Matt – Reader in Polar Geodesy

If you think you would enjoy working indoors and outdoors, international travel, and studying the Earth using maps and maths, then read on to find out more about Matt’s career.

What attracted you to this job?

I initially studied Land Surveying (aka “Geomatics” – the science of spatial measurement and mapping) as I liked maths, computers and physics and it offered options to combine indoor and outdoor work. I could have done engineering, but I didn’t want to be like a sheep! I then got into measuring changes in the Antarctic ice sheet during my PhD and I’ve been working on that sort of thing ever since.

What does your typical day involve?

I could do a lot of fieldwork, collecting data in Antarctica and Greenland, but recently I’ve turned down those opportunities to concentrate on analysing the data instead. I convert raw Global Positioning System (GPS) measurements into measurements of change in position of a glacier or part of Earth’s crust. I try and push the measurements as far as they go – we’re chasing millimeters. I then try and interpret why the glacier/crust/etc. is moving like that. Once I’ve understood what is being observed I write that up for scientific journals and present the work at international conferences. Mind you, I did go to Antarctica for 5 months – it was amazing!

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Finding out something new! There’s nothing quite like looking at a series of measurements, knowing you’re the first person to see it. Then there’s the challenge of understanding and explaining it.

What do your friends and family think about your job?

They see the connection between “climate change” and what I do – while I don’t study climate change directly, my work has a bearing on understanding how the Earth system works, and hence should help predict how it may respond in the future.

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance

My job is pretty flexible and I’m really thankful for that. I tend to do 9-5.30, but sometimes I’m away in the USA or Australia at a conference for 1-2 weeks. Other times I need to work evenings to meet deadlines, but generally it’s a great, self-contained job. I do tend to think about problems in the shower though!

How did you get to where you are today?

I studied Land Surveying (geomatics) at the University of Tasmania, Australia, then did a PhD there before moving to the UK to work as a postdoctoral researcher at Newcastle University – the geomatics undergraduate degree here in Newcastle is very similar to that in Tasmania (mainly just different accents). I worked on subsidence of offshore platforms (again with GPS), but have transitioned into doing my own research, much of it funded by the government (when I can get the money – science funding competition can be tough).

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your path?

If you like maps or maths, outdoors and indoors, computers and travel then studying geomatics could be for you. There’re loads of jobs, from government to the offshore industry and science. You’ve probably not heard of geomatics before, so dig around, visit a University that teaches it (such as Newcastle University) and see how it fits.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field, and how much can this be expected to rise?

Starting salaries for a recent graduate are somewhere around £20,000 but higher in the offshore industry. A senior surveyor could be earning up to £45,000 in some circumstances. Academic salaries require a PhD, but start around £25,000 and go up.

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

Out of hours I’m kept busy by my family – my wife and three little (and mostly lovely) girls. We enjoy getting outside and going to cafes (nice coffee essential). Other than that, we enjoy being part of our local church.

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

Lots! Getting things wrong is always embarrassing. I remember all too well messing up a job while I was working in the largest underground tin mine in the southern hemisphere. 500m below the surface and a bunch of miners breathing down my neck waiting to get drilling while I messed around … and then needed to call a colleague out to help me! Mistakes are good learning tools, although best to learn from wisdom!