‘The Apprentice’ style group presentations, high-production-values training films and twitter question-and-answer sessions, made a recent soil science doctoral training course funky, fun and informative says Professor Phil Haygarth.

Earlier this month, in collaboration with my colleagues Professor John Quinton from Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University, Dr Kathryn Alton from the British Society of Soil Science  and Dr Helaina Black from the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, I ran a week long doctoral training course for soil PhD students. It was funded by the National Environmental Research Council (NERC). I was the Principal Investigator and the run up to the course had been quite time consuming and had posed a few headaches what with managing the budget and finding the right accommodation, but supported by the great team it all came together very well.

We had 24 students and what was so exciting was that we were using some funky techniques for the lectures and teaching.  Both John and I had made some films on soil-water transfers and soil-security, with Dependable Productions, a terrific company led by my long term collaborator Richard Critchlow, so good to work with. We’ve now asked the students to work with us to make two more films following on from the course.

We ran live lectures presented by the team, and some of these are still available as a legacy: see John on Soil Security, Helaina on Soil Biology and myself on soil water transfers. Throughout the course we were running questions and answers, and live interactions on twitter (#soilunderfoot

We also tried some working group activities where we asked teams of students to consider a high-level soil science question, which had to be presented back to the group 'The Apprentice' style on the final morning.  It proved successful and was also a lot of fun.  Congratulations to 'Team Kathryn' for winning the student vote for the best proposal, considering soils as a source of geothermal energy

Fabulous feedback

We had some terrific some feedback from the students.

"I wanted to say thank you to you all for a fantastic week at Soil Underfoot. I have learnt so much and look forward to going through all the material you very kindly put up on moodle for us. It was a great opportunity to meet other people in the same sector and get to know more about the current research that is happening all over the county and beyond, also to hear what your visions of the future are.  

“I do hope that you are able to run course like this in the future so others can gain from the experience (even the late nights). I got a lot out of the group challenge - just getting in to that mind-set was a challenge. I thought there was a nice balance of field work with lectures and practical sessions."

Karen Walmsley, Harper Adams University

and how about this news just in....

I am pleased to inform you that I defended successfully today my PhD thesis titled ''Mobility and Bioavailability of Arsenic in Ochre Amended Soils''. Thank you for organising the NERC Doctoral training course, 'Understanding the soil underfoot'. It helped me in the preparation for my viva.

Joseph Olimah, University of Reading

Feedback doesn't get better than that!  

All the worry was worth it!  Congratulations and thanks to all the inner team and to the additional contributing lecturers: David Powlson; Jac Hannam; Dick Thompson; Willie Towers; Sacha Mooney; Wilfred Otten; Matt Aitkenhead; Andrew Binley.

See some photos from the final day taken by Dependable Productions.

Find out more about continuing professional development courses at the Lancaster Environment Centre.  Read my regular Soil and Water blog.

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