Eleni Wood

Eleni Wood

Eleni Wood is a geologist and is the creator and producer of Fieldwork Diaries. She is studying for her PhD at The Open University, looking at how a special suite of rocks in NW Bhutan got buried at great depths during the India-Asia collision and then came back to the surface really quickly. You can hear being interviewed about her fieldwork experiences in Episode 7 of Fieldwork Diaries. Find her on Twitter at @EleniWood.

I feel so lucky to be able to say that I am studying Himalayan geology, it’s a dream come true. I had a dinosaur obsessed childhood; largely helped by the Land Before Time cartoon series and frequent visits to the Natural History museum in London. I’d spent hours peeking into the treasure trove of fossils that my Grandad had carefully curated. Then add the fact that I grew up in the mountains of the Lake District and it kind of makes sense that I’d study geology. However, I didn’t always know I was going to be a geologist, let alone call the mountains my workplace.

One can never have too many dinosaurs. Showing off my collection to my younger sister.

7 years ago, rifling through a stack of chunky university prospectuses, I was completely torn between geography and taking up a science degree. But all of my boxes where ticked when I stumbled upon an advert for ‘Earth Sciences’. I was beyond excited. A degree where you get to investigate the evolution of the planet, and not only that, a degree with numerous fieldtrips – this is perfect!

On a bitterly cold December morning, I had my interview to study Earth Sciences at St Peter’s College, Oxford. This was another surprise to me; my school didn’t exactly go out of its way to recommend students to apply to Oxbridge. I had also bought into all the rumours about the university and its atmosphere. But I took the gamble and was proved wrong. I met a lovely group of people at interviews and the college tutors who interviewed me were really encouraging. Ten months later I started my undergraduate degree in Earth Sciences at Oxford.

Sketching the geology of the Masang Kang valley, Bhutan. Photo Clare Warren.

The highlights of my undergraduate were definitely the fieldtrips and fieldwork. Geology is a very observational science. It is in the field that you get the chance to see the evidence for processes and events that you learn about in the lecture theatre. In my first year of my degree I had the chance to attend the Explore conference at the Royal Geographical Society, which opened my eyes to the (sometimes bonkers) adventures that people have had on scientific fieldwork.

The best form of transport for collecting those last couple of rock samples from your mapping area. An overcast day in Igaliko, SW Greenland.

A turning point for me, was when I realised that fieldwork to remote and exciting destinations is possible for anyone willing to put in the planning hours. This turning point was a geological mapping trip to South-West Greenland. The trip was the brainchild of Anna Bidgood (who I interviewed in Episode 3) and it quickly took shape as four of us successfully applied for funding. I had lots of fun documenting the trip with a short video (see link below!)– hoping to inspire young people to explore the possibility of studying Earth Sciences.

Rocks for miles and not another soul in sight in Inchnadamph, NW Scotland.

In my final year of studies, I spent many a happy day up in the beautiful wilds of Inchnadamph, in north west Scotland, undertaking fieldwork for my master’s project. It was then that I realised that I loved this work and wasn’t prepared to give it up…

Taking the scenic route to Laya, Bhutan.

So here I am now, at the start of my 3rd year of my PhD, studying how the deep crust of the Himalaya has responded to the collision of the Indian and Asian continents. I still sometimes have to pinch myself when I think about my fieldwork trekking through the valleys of NW Bhutan. I feel incredibly lucky.

Trekking up the valley from Gasa on the way to the remote settlement of Laya.
The Masang Kang valley, my study area, looking very lovely with a light dusting of snow.

When I think about how I got to this point, I always remember the moments when I sat in awe, listening to all the adventures that other scientists had ventured out on for their research. Their stories inspired me and made me wonder ‘if they can make it possible, why not me?’. They gave me the push I needed to try and make my fieldwork dreams a reality. This is the idea behind Fieldwork Diaries. The podcast is a place where researchers can share all of the adventures and misadventures of fieldwork. And hopefully, maybe, there is someone out there asking the very same question that I did back at Explore in 2011… ‘Why not me?’.

Eleni also enjoys producing videos of her fieldtrips and here are some short films she has made from her work in Greenland and Bhutan.

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