Studying Geology in 2020: Student Blog by Hazel Knight – October

The Scottish Geology Trust would like to offer students involved with Scottish geology the chance to share their educational experience of studying geology with a wider audience.

University in 2020

Welcome to the next instalment of my student blog! As term is continuing, I’m slowly getting used to what university looks like this year. Currently the university is doing bi-modal teaching with a combination of in-person and online sessions on zoom. This means things such as lectures and tutorials are taught online, whereas practical and lab sessions which cannot be completed at home are being held in person, (though with many modifications and precautions).  This means we are able to access microscopes and other equipment that we need on campus, despite the majority of teaching being done online. For me this means I’m only on campus for about 4 hours a week which is a significant change from last year!

What is a geology practical class like?

The Earth Imaging lab, the geology departments computer lab. Here we have access to lots of different specialist software as well as study and work on group projects.

Currently, my practical sessions are based around using specific software in the geology department’s computer lab, known as the Earth Imaging lab. As you can see in the photo, computers are set up in clusters so working here is normally quite collaborative. In normal times, geology students are also allowed to use this room to study or work on group projects between scheduled sessions, so it’s generally quite busy and social. Now on each eight-space table only two people are allowed on opposite sides, so it feels very different. Nevertheless, I’m glad to be able to go back at all as it’s so nice to be back in the department after so long, and obviously safety is the most important.

The computers here have lots of specialist software which we have used throughout our degree, including programs to make geological maps, display borehole data, do statistical analysis of fossil species, create sedimentary logs, model groundwater flow or estimate the value of mineral deposits for mining to name just a few! Geology lab sessions are often thought of as  looking at rock samples, and whilst we definitely do spend plenty of  time looking at samples, using microscopes and doing field work, like all science subjects, we also spend plenty of time using computers and new technologies. For example, this week we have been trailing new cloud-based software for studying seismic images.

Geology and sustainable development

We also spend time looking at rock samples and using microscopes in lab sessions, typically in the dry lab space within the Collaborative Teaching Laboratory (CTL) shown here.

The interpretation of seismic images has traditionally been used to find oil deposits, but we have also been looking at how this technology could be used in the future to look for reservoirs for carbon capture and storage projects or the development of geothermal power plants. Throughout my degree, I have noticed an increasing focus on sustainability which I really like! This semester we also had a seminar session on geology and the UN’s sustainable development goals. This was really interesting and highlighted the relevance of geology to many of the goals including renewable energy, water management, sustainable city development and resource management. I’m glad to be studying a subject which could have such an important and positive impact and it’s nice to think that, although we spend a lot of time looking at the past, geology will be very important in the future.

Changes in 2020

One of the few upsides of this year is with lots of events moving online its easier than ever to attend so many great events. This year I have been able to watch a conference about the geology of the moon and listen to talks about the changing energy system and the potential use of oil in the future. I’ve also been able to listen to some of the talks run by the Scottish Geology Trust! I’ve particularly enjoyed the virtual fieldtrips since I’ve not been able to any normal fieldwork this year, and I’ve really enjoyed learning more about Scotland’s geology, particularly some of the Islands. I would definitely recommend checking out the upcoming talks on the events section of the website!

Overall, it’s a busy time with all my lectures, practicals and the end of term coursework pieces slowly being started. I’m also planning on applying for a PhD position for next year so I’m looking at applications at the moment. Its exciting to see all the amazing projects available but a little daunting as well as I know the application process is tough. Throughout my degree the independent research projects, like my mapping project and master project, have been my favourite parts, and I’m just not ready to stop doing it! Anyway, that’s what I’m up to at the moment! I’ll be back with another update next month.

If you’re interested in writing a student blog for the Trust, please email