16 December 2014

Top student studies ecology to feed into his art and discovers a new direction in his career

Two years ago painter and sculptor Sam Robinson was living in London, supplementing his income by doing administrative work.

“My art was based on environmental issues and ecological theories, which are so relevant today when there are so many threats to global ecological processes.

“Having discovered that it was difficult to sustain myself solely through my art, I decided that if I am going to have to spend most of my working life doing something else, I’d like to do something I am passionate about and that feeds into my art.”

So the Fine Art graduate applied to Lancaster University to do a Masters in Ecology and Conservation. When he arrived he was surrounded by other students who’d been studying science for years.

“The course was really intense because I had a lot of catching up to do. It was difficult but the support was there if you wanted to seek it.”

A year later, much to his surprise, Sam graduated with distinction and won the prize (jointly) for the Lancaster Environment Centre top performing postgraduate student of 2014. He’s now hoping to pursue an academic career alongside his work as an artist.

Sam’s dissertation, travelling to Brazil to studying regeneration in degraded tropical forest, was a turning point for him. The Atlantic forest on the east coast of Brazil is one of the most diverse areas in the world and has been effected by urban expansion and farming.

“I was looking at the environmental factors and soil conditions effecting the rate and kind of forest recovery in degraded areas which had then been abandoned. I was interested in finding out why some areas recover faster than others, so that we can simulate the process and increase the speed of natural successon (regeneration).”

“I had very good supervisors, one in Lancaster and another at the University of Lavras, Lancasters’ partner university in Brazil.”

Sam’s research was linkied to a major research project being carried out at Lavras, in conjuction with a big hydroelectric power company.

“The dissertation made the world of difference to me. It not only broadened my horizons about what I might do but I became part of an academic community working in Brazil. I found it so exciting, it opened up new doors that I didn’t think were possible and showed me the opportunities of working internationally.  I came back to a different Lancaster than I had left.”

Back at the Lancaster Environment Centre, Sam started mixing with PhD students and began thinking about continuing his academic research. Having done so well in his masters, he is now applying for a PhD himself.

But what about Sam’s art, how has that been effected by his studies?

"What I’ve studied has already fed into my art, it’s a cyclical process. I’m thinking about making a new series of works, though I’m not saying much about it at present. Now I am exploring new themes at depths that I wouldn't necessarily have been able to before. I can really delve into the ecological issues that fascinate me.”

Read Sam’s blog about his dissertation research in Brazil.  Find out more about postgraduate study at the Lancaster Environment Centre.