Torin Cannings

Middle-Late Miocene palaeoceanographic development of Cyprus (E. Mediterranean)

This PhD was hosted in the School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, in collaboration with the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC).

What was your research about?

The main aim of my PhD research was to find out what climatic and environmental changes took place in the eastern Mediterranean region during a period of geological time known as the Miocene. I did this by analysing the chemistry of fossilised plankton called foraminifera.

My work focussed on the Miocene Climate Optimum, which was the last known period of CO2-driven global warming. This event occurred about 17 million years ago and is an important analogue for modern anthropogenic climate change.

What made you apply to the E4 DTP?

I had completed a Masters by Research (MScR) with the same supervisory team and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to keep going with my research. I originally came to Edinburgh after a phone conversation with my supervisor, his excitement and enthusiasm about the project was infectious. I also thought Edinburgh would be a great place to live, I was right.

I learnt that there are so many fantastic career opportunities after a PhD, you don’t necessarily have to pick one career path and stick to it. I think that’s exciting.

What did you find challenging in your PhD?

It would be fair to say that my PhD wasn’t always a smooth ride. I had to alter my field and lab work plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, in May 2022 my supervisor died, he is greatly missed by me and many others. I hope that some of his infectious enthusiasm has been passed on to me.

My other supervisor supported me fantastically and together we ensured that I completed my PhD as originally planned. Although my circumstances were exceptionally unfortunate, the generosity of several people who stepped in and helped with my project showed me that my field of research is filled with brilliant people.

There were some very rough times during my time as a PhD student. However, overall, I did find my PhD enjoyable, even writing up, a task that I know some people dread.

Looking back, what would you have done differently?

I’m fortunate enough to not have any major regrets from my time as a PhD student. I do wish that I had the time to pursue the Professional Internship Placement (PIP) Scheme. I needed to finish my PhD in time to start my current job and didn’t manage to find time to carry out a PIP. However, I must admit that I’m quite jealous of the amazing opportunities that some of my friends were able to take through this scheme. For me it would have been difficult to pursue a PIP in the earliest part of my PhD due to the pandemic, however, I would encourage new PhD students to consider doing a PIP before other things like future jobs and thesis writing start to get in the way.

Which aspects of your PhD did you enjoy the most?

I love spending time outdoors and I was lucky enough to spend a good amount of time doing fieldwork during my PhD. The time I spent in a windowless clean lab preparing my samples for analyses was much less enjoyable. Having said that, the excitement of getting data makes this worth it, and realising that your data is meaningful is even better!

PhD Highlights

  • Demonstrating (multiple times) on the final-year undergraduate field trip to Cyprus. We took some fantastic groups of students to Cyprus it was great to witness them putting the skills they learned in Edinburgh to use in Cyprus. I also demonstrated on the first-year Lake District field trip. These trips were great fun, both in the field and during free time after a day’s work.
  • My own fieldwork in Cyprus
  • Trips to Italy for a conference and lab training

Which skills did you gain during your PhD?

I think my time management skills dramatically improved during my PhD. My ability to adapt and overcome challenges was also tested and honed. When I compare my work as a Masters student to my PhD thesis, I can see drastic improvements in both my analytical skills and scientific writing skills. Through tutoring and demonstrating I also built on my self-confidence and managed to shake some of my imposter syndrome.

Through tutoring and demonstrating I built on my self-confidence and managed to shake some of my imposter syndrome.

What have you done which would not have been possible out with the DTP?

DTP funding made my fieldwork possible and helped me to gain valuable skills during DTP training. I particularly enjoyed the Media and Outreach residential workshop at Dryburgh during my 3rd year.

How has your PhD helped you to decide on a career path?

My PhD really helped me to work out which aspects of academic research I do and don’t like. I found that it is important to me to be involved at every step in my research, from sample collection all the way to writing. This motivated me to work in a job where I could be involved in all aspects of research, rather than just working on a specific step of the process. I also learnt that there are so many fantastic career opportunities after a PhD, you don’t necessarily have to pick one career path and stick to it. I think that’s exciting.

And now?

I started work in January as a postdoc at the University of Geneva. I am working on an exciting project researching thermal stress dynamics in tropical coral reef ecosystems during past interglacial extremes. Understanding past coral thermal bleaching events and thresholds is the best way to gain insight into how global climate change will impact reef ecosystems in the future. This project gives me the perfect opportunity to use the skills and knowledge gained from my PhD and apply them to a new research topic. I discovered this job through the great network of collaborators that my supervisors had. Collaborating with researchers from other universities and attending conferences is a great way to discover opportunities.

Torin practising yoga on fieldwork
Torin practising yoga on fieldwork