My UEA Story: Natalia Balashova
Name: Natalia Balashova
School: Environmental Sciences
Research area: PhD in Catchment Science and Environmental Hydrology
Bio: My research looks at how effective are catchment-based approaches and best management farming practices in reducing metaldehyde loss to surface water supplies. Metaldehyde is commonly used molluscicide. Due to its characteristics, it is not effectively removed by the current standard water treatment methods. Therefore, it is important to better understand metaldehyde presence and its variations in the environment. The goal of the project is to assess metaldehyde transport in river networks, biodegradations in soils and its persistence in the environment at a catchment scale – a catchment where farmers are encouraged to use alternative slug control methods instead of applying metaldehyde on their land.
In the future I want to continue being involved in research in the field of Catchment Science by studying connections and relationships between human activities, physical landscape characteristics and ecosystems within water catchments.
What is life as a postgraduate student at UEA like? Describe a typical day.
Life as a PGR (Postgraduate Research) student is anything but boring. While my research project is the main priority, and I spend most of the time during a week doing various research-related tasks, it involves a great variety of other activities that enrich my academic life. I make sure to get involved in science outreach and communication; don’t miss out on networking and professional development opportunities via various seminars, PGR training sessions and conferences, and do some teaching as well.
Why did you choose UEA?
I applied for an advertised project that happened to fit an area of my research interests in a perfect way, so not submitting an application would have been a huge missed opportunity. Research groups in a variety of interdisciplinary areas, including climate change and water research, provide a great ground for future collaborations. Location was also an important factor for me, since my family lives in Norwich.
Any tips for choosing a project / supervisor?
Follow your scientific interests and choose an area of research that would combine your passion in the area with practicality, and look out for research staff members whose research interests are similar to yours. They will have a plethora of experience in your chosen field and will share their knowledge with you.
If you plan to apply for an advertised project with already defined topic, learn as much as you can about this topic. This will help you to make sure that a project is a right fit and that you will be able to successfully run this project in a timely manner, so you can realistically complete a project within your study period.
How is postgraduate study different to undergraduate study?
Postgraduate study involves significantly more self-study time in comparison with undergraduate study. There will be no lectures and tests, but instead you will study a great deal of things around your own research, develop research questions and come up with strategies and ideas on how to answer these scientific questions. Running a 3-year/4-year research project helps to advance your project management, time management and organisational skills, and involves a higher level of responsibilities and commitments in comparison with undergraduate study.
What’s the social side like? How do you find the Postgraduate community?
PGR community is full of friendly and interesting people. Opportunities to meet other PGR researchers and make new friends include seminars, PGR training sessions and social events organised by PGR students and School of Science-PGR committee. Make sure to participate in those and you will establish your social network soon enough!
What has most surprised you about your postgraduate study at UEA?
Being passionate about the topic of my research, it’s not always easy to switch attention to other aspects of PhD life, and you may find yourself talking about your project to relatives and friends outside academia a little too much!
Getting a perfect life-work balance is still work in progress.
Any highlights of your experience?
Being able to design and conduct my own research is a truly fulfilling experience. I am also very grateful for all guidance that my supervisors provide; having supportive supervisors is of a paramount importance.
What kind of activities you have got involved with at UEA (e.g. networks, conferences, events, outreach) that have helped your research?
Participation in personal and professional development activities, conferences and seminars is an integral part of academic life, which allows to share your science with members of the scientific community, get new ideas for your research and meet people working in your area. I also really enjoy outreach events when I have a chance to share science through fun interactive hands-on activities with members of community. It helps to spark people’s interests in science and is also highly beneficial for developing and improving communication skills.
What is writing your thesis or preparing for a viva like (if you’ve got there yet!)
Writing a thesis is like running a marathon: it is a good idea to start writing it as early in your study as possible and write up your findings as you collect them, if you can, instead of leaving writing up towards the end of your study period.
Having a structured approach is very helpful: create an outline for each section/chapter, and set a clear timeline to complete each chapter with separate deadlines for data collection and analysis, as well as a writing up time. Using Gantt charts, priority grids and other project management tools will help you to stick to deadlines and see short term and long-term progress. Try to have writing time on a regular basis but also ensure to have breaks to avoid a burnout.
What would you say to someone thinking of coming to UEA?
UEA has a diverse and inclusive research community, where you will be able to find peers with similar interests before you know it. There are a lot of social opportunities not just through PGR training but also different student clubs, student forums and social events that they offer. You will be able to explore opportunities outside the immediate area of your research, widen your professional network and make valuable connections. Additionally, UEA has truly amazing campus grounds, where you can go for a walk in the woods, enjoy the riverside or have a nice picnic by the lake.