Fascinating plants: past, present and future!

Join the Schools of Biological Sciences and Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science as they celebrate the third international Fascination of Plants day on campus:






1.Fascinating plant exhibition: Outside the UoR library, 10am to 4pm. Hands-on, fascinating botanical activities in which we turn the botanical spotlight on one fascinating, even rather puzzling plant (of which more will be revealed on the day). We tell its story from the origins in the fossil record, through its place as part of global plant diversity today, and finally we take a peek at the future status and impacts of human activities and climate change.


2.Fascinating plant walk: Starting from the UoR library. There will be two opportunities to join our guided botanical walk, first at 12 noon and again at 2pm. The guided walk will last about 45 minutes, passing the plethora of plants which adorn the campus and culminating in a dramatic re-enactment of a historical event of utmost botanical fascination, not to be missed!


3.Fascinating plants for kids: Outside the UoR library. A family event in which our resident botanists will entertain and amaze kids of all ages (from 5 to 95) with a host of plant puzzles, botanical brain-teasers and floral fernanigans.


Plants have ruled the world for 2 billion years so let’s give up a day of our lives to be fascinated by plants!

More information can be found here – http://www.reading.ac.uk/news-and-events/Events/Event630007.aspx


Macarena Cardenas

Macarena Cardenas

Macarena Cardenas (GES) is organising this event with Biological Sciences.  It would be great to see some familiar faces there!

Research Staff Conference

The University of Reading Research Staff Conference: Research Funding, Strategy and Impact took place on the 4th February 2015. The Research Staff Committee (with the support of People Development) organised the conference to examine key issues facing Research Staff at Reading. This conference aimed to enable Research Staff to develop their own responses to the key issues of securing funding, developing a strategy and making an impact. The conference also provided an opportunity to network with fellow researchers from across the university.

Event Themes
• Presentations by senior representatives from the Research Councils on winning funding.
• Feedback on the University of Reading’s Research Strategy & REF Results.
• How to maximise your Research Impact
• Promotion for Research Staff
• Women and promotion in the University
• Non-academic career paths for Research Staff
• The European Commission Human Resource Excellence in Research Award
• Networking lunch

Both Macarena Cardenas (GES) and Pascal Flohr (Archaeology)attended the event, and answer some questions about their impression of the day:

What was your main impression of the Conference?

Pascal – It was great to meet research staff from different places in the University, and in fact to meet people from within the School. Working in an office or lab most days, you don’t always really speak to other research staff, even if they have their offices in the same corridor. The conference was a good opportunity to do exactly that.

It was useful to have some more general information on research within the University, but I mainly found the more specific workshops valuable. I attended a workshop on AHRC funding and one on careers outside academia. It was an eye-opener that the last session was very busy: I am clearly not the only one who wonders what to do if there is no job for me in academia (after all, only ~20% of post-doctoral researchers will be able to find a permanent position in academia).

Macarena – I thought this was a remarkable event. From the venue to the quality of speakers, I thought this was a valuable event and I personally took loads from it. Looking at the great effort from Dr Justin Hutchence I am not surprised with the organisation and quality of the Conference. I felt supported and valued.

I was pleased to see how much Research Staff and academics cared. Without the interest of participants this event would have not been as successful as it was. I personally loved to see how the people that attended the seminar that Dr Hutchence and I provided were so excited to share their thoughts.  In fact some could not even get to write all their information on the flipcharts!

On the other hand, being behind the scenes and knowing how much planning and work this event took I feel that it has more value. Seeing the Development and Enterprise team working to have everything ready to go on time made me realise how much they care about Research Staff.

Were your expectations met?
Pascal – Yes.

Macarena Cardenas

Macarena Cardenas


Macarena – Absolutely, from both organising team sessions and the attendees. I thought people really appreciated the event from both sides, and this showed in the good attendance and atmosphere.







What did you think of your role within the conference? Do you think that you could have done more or something different?
Pascal – I was a participant. I could of course have been more involved in organising the conference, or a session, but I did not feel the need to do this (it was already done well!).

Macarena – You can always do more, can’t you? This experience makes me want to be a lot more involved the next time.
I would have not done anything different really. What I would include next time perhaps is hands on activities, and to create interdisciplinary groups to facilitate future collaboration.

About my role, I think I did give my best, and was as involved in as much as possible. I enjoyed talking to research staff and professors from other disciplines that otherwise would have not been possible. I believe I took the most I could from the day.

What are you taking away from this experience?

Pascal Flohr

Pascal Flohr


Pascal – A lot of information on various aspects of research, like how to integrate impact into research, what the REF results mean, how to apply for funding, and how to assess which career to choose.







Macarena – Great learning and reinforcement that can be summarised in three words: Connect, Impact and Publish!

Would you recommend this event in the future to other research staff, and why?
Pascal – Yes. The main reason is that it is very nice to meet other research staff from various schools.

Macarena – I would absolutely recommend it. The networking, learning, and facilitation at this event were extremely valuable. Feeling supported and connected as research staff is key.

Did you see any difference in gender attending the conference? If yes, where was this evident?
Pascal – I had the idea that the conference participants were about 50:50 male:female, or in any case that the numbers were not specifically much more leaning to one side or the other. It was striking though that all the main speakers, so those in the plenary session, were male, and also the majority of members of the Research Staff Committee are male (including the chair). It is of course possible that this is coincidence, after all we are talking about small numbers. But I think it is likely that this is mirroring the general trend in (and outside of) academia where there are about equal numbers of female and male undergraduate students, post-graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers, after which suddenly relatively few women are present in permanent academic roles and especially in management roles.

Macarena – The only difference I noticed was that the Professors invited to speak in the general sessions were only males, but that just appears to demonstrate the reality of the percentage of women in high academic positions. There were some female academics giving talks in masterclasses and seminars.

Would you say that the conference addressed and supported both genders equally?
Pascal – Yes, I did not notice any difference in how different genders were addressed.

Macarena – Yes, equal support. I did not notice any reinforcement to any gender in particular. All presentations and speeches were neutral and supportive to both research staff and academics.

Any further comments?
Macarena – That I enjoyed it, learned a lot and would recommend it to both academic and research staff.

Interview with Wendy Matthews and Macarena Cardenas – what does fieldwork mean to you?

Two members of the SAGES Gender and Fieldwork Working Group  – Wendy Matthews (Archaeology) and Macarena Cardenas (GES) answer some questions on what fieldwork means to them:


Wendy Matthews (Archaeology)

Wendy Matthews (Archaeology)











Macarena Cardenas (GES)

Macarena Cardenas (GES)











What does fieldwork represent for you?

Fieldwork is fundamental to the disciplines represented within our School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science (SAGES). Staff and students engage in fieldwork activities through research trips and field classes both in the UK and internationally.
Fieldwork is the foundation stone on which we build our research. The success of our scientific findings and academic publications depends on the outcome of our campaigns in the field. Behind any successful fieldwork data set there is, however, much more than simply logistics and data gathering.  When we work in the field we rarely do so in isolated conditions. Often fieldwork includes working/liaising with local organisations/charities, community engagement, and/or impact (both environmental, and in terms of a legacy for the community).


What skills can be gained from fieldwork?
Fieldwork requires and develops a range of key skills and knowledge at all career stages – whether undertaking Undergraduate, Masters or PhD dissertation and thesis research, or Post-doctoral and Staff research, or Professional employment. Fieldwork includes skills, knowledge and experience in:

• Research design – to define research questions, aims, objectives; design fieldwork strategies and methodologies
• Methodologies – to conduct and record fieldwork accurately
• Ethics – to ensure acknowledgement of the contribution and academic, personal and professional rights of all of those    concerned
• Logistics – to plan, organise and manage fieldwork travel, accommodation, resources and supplies, timescales
• Health and Safety – to ensure the well-being of all of those participating
• Cultural and ecological awareness – to respect the social and natural environment in which fieldwork is conducted
• Leadership and teamwork – to ensure the fieldwork is conducted professionally, and that all members are respected and enjoy as well as benefit from the experience

It is important to highlight that often fieldwork requires teamwork. Each team member has an important role to play, and this should be valued. I believe that besides the innumerable skills that can be gained from fieldwork, there are also the skills that are required to conduct teamwork. Each team member has an important role to play, and it is good to recognise and value it. During fieldwork you not only apply old and new skills, but you also learn to apply these skills within a team. It is almost as if you are multiplying the skills you are learning – those gained from individual planning and fieldwork, and those gained from being part of a team.


Gender and Fieldwork is a 12 month School wide project running in SAGES – what does this mean to you?
Gender is a theme that is central to any discussion of fieldwork in our respective disciplines, in particular the gender roles and gendered experiences of fieldwork and the associated opportunities and challenges around being in the field and careers in fieldwork.

Men and women work together in the field. It is important to recognize that male/female academics, students and research staff may experience very different challenges in the field. We want to ask the question – How has gender influenced your fieldwork experiