite part was more valuable than the photograph itself. In addition, we practiced more traditional qualitative methods such as semi-structured interviews, observatory note-taking and photo documentation.


The following quote is how a garden employee described the picture above, which she took.

“I just saw some school children having lunch and playing here, it’s a great community, I love these spots where you can hang out.” -Christina, Prinzessinnengarten masseuse

Finally, the most valuable method for my research was participatory observation. We volunteered for a few hours on our final day, harvesting seeds, watering plants and feeding worms. This was the culmination of our research, as we felt quite integrated into this new place.


As part of volunteering, my peer Georgia cultivated radish seeds from their pods so they could be planted. It was a very windy day, so we had to make sure the tiny seeds wouldn’t fly away!

Presentation: emerging themes and analysis of data

At the end of the three research days all the groups came together to present what they had learned. We received verbal feedback from our peers as well as written feedback from the lectures and the PhD teacher’s assistants. My team decided that “belonging” was the strongest emerging theme from our research in the garden. My final research question was “how does belonging function in Prinzessinnengarten?” This particular urban garden is focused on environmental education through participation by residents and visitors alike, with the goal of integrating this kind of space within urban planning. The creation of a new and unique place such as Prinzessinnengarten raises questions of who belongs and who does not and how belonging is negotiated. We worked our way up from observing visitors to participating volunteers, and our journey from strangers to being part of the garden was the basis for my research.

“My experience confirmed my theory that the performance of belonging will need to be restructured to fit a temporal yet meaningful urban space such as a participatory public garden. I discerned that belonging in a mobile, temporal place with communal participation must be flexible and adaptive, yet spatial context will always define how ‘belonging’ functions.” -the conclusion of my analysis

Apart from a 15 minute presentation including methodologies, presentation, and analysis of empirical data, all the teams created a poster with a title and a couple of quotes from their experience. These will be printed and displayed at the Old Infirmary Building, the location of the Institute of Geography in the School of Geosciences. (My team’s poster is at the beginning of this blog post)

Assessment: Post-trip essay

100% of this 20 credit field course was actually not the presentation during the field trip, rather a 4,000 word essay. This mimicked the methodology chapter of a human geography dissertation, in preparation to write our own dissertations. This was one of the largest essays I had ever written in my undergraduate education, however it was good practice in analysing original empirical data, and exciting because I was writing about a topic I had not only chosen, but also developed and researched.

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Words of wisdom from our graduates

Some of our class of 2016 graduates were kind enough to share some words of wisdom with us during the graduation reception. They’ve shared their memories, favourite aspects of the programme and gave advice for future students about their MSc programmes. Take a look at the videos below!

MSc Carbon Management graduate Matthieu Chateau

MSc Carbon Management graduate Toni Freitas 

MSc Environment and Development graduate Laura Jimenez Dominguez Toledano

MSc Geographical Information Science graduate Rica Duchateau 

Congratulations and best of luck to our class of 2016!

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Class of 2016 MSc Graduation

Congratulations to all of our CLASS OF 2016 graduates who appeared to thoroughly enjoy themselves at the graduation earlier this week!

Here is a snapshot video of the graduation reception!

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The Meadows: A Multi-Sensory Experience

As a student living on the opposite side of the meadows from the university’s central geography campus and main library, I commute daily back and fourth across Edinburgh’s mini “Central Park.” The meadows is a dynamic park with tennis courts, a playground, bike paths, and a bbq area. Beautiful pink cherry blossom trees line the walking paths, creating colourful tree tunnels, criss-crossing the vast expanses of grass. I feel so blessed to live near such a massive green space in the city. Autumn is nearing to a close, so I will describe the meadows through a couple of senses, sharing with you the magical transition from summer to winter.

Autumn sights

Barbecues are traded in for hot cups of coffee, and picnics are swapped with people wrapped up in massive scarves to keep warm. As the temperature dips to 2-5 degrees celsius, the meadows transform from a sunny and busy hang out spot to a windy tundra of apocalyptic proportions. People are not the only ones bundling up for the chilly temps. Another signal that winter is coming are the canine friends sporting stylish coats and sweaters, a sight I’m sure would cheer up anyone’s day.

While most people joke about the never-ending rain that keeps Scotland forever green, I would argue that Edinburgh is the city of wind rather than rain. The meadows is no longer filled with picnic-ing families and acrobats balancing on slack lines, rather everyone traverses quickly so not to get swept away by the strong gales.

