Introduction to PhDs with the Woodland Trust

Introduction to PhDs with the Woodland Trust
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Robotic sheep are helping in a PhD currently in progress (Photo L. Clark)

Christine was one of the first PhD researchers enrolled onto our research programme. With her work into the spring timing of flowering and leafing in UK plant species now complete; she is working for us as our Research & Evidence Co-ordinator. 

We've asked her to answer some of the common questions abour PhDs and our research programme.

1. What is a PhD?

A PhD (or DPhil) is the abbreviation for a Doctor of Philosophy degree, and in the UK, this usually involves 3-4 years of study on a focussed area of research. Ideally, when you finish your PhD, no one else will know as much about your area of research as you because you've lived and breathed your research topic for several years!

2. Why do we have a research programme?

Our research programme aims to help fill gaps in our knowledge about issues that are important for our conservation work. If we identify an area where there is a lack of evidence to support a particular approach, then we may support research to find out what the best action to take is.

3. Why do we support PhDs as part of the research programme?

We support PhD projects on a range of subjects because they provide an excellent opportunity for in-depth work to be conducted on a specific topic over a number of years. It can be important for some research to run over several years in order to provide robust findings. Supporting a PhD also gives us a chance to get to know the researchers and student involved, while we can provide the perspective of a conservation charity on their work.

4. How does a PhD partnership work?

As part of a PhD partnership, we will sit on a steering group for the research project, to help shape the work that will be undertaken. In addition, we will usually offer placement and training opportunities for the student to experience different aspects of our activities. While the academic supervisors and the student ensure that the project meets the requirements of a doctorate, we can offer some guidance on the practical implications of the research.

5. How would someone get involved in a PhD with us?

We don't currently have any PhD vacancies but all the projects we support will be advertised through the Find a PhD website.

6. What PhDs are we involved with at the moment?

Currently we support an interesting range of PhD work, including projects on woodland soils, the use of trees as shelter for sheep on farms, the impact of woodland activity on health and wellbeing and the pine marten reintroduction project in Wales.

We’ll be doing a Q&A with some of the students involved in these projects on the blog in the coming weeks; be sure to keep an eye out.

7. How have we used past PhD findings?

My own PhD work used hundreds of thousands of records from the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar scheme to look at how the spring timing of different plant species may be affected by a changing climate.

My findings have been used to demonstrate the continuing scientific value of citizen science projects like Nature’s Calendar, and some of my recommendations arising from working with the data will be integrated into how the project runs in future.

8. What was the most memorable thing from your PhD?

In addition to working with records collected by the amazing recorders from Nature’s Calendar, I set up a sister citizen science project called Track a Tree. Track a Tree monitors the spring timing of an individual woodland tree or trees, as well as the flowering plants that grow beneath it. Learning how to do (and how not to do!), different things for the scheme was a hugely memorable experience.

The most enjoyable aspect of the whole project however, was seeing the stories and blog posts of Track a Tree recorders. I love hearing about the different experiences of Track a Tree participants as they enjoy spring in the woods.

Get involved in some ongoing research and take part in the Track a Tree project.

What do you think?

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