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News > Alumni Career Profiles > Amy Macfarlane (Class of 2012)

Amy Macfarlane (Class of 2012)

Meet Old Girl Amy, our very own explorer extraordinaire! Learn more about Amy’s post-doctorate research in Tromsø, Norway and fascinating career journey since leaving BGS here…
1 Feb 2024
United Kingdom | Norway
Alumni Career Profiles
Arrival in Tromso, Norway (credits: Delphin Ruché)
Arrival in Tromso, Norway (credits: Delphin Ruché)

It has been our pleasure to reconnect with Old Girl Amy Macfarlane from the Class of 2012, who is following a fascinating career since leaving BGS (Bury Grammar School). With a PhD in Snow Physics from ETH Zurich titled “Influences of snow microstructure on the Arctic Sea ice energy budget,” her work has taken her from Bath, UK to Davos, Switzerland to Tasmania, Australia, and she is now working on a post-doctorate in Tromsø, Norway. Amy’s scientific focus is now examining the influence of snow microstructure (the shape and structural properties of the snow crystals) on remote sensing applications on Arctic and Antarctic Sea ice.  

Additionally, by conducting outreach, Amy aims to inspire future scientists and initiate conversations about our changing planet, and she creates scientific illustrations to represent and outline complex scientific concepts. Amy’s work on scientific sustainability has seen her working towards creating environmental impact assessments for remote fieldwork, hosting workshops, and influencing scientific policy to reduce the environmental impact of scientific activities. 

Amy, please tell us more about your career journey post-BGS and what led you to such an interesting and specialised field of research? 

While studying Physics at Bath University, I undertook a placement year in Snow Physics in Switzerland. I saw from their prospectus that a student had been there previously, and I was inquisitive about what Snow Physics entailed. After visiting the institute and attending a cold laboratory tour (a large room maintained at -20oC where experiments are conducted), where they showed me an instrument that could make different types of snow crystals, I was hooked! I spent a year at the Snow and Avalanche Research Institute in Davos, working on numerous field campaigns and laboratory experiments. I then returned to the UK to complete a Masters at Sheffield University whilst joining field work at any opportunity to Svalbard during the holidays. As a result of my fieldwork and scientific experiences, I was invited back for a PhD in Davos, where I was fortunate to join one of the largest Arctic expeditions to date. I now use the data collected from this expedition for my PhD and Postdoc. After completing my PhD, I was awarded a fellowship to work in Tasmania, Australia, for three months, and I am now based in Tromsø, Norway, for a two-year Postdoc. 

Can you tell me more about what your role involves? What is an average day like for you? 

A day in research is completely different depending on the project I’m working on. My work has taken me to remote areas of Arctic sea ice, the Alps, forested areas in Finland, and glaciers to measure snow properties. This side of my work is very practical, and I enjoy the mental, physical, and organisational challenges in the field. Sometimes, laboratory work is required when processing samples or running additional measurements, and finally, there is a lot of desk work involved, which is essential to analyse the datasets, develop and use existing snow models, and, of course, write scientific papers. 

What do you like most about your role? 

I really enjoy the community and colleagues I am working with. It is extremely important in science to have great collaborators to bounce ideas off and guide my scientific direction. In addition, I have a lot of freedom to work on topics I find interesting and where I think knowledge is missing. As explained in the question above, I find my work extremely diverse, and I really enjoy this! 

Which is the most fascinating place that you have visited? 

I am fortunate that my work has taken me to some extremely fascinating places. For my PhD I worked on the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) expedition (a one-year-long expedition into the Central Arctic). As a snow researcher, I lived on a boat frozen in sea ice for eight months. My experience during this expedition took me from polar night to polar day (24h darkness/daylight), passing close to the north pole during winter with temperatures around -40oC and winds of 25 m/s, regular polar bear visits and daily work on Arctic sea ice where I could measure how the snow properties were changing over one year. This is by far the most fascinating place I have visited, as sea ice moves and drifts with the ocean the landscape constantly changes. It cracks to reveal the ocean (these are called leads) and converges to form 3-meter ridges. From a scientific perspective, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to observe this over such a long time and work towards answering some pressing scientific questions about the changing Arctic sea ice. 

Polarstern frozen into sea ice for the MOSAiC expedition (Credits: Michael Gutsche

What would you say is your proudest professional achievement so far? 

Completing my PhD surrounded by my friends and family was an incredible highlight of my career. Everyone travelled to Zurich, and I enjoyed summarising and presenting the papers I worked on during my PhD, followed by great celebrations. I think this will be hard to beat!  

What are the highs and lows of living so far from home? 

I get to enjoy experiencing other cultures, making international friends and being able to host my friends and family on winter adventures! Of course, I miss home, but I am fortunate that I can travel to see my friends and family whenever I want to. Future collaborations at Northumbria University also mean I will pass through the UK more often. 

Where do you hope to be professionally in 10 years? 

A career in science changes quickly, and I even find a five-year plan quite a stretch! I am beginning my first post-doctorate, and often, these contracts are between 1 and 3 years. This typically means scientists need to move country often for the next work opportunity. I look forward to the next two years in Tromso and Newcastle, and I am excited to see what opportunities I will find after that! 

Do you have any advice for our alumni hoping to pursue academic research or a career in STEM subjects? 

Find something that fascinates you! STEM subjects can take you in any direction, but it took me a long time to find snow research. Before that, I worked in the healthcare industry as a software developer, interned at British Aerospace Engineering, and worked in finance on a P2P team. I would advise trying out as many directions as possible, and trust that enthusiasm can carry you a long way.  

How did BGS help to shape your career journey? 

I was never at the top of the class and could never have imagined getting a PhD and becoming a researcher when I was in school, but I think BGS gave me confidence in my work and allowed me to understand better my own pace of learning and the style that is better suited to me. I started BGS in Kindergarten and left in 2012 before college, and my Physics teachers during this time shaped my interest in the subject.  

I am always fascinated by how much French I remember from school – and how useful my language lessons have become (although, at the time, this was not what I was thinking).  

When you look back at your time at BGS, what are some of your fondest memories? 

I have an amazing group of 10 friends from BGS who I visit every time I return to the UK. I have some great memories of time spent in the common rooms and on school trips with them, and considering we all had similar school experiences, it is amazing to me to follow their career paths, and I am in awe of them all! Additionally, I have some fond memories of the DT workshops making a chicken coop (which, unfortunately, wouldn’t fit through the door!). I also enjoyed the sports, hockey, netball and cross-country running teams and have some amazing memories of the weekends spent competing and after-school practices with friends.  

Measuring the snow properties on Arctic Sea ice during the MOSAiC expedition (credits: Delphin Ruché






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