Apart from the slack line enthusiasts there are other clubs who frequent the meadows on a weekly basis. Mostly noticeably during autumn The Beltane Fire Society are seen practicing their fire-spinning performances at night. They can be spotted from the opposite side of the meadows as balls of light dance around in loops and circles. Another quintessentially British club is the Harry Potter Society, returning to the meadows in autumn, once University is in session, to practice “Quidditch.”

The most fantastic feature of the meadows during October, and especially November, must be the turning of the leaves. The shiny oval leaves of the cherry blossom trees take on various hues of that of a burning flame, ranging from soft yellows and blazing oranges to deep dark reds. But don’t wait too long to take your leaf pictures for the ‘gram because the rain will quickly turn those bright crispy leaves to mushy brown piles of mud in the blink of an eye.


Edinburgh is famous for being “grey” from the ever-overcast sky, yet there is another side to this gloomy coin. The sunsets are spectacular. Colours from neon pink to magenta and purple are brushed across the clouds, a masterpiece certainly worth capturing on your phone.


As November nears its end, frost become a frequent sight in the early morning hours. Edinburgh is quite wet, so the frost which forms on the grass and pavement can become quite thick, yet dazzles with its brilliant sparkles.

Autumn smells

While most cold locations do not require to have the grass cut as the temperatures drop, Edinburgh’s eternal rain keeps the grass growing. The freshly mowed grass of the meadows in September and October is the first layer of the park’s aromas.

Anyone who has visited Edinburgh has encountered its unique “cookie/biscuit” smell, which is in fact aromas from a local whiskey distillery. The sweet oat-y scent that fills the autumn air is very “Edinburgh.” In this sense, Scottish whiskey follows you everywhere you go. I love the mixture of this smell with the decomposing leaves. It reminds me of home, raking up fallen leaves to fill pumpkin-coloured trash bags, which would decorate my front garden just in time for Halloween.

“The North British Distillery’s roasted malt smell has given the capital air a distinctive tang since 1885.” -BBC, 2009

You know when you can just smell “winter?” Its that cold air aroma, wafted in by the snow clouds looming above. This “layer” in the mixture of meadows scents occurs as the last of the leaves fall off of the trees and the sun begins to disappear before 4pm.

The End

I hope you enjoyed this little peek into the meadows during autumn!

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Cape Town Field Trip 2016

Thank you to Geography student Beth Kay for sharing her video diary of the recent Geography field trip to Cape Town, South Africa. Check out her video diary!

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My University Courses Part 1: Earth Dynamics


Within my blog I shall start two series: One concerning the subjects I took and currently studying. The other, a travel series where I will talk about the places I visited in Scotland and found them interesting. Onto the main part…

Earth Dynamics

This is a great introductory course for general Geology. It introduces you to most of the general ideas and sub-subjects that are important such as Plate Tectonics, Earth Physics (Basically Seismology), Petrology, Field Trip Techniques, Specimen description, specimen classification and countless more. Earth Dynamics is a great Earth Science course that combined with ELE lays a good foundation to understand how the planet Earth works.


Field-trip to Pease Bay

I would break the course down into three parts: Lectures, Laboratory work and Field-trips.

The Lectures:

I found the lectures engaging and wide ranging. They provided a taster of each sub discipline while introducing us to the different lecturers of the department. Each lecture was well planned with PowerPoints rich in presentation, videos and information. The lectures were well linked with the lab practicals and the field trips allowing us to link the material together. I would like to give a shout out to Dr Linda Kirstein who organized the course and whose lectures I personally personally enjoyed the most.


One of the lecture slides

The Laboratory Work:

The lab work was the crown jewel of the course. It allowed us to work with authentic specimens and prove chemical and physical concepts in the lab. They allowed us to play around with the petrological microscopes, providing us with a glimpse into the microscopic world of rocks. So all around, I only have pure praise towards the lab work part of the course.


Hand Specimens from the Labs

At the beginning of the semester we learnt about the general makeup of the crust and measured the density of minerals representing the main sections. We started to look at a wide variety of different hand specimens. We learnt about sketching techniques and how to describe/analyse them scientifically. In the middle of the semester we moved onto thin-sections and the Petrological Microscope. We studied the thin sections of the 3 main rock groups: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic. Our task was to link some of them to the field trips and sketch them in PPL and XPL light providing general information such as birefringence, type of fractures on the crystals, shape of the crystals and many more defining qualities. After spending a great deal of time with rock specimens we moved onto Seismology and how it is related to faulting. We learnt a great deal about Earthquakes and faulting. In the lab we studied real examples as we looked at rock specimens that were faulted or were from fault zones. At the end of the semester we linked everything together allowing us to understand how our planet acts as a single unit where one force influences the other.


