About Dan: The Road to my PhD

It's an interesting, and yet slightly unnerving experience to be faced with a title such as 'About Dan' and realise that the task before you is to summarize yourself in a few paragraphs. I imagine that if I ever did plan an autobiographical work, it wouldn't get written. And it certainly wouldn't get finished.

But perhaps a more manageable task is to suggest perhaps a few reasons about why my upbringing and journey has led me naturally to where I am today. That is, a PhD office within Lancaster University. 

In fact, where I am today is highly significant. Just north of Lancaster is the Lake District; the palette for such a wide range of 18th and 19th century Romantic artistry. From the strokes of Constable, to the scratchings of Blake, the Lake District has inspired and uplifted its visitors for centuries. 

It wasn't the Lake District that captivated me when I was little, but the deep, impassioned connection between sublime landscapes and open minded individuals like William Blake was something that I experienced in my home county of Norfolk. It was growing up on a patchment quilt of farmland, stitched together by the hedgerows that first fuelled what has been, and always will be, an extraordinary affinity towards what many have called the idealized 'pastoral'. I clearly didn't express these emotions with the literary decoration that is afforded to them now, and I certainly didn't share them with my fellow peers. But I grasped any chance to live the 'country life'. 

Thus it was that I fostered a unique yet genuine relationship with the rural landscape. Over time, as I was introduced to the perils of erosion and land degradation at school, college and university, this relationship was moulded into one of care and preservation. I found myself not simply loving the countryside, but defending it; wanting to protect it, as any steward would. I suppose that stewardly desire is something at the very heart of many academics who are researching fragile and non-renewable resources. It certainly fits into my own rationale for researching soils. Very simply, I want to protect them and in order to effectively do this, I must learn more about them. As John Quincy Adams once elegantly asserted, "to furnish the means of acquiring knowledge...prolongs life itself and enlarges the sphere of existence".

There is, of course, another reason why I'm sitting in a university now. I have an incessant thirst and forever-growing curiosity to understand more about the planet in general. My life, thus far, has been driven by seeking the answers to those timeless questions of "how" and "why" and even after eighteen years of education, the zest I experience from researching and learning is greater than ever before. My undergraduate degree in Physical Geography at the Royal Holloway, University of London only whetted the appetite. And as any researcher knows, one's appetite is never truly satisfied. 

My largest project in Soil Science, to date, was my Undergraduate Dissertation which sought to investigate the effects of root tapering on soil erodibility. At the time, I kept a series of Dissertation Diaries and these can be found on my sister site, Geography with Dan  


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