Davide is currently a PhD student at Swansea University working on the biodiversity of saltmarshes and resilience of saltmarsh ecosystems to climate change with Dr John Griffin. I had the honour of spending a week working with Davide in the summer, and you can read more of what we got up to here. This was a direct result of interviewing John when I started this blog. It seemed only fitting that I give Davide the opportunity to share how he got into his career in research and some of his challenges and interests. So here is an interview with Davide…
How would you describe your work to a 10yr old?
Well, I would tell him that I am playing with the mud. Working in salt marshes it is an adventure; sometimes you need to walk through forests and fields to find the access to the marsh and, once you’re there, you need to cross muddy creeks. You can get stuck in the mud at knee level sometimes, and then you climb to next vegetated part. And another creek again!
All this effort to understand how the roots of plants are effectively able to bind the sediment and prevent (or reduce) erosion of the marsh. This is important because salt marshes are protecting the coast from flooding events during storms, they are used as forage for cattle and sheep, they store carbon helping to combat climate change, etc.
Why did you choose this as a profession?
Because research is challenging, you have to overcome the many problems that you will encounter in your study and you will always learn something new. It gives you the possibility to pursue your ideas and satisfy your curiosity.
Also, research it can be a very flexible job. You can organise your work, decide your own work schedule, and take a day off almost whenever you want. The drawback is that you end up working twelve hours per day, weekend included.
Scientific research is full of challenges; can you share some of your biggest challenges, and how you overcame them?
Overcoming challenges is easy. You cry a lot, then you cry a bit more; maybe a bit more, and then you overcome the problem.
Joking aside, a practical challenge that I had was to collect cores of 16 cm in diameter per 30 cm depth from the marsh for an erosion experiment. One marsh in particular was challenging; that marsh is big and full of creeks to cross. We were in the marsh with just two people and we collected sediment material for a total of circa 50 kg; we had to bring all this material to the edge of the marsh, and then we put everything in a trolley and we pushed the trolley along a path to the car. That was exhausting.
How would you define success as a scientific researcher for you personally?
To me, right now, success is getting my PhD and publishing a paper as first author.
What excites you about your current projects?
That I have results and they make sense! Ahahah!
I really like my project and the people with I am working with, especially my supervisors. I am learning a lot, both from my own work and from the people in the project, and this is what excites me most.
What advice, that has impacted your career, would you like to share with any scientists reading this?
I think that reading the literature is very important, and also to keep the reading broad. I have been lucky because I had the possibility to spend enough time in reading and this gave me a solid background on my topic, so I have been able to define (at least generally) the basic theme behind my PhD. Of course, I still have a lot to read and learn.
If another scientist wanted to collaborate with you, what is the best way for them to connect with you?
The best way is to send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I am also on Twitter (@davide_deba), but I don’t look at it very often.
Firstly my thanks to Davide for welcoming me to Swansea and allowing me to be a part of his research, and secondly for taking the time to respond to the interview questions.
I think what Davide said about the importance of reading broadly is spot on. Whether you’re in research or not, reading is key to developing your knowledge. I would recommend that as a scientist you not only read outside your subject area, but outside of science altogether too. Read about business, philosophy, history, and anything that interests you. You may be surprised how relevant to your work it turns out to be.
Let us know in the comments what stood out to you. What have you read that has shifted your perspective?
Until next time,