Rock Samples on the worktop


At last but not at least the field trips. They were okay, not as exciting as the lecturers sold it to us but they were very educational providing us with great base knowledge. We visited 3 localities with the course: Pease Bay, Siccar Point and Arthur’s Seat. In Pease Bay we looked at sedimentary deposition, sedimentary formations and cross bedding. The supervisors showed us how to use our geological kit effectively and keep a proper field notebook. At Siccar Point we visited Hutton’s Unconformity learning about marine deposition such as turbidity currents and looked at the effects of light metamorphism. At Arthur’s Seat our main goal was to study volcanism, igneous deposition and volcanic dykes. The Arthur’s Seat trip was the best out of all 3 as I was not rushed all. The trip allowed me to appreciate the vastness of the geological forces and see the depth of geological time. While Geology is a hard natural science, where empiricism is extremely important many lecturers fail to sprinkle a bit of romanticism into the subject. For instance in the field trip it was mentioned that Arthur’s Seat erupted at the equator and moved up to Scotland. That was it, dry and cold. I think the lecturer should have pointed out how wonderful it is that we witnessed nature literary move a volcano half the planet demolishing mighty mountains, opening and closing oceans. How a long time ago the place we stand at might have been a beautiful tropical beach with palm trees and blue oceans and how by just giving a bit of time plus the raw laws of the universe we are standing in the cold rain, in the Temperate Zone in a middle of a city named Edinburgh staring back into the vastness of time. Outside of being rushed the through the field trips the localities were great, well-chosen with good memorable sites.


The Siccar Point trip

Overall I enjoyed this course. Great lecturers, great topics and useful ideas.

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Week Eight: Eight Weeks in the lab

Hello! Here are some things that have been happening in my life as a GIS Masters student so far! Study has been keeping me very busy for sure, but it’s been a good kind of busy  :)

  • Long days in the computer labs, with your fellow students, going through the shared experience of long days in the computer labs
  • Getting to walk down the Royal Mile every day to get from my dorm to the GeoSciences building, tourist-watching and spotting new buildings I haven’t noticed before
  • Studying a huge range of really useful practical skills – GIS, SQL, Python, R, website building, project management, drones!
  • Getting to go on a field trip to Kindrogan, a remote country field centre south of the Cairngorms; a big weekend of group project work where my team headed into the woods to count trees (lots and lots of trees), but where we still got a few small windows to see some extremely nice Scottish countryside (deer, starry skies, salmon jumping up a waterfall!)
  • Eating lots of scones
  • Going on big walks to try and explore different parts of Edinburgh and sneaking in some day trips close to town – Linlithgow Castle has been my favourite so far!
  • Getting a lot of great weather for big walks around the city. Back home there’s a big misconception that Scotland is ‘grey and rainy’ all the time. Not true! There have been a lot of blue, sunny (if maybe bit colder than Australia) days.
  • Regular drinks with classmates in the library (/Library Bar)
  • Taking advantage of student memberships to the old cinemas in the city and trying to get out to see movies when I can!
  • Getting to see the Australian national rugby team play Scotland!
  • Watching the Christmas markets get set up on Princes St out my window. This year is going incredibly fast, but bring on Christmas in Edinburgh!
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Hi, I’m Mariana and I’m homesick

Moving to a new place is never easy. Well, it is the first days, maybe weeks. Meeting new people and places, going out to parties and loads of alcohol. But that doesn’t last forever. All of a sudden the constant fun stops; classes, writing, readings, stress… hours in the library or in your room, with your eyes stuck to a computer. In that moment, you start to go out less and, also, stop meeting and seeing people.

That’s the moment when pops to your head the word homesick. Yes, we’ve all heard about it, we also might know someone that has had it, we know that it is a possibility once you’re away from home, but the truth is that we actually never think that we’ll be homesick.

The reality: we’ll all be, and many times.

But it’s not the end of the world, and that’s why I decided to talk about it (even though I’ll sound like a self-help book).

So, let’s stick to the stereotypes and, as a good self-help post, let’s define homesick. According to a paper published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, homesickness is a “distress and functional impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home and attachment objects such as parents.”

And it makes sense. Back home we all had routines, established friendships, family close, work, favourite places, and so on. We had a life that made us feel comfortable and helped us to survive.

So, when we’re abroad, there’s a moment when you’ll start to feel sad, you won’t want to go out of your room (especially in the dark and rainy winter days, spooky) and all you’ll do is to remember how much you miss home. But the reality is that when we’re homesick we’re not literally missing home, but the comfort and confidence that it made us feel.

And that’s where the trick is.

To be able go through homesick and get out of it triumphant, we have to build a new comfort zone. How you do it? Two simple steps (once again, self-help books… can’t help it):

  1. Leave home back home: easy to say, not to do (I’m terrible at it). The idea isn’t to build an iron wall between you and your past, but try not to compare food, friends and places. You’re in a new place with new people and experiences. Enjoy it and make the best out of it. In the worst of the cases, join your country or region association (great thing about The University of Edinburgh, it has tons of associations).
  2. Create traditions: It’s great to have plans and a routines. To know that every two weeks you’ll meet with your flatmates or that once in a week you’ll have a pint of Guinness with your classmates. Make plans for weekends and holidays, and make a close friendship with that people that make you feel comfortable.

Sounds obvious, I know, but is not necessarily easy to do and once you are in the homesick loop, not so easy to remember. Good news is that with these self-help book steps, you’ll be able to overcome homesickness.

Believe me, I’m a former homesick person.


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Jellyfish, worms, surfing- oh my!

What do jellyfish🎐, worms 🐛, and surfing 🏄  have in common? I don’t know I’m not a rocket scientist. But I’m certainly a University of Edinburgh M.Sc Marine Systems and Policies student trying to figure it all out.


Me and my mom!

I first became interested in marine ecosystems as a kid in Colombia. During the warm and breezy summers my mom would take me to the beautiful azure coasts of Cartagena and Santa Marta. I remember riding on tiny wooden boats, amazed at how they floated on the sea, and hopping to and from islands. I also remember looking down at the water during those boat trips, spotting the fish and sea life, and wanting to jump in and join them. After spending time on the water I would be tired and hungry, and always be happy to be treated with a lunch including fresh-caught fried fish with lemon, plantains and rice. The sea was my favorite place, and seeing it always brought euphoric bliss. Beneath the waves lied another world, a world I wanted to explore.


Camping for the first time for this expedition!

It was not until entering university that I realized that becoming a marine biologist was a very viable career for me. It all started by joining on a weekend expedition that a research laboratory group was doing. This was a trip to a salt-marsh in Florida where the researchers were looking for salt-marsh snakes, and we did so at sundown! I felt like I was in a Animal Planet show, and this feeling became stronger when we saw a juvenile alligator and a graduate student jumped in the water to catch it. I realized then that being a scientist was a real job, and I wanted to be doing the same thing.

That following summer I was accepted into the National Science Foundation where I led a project to determine if the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was having sub-lethal impacts on invertebrates living in subtidal salt-marsh sediment (50% which were marine worms). I learned lots about these worms called polychaetes, the cousins of earthworms!

The summer after that I had become interested in jellyfish and I had the privilege of being invited for the summer to join the Italian-based group of the MED-JELLYRISK programme, a cross-Mediterranean project examining socio-economic and trophic impacts of jellyfish blooms in order to create informed coastal management decisions. I first participated in two scientific-stakeholder conferences in Malta and then traveled to Italy to work with the Italian partner group. There I worked in two research teams, in one researching hydroid fouling and potential impacts on aquaculture systems in Taranto, Italy, and in the other, determining digestion rates and trophic impact of a bloom of the understudied hydrozoan species, Velella velella. I learned so much about jellyfish….and good Italian food!
After finishing my thesis at my undergraduate institution (which looked at improving living shorelines that are used to restore coasts and prevent shoreline erosion) I realized that throughout my entire research experiences I had always noted an important social side I was not studying. In Louisiana studying the Deepwater Horizon oil spill I realized how local impoverished communities’ livelihoods were devastated by the pollution, in Italy I realized how working collaboratively with and holding multi-lateral discussions with stakeholders were powerful tools in achieving impactful research and lasting solutions, and through my thesis work I realized the importance of community-based ecosystem management.

I realized people are key. People are part of the environment. If I want to protect marine ecosystems for their biodiversity and beauty for future generations I would need to understand people and their actions. Conservation must work for people and the environment if it is to be successful. This is what brought me to apply and enroll in the M.Sc Marine Systems and Policies at University of Edinburgh. It is interdisciplinary, and right now I am taking Development Studies and Integrated Resource Management. These courses are helping me in my future career goals.  In the future I hope to lead multi-lateral initiatives to create science-informed community-based marine conservation and management plans that involve local communities, policymakers, and professionals in varying disciplines. The end goal being to find equitable, and socio-economically feasible solutions to marine issues that will allow people’s livelihoods to thrive while maintaining the biological integrity of marine ecosystems, while building research capacity in developing countries with highly impacted coastal ecosystems.

So far the programme has been great and I am enjoying not only the kind and passionate people I’ve met, but also the perks that have come along- such as surfing🙂
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