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Paul Burgum: Report on Placement at British Antarctic Survey (BAS)

Duration: In Cambridge (June & first half of September), remotely (July, August) in 2023


Work Conducted

During my placement with BAS, I co-created a project with BAS management to build on the work that I have completed as part of my PhD project. This involved using the results from my PhD studies investigating the ‘Resilience of Well-being’ to inform and shape conversations with BAS personnel and resulting in tangible recommendations for the organisation. The project had the key aim of understanding what the resilience challenges are for BAS personnel whilst deployed, and to evaluate current support provided and possible support for future expeditioners.

To complete this work, I used several approaches which included reviewing existing policies and documentation from the organisation, undertaking numerous meetings (>25) with the management team and key personnel, and conducting three focus group sessions (N = 16) with either recently returning or those currently operating in Antarctica.

I was also an active member during this period on a newly formed ‘psychosocial safety’ group which is tasked with improving this aspect of health and safety within the organisation. This led to inputting my thoughts into a new safety campaign (Safety Together), which was due to be released and developing more focus on psychosocial safety and well-being.

A key interest of BAS to having my involvement also focused on efforts to improve EDI within the organisation. I participated in numerous sessions focusing on EDI related matters (e.g., privilege conversation group). And, supported several training sessions delivered to specific teams within the organisation (e.g., Engineering). During these sessions, I was able to use my diverse experiences which include my construction background and academic knowledge to assist framing the topic to these specific groups.

I also presented my work to both the BAS PhD group and an online presentation which was available to all BAS personnel and is currently available on their intranet site. This presentation was very helpful for gaining widespread feedback on my thinking in regard to the thesis from many people highly experienced in my topic area. And finally, at the UK Polar Science conference hosted by BAS. During this session I shared my PhD research findings and initial thoughts on my BAS work in terms of what this may mean for improving inclusion in Polar science.

A final component of the project involved participating in the pre-deployment training undertaken by all personnel heading to either the Arctic or Antarctica this coming year. This training allowed me to gain first-hand knowledge of the current level of psychological training and support that is provided, which is a key element of my PhD work. I liaised with several external training providers during this week, again able to share my own work and also learn from their skills in translating theory and academic knowledge into useable training sessions. This led to a conversation with one provider about the possibility of future work supporting their training in this area.

The final aspect of my work shall be the provision of a report detailing my findings and research outcomes from the project. This report will be provided following completion of my PhD thesis (Early 2024). I have already, informally feedback much of my learning to the management team at BAS and had a positive response in regard to the potential difference my project may have to the organisation.

Skills and Experiences

This placement has resulted in the opportunity to present my research work to a very diverse group of individuals who work in both the Arctic and Antarctica. For example, scientists, logistical staff, management, tradespeople, engineers, and administration staff. These are all groups who could be potential beneficiaries from the knowledge gained from my research outputs. Furthermore, presenting to such diverse groups has meant a great deal of practice at refining my presentation to ensure it is understood by all groups. Leading to thinking about the different applications of my work depending on who the audience might (e.g., policy-level for leadership, practical guidance for ground staff).  

During my time in Cambridge, I have also had conversations with academics who are members of Scott Polar and Cambridge University departments. It must be noted, that these experiences have helped to reduce the feelings of ‘imposter syndrome’, something that was maybe increased due to the circumstances of Covid and working in a relatively isolated manner generally. I found a great deal of kindness and support from a personal perspective, and a level of validation in terms of my academic pursuits which I know will support my confidence to complete my PhD and beyond.

Outside of the formal presentations a potentially equally valuable experience has been spending time immersed in a polar focused organisation. Whilst being part of Durham Arctic has created many opportunities for developing relationships, this placement has given me time to learn through those small and informal conversations that occur in the canteen or during break times. Also, being away from home and family considerations has meant that I have had additional time to think about my work with a much-reduced level of other tasks to complete (Also, considerable worry in other ways!).

Thinking about applicability of my research

Another benefit of my placement at BAS has been the opportunity to think about how I may pursue a future career in polar science or psychology more generally. This has led to developing basic ideas of what a future project might involve and been able to have conversations with management at BAS about the potential support and collaboration that may be feasible to pursue such an avenue. I have received confirmation that I would have support from BAS to pursue grant applications once I complete my PhD with Durham Arctic.

Again, I feel that in the later stages of writing my thesis, such conversations are helping at the present time to synthesize my thinking for the final chapters of the thesis.

Impact of Placement

From a personal perspective;

  • Understanding potential career avenues relevant to my skillset. The placement has allowed me to bring together my diverse background and use a vast array of skills together.
  • Developing self-efficacy in terms of myself as a researcher and as a person.
  • Feeling able to make contributions to EDI conversations and training within BAS.
  • Contributing a positive psychology perspective to BAS current and recently announced ‘Safety together’ campaign which includes mental health and social well-being elements.

Final Comments

Overall, this placement has been a truly inspirational period of time. It has (alongside my other trips; Svalbard & Norway), brought my research work to life and allowed me to understand my topic from a truly 360 degree perspective. As I write this report today, it is a small excursion from the act of simply (Or not) writing my thesis, the only task that remains. And brining to a close this amazing chapter of my life, a sincere thank you for the opportunity!


Paul Burgum