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Growing into climate science- a return interview

In this blog post, we catch up with Matt Ball, whom we previously interviewed as an undergraduate Geography student at Durham University in the UK. Matt is now a PhD student at the University of Alberta in Canada.

How have your views changed from when you began your undergraduate degree?

Looking back on my responses from three years ago, I still agree with much of what I said then. It is perhaps reassuring to know that my entire world view has not drastically changed in that time! The interdisciplinary nature of climate change remains one of the main attractions for me. I became a lot more interested in the agricultural impacts of climate change towards the end of my bachelor’s degree, and that definitely shaped my choice to study for a PhD in Soil Science. My overall scepticism of more extreme geoengineering proposals remains, although my view of geoengineering as a whole has broadened beyond just those often more extreme examples. For example, considering nature-based climate solutions as a form of geoengineering as well – a field of research that I think holds great promise for the future. Agriculture in general is an amazing field to study for that reason; it is both extremely threatened by climate change but is simultaneously at the forefront of sustainability initiatives and potential climate solutions. The overall drive to develop climate-smart agriculture that is both resilient to climate change while being a sink for greenhouse gas emissions is especially exciting and is the broad focus of my PhD thesis.

What motivated you to pursue postgraduate studies?

I was lucky enough to gain research experience across my undergraduate degree and it was something I really enjoyed. That was definitely a main driver, alongside a continued enjoyment of my subject. I really cannot think of anything else I would rather be doing. It really is a great privilege to be able to spend one’s days thinking, researching, and contributing to science. Even before my undergraduate studies I had thought about pursuing a PhD in the future – I mentioned it in my first interview in fact – as I always felt like that would be one of the best ways to have a meaningful impact regarding climate action. The sense of humanitarian obligation I also mentioned in my earlier interview does still stand as well. I think that understanding the gravity and promise of my research for humanity really helps to keep me motivated to continue with it.

What advice would you give to others beginning in climate research?

Definitely look into undergraduate research programmes and schemes hosted within your university or your field of study more broadly. They are great ways to gain experience, and getting a first insight into research is the best way to decide if a career in research is for you. That said, there are now also so many resources online that can help develop your research skills, whether in scientific writing or data analysis, or YouTube tutorials that can help to teach you desk-based research methods such as in climate modelling or GIS. Asking others what their experience has been like and how they got into research is another great way to learn about opportunities for yourself!

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