CUWBC Athletes Summer Fieldwork

Over the summer, several CUWBC athletes participated in field work related to their courses of study. They made the most of the time away from the team training, travelling to Svalbard, Newfoundland, Ethiopia, and Northumberland.

Abigail Parker (Emmanuel) is doing a PhD in Zoology, studying the evolution of reptile body size in the fossil record. This summer, she participated in a fossil collecting trip in southwest Ethiopia. She joined a team of researchers prospecting for fossils in an area known for early human fossils (from 4 to 1 million years old). Here she is taking notes on a specimen:


Parker describes the experience, “It was amazing to get out in the field, and the landscape in Ethiopia was beautiful. I’m looking forward to incorporating the data we collected on reptile faunas into my PhD project.”

A view of the fossil-rich Shungura Formation

Pippa Dakin (Newnham) is a third-year undergrad studying Natural Sciences specialising in Earth sciences. This summer, as part of her third-year course, she spent 2 weeks on Isle of Skye, Scotland and 6 weeks in Newfoundland, Canada, with the aim of producing geological maps of the area. The main purpose of the trips was to develop skills in geological mapping, but Pippa still had time to explore surrounding areas especially all the wildlife in Newfoundland including puffins, moose and whales.


Pippa Dakin studying a rock formation in Newfoundland

Rebecca Dell (Christ’s), who is a PhD student at the Scott Polar Research Institute, went to Svalbard with the European Space Agency for a Remote Sensing Course. Whilst in Svalbard, she was trained in advanced techniques for satellite image processing, which allow her to calculate changes in ice elevation, glacier velocities, and much more. During the trip, Rebecca visited Svalsat, a major satellite ground station, where she presented a synopsis of her PhD so far.

The view from Svalsat – a major satellite ground station

Rebecca also spent plenty of time on and inside the glaciers during her time in Svalbard. On the first day of her trip she hiked and snow-mobiled on Longyearbreen Glacier, and she even managed to spend some time caving inside one of the glacier’s meltwater channels! As she is a keen open water swimmer, the trip also involved a swim in the Fjord (despite the snow and freezing temperatures). She says, “Going to Svalbard was possibly the best experience of my life so far. I was able to learn world leading techniques from the research community, and still got to spend a lot of time in the field too! The glacial setting in Svalbard is simply beautiful, and I cannot wait to go back out there!”

Rebecca snow-mobiling on Longyearbreen Glacier
Rebecca taking in the view at Svalsat (photo credit: Jade Bowling)


A bit closer to Cambridge, Laura Foster (Queen’s), who just finished an MPhil in Archaelogy and is beginning her PhD this year, went up north to Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland to continue her previous work at the Bamburgh Research Project. Bamburgh castle, pictured below, has been inhabited since at least Roman times. The excavation she worked on this summer was on the outer ward of the castle, where tradesmen would have had workshops serving the household. Finds there have included a sword, intricately-carved gold items, and part of a stone throne, in addition to more common animal bone and charcoal.

This summer, she unearthed several iron Anglo-Saxon objects as well as a stone object that bears a remarkable resemblance to a button. She also worked on her skills at trench planning. Laura says about the experience, “It was incredible to get back out in the field, and coming back to the Bamburgh Research Project after a year studying archaeology at Cambridge felt like coming home. Fieldwork is such an essential part of archaeology, and I was able to apply what I had learned in my degree while having fun getting dirty. By definition, whenever we unearth something, it’s the first time someone has looked at it in over 1,000 years. I’m looking forward to learning even more now that I’m back in Cambridge!” In her PhD, Laura plans to research Roman roads in Britain and their use and maintenance after the departure of the Roman.


Laura’s trench plan, drawn on special grid paper with a graphite pencil. Fieldwork is often low-tech!

The flexible training plan and yearly structure at CUWBC allows students like these to pursue their academic work to the fullest, even in degrees requiring field work.