SWEEP Blog: First field work post-lockdown

It was a great feeling earlier on this month to set off in my car full of ice blocks, tube racks, blue role, etc, and head off to Dorset for my first field trip of my PhD, and post-lockdown.

I am a first- (though soon to be second) year PhD student at the University of Exeter supervised by Prof. Will Gaze, Dr Anne Leonard (both from the University of Exeter), and Dr Andrew Singer (from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH)), and funded through the Medical Research Foundation (MRF) AMR Training programme, and the University of Exeter through SWEEP.

Like so many others students, most of my PhD work came grinding to a halt once the university had to be closed when COVID-19 hit. A lot of my work had to shift online, making the most of my time to read papers, work on my literature review, plan later chapters, and do online training courses. I suspect I am not alone in saying that I have found the shift to home working and everything else that has come with lockdown very difficult.

Slowly, the campus started to open up again and we have been able to re-start laboratory work. It has still felt alien though, returning to short pre-booked lab shifts, complicated one-way systems, sanitisation stations what feels like every 20 yards, and near-empty buildings.

My first field trip has been the most normal I have felt in months. I packed up the car, bleary-eyed at 8:30am (seriously who wakes up that early), and headed off on the 3½ hour journey down small country lanes to a mesocosm pond site (associated with Queen Mary University and the FDA) in what feels like the middle of nowhere. The views from the field site are fantastic, and I had beautiful sunshine the whole day, so thankfully I remembered a cap and sun cream.

I took some water quality readings (although the pH probe took so long to decide what the number was that I felt like I was training for the world’s longest squat, and my thighs still hurt), and sediment samples. I regretted not labelling my tubes the day before, but hopefully, I will have learnt my lesson for the next time.

Cara testing water quality


I then began my long drive back, and after finishing up in the lab I headed home at 8:30pm. I realise that it’s weird to call a 12-hour day with 7 hours behind the wheel enjoyable, but I finally felt like I was getting back on track to normal. Now I just have to process everything.

Cara Patel, 2020

Read more about Cara, her interest in natural sciences and her career journey, on her alumni page at Manchester Metropolitan University:

Cara’s MMU alumni profile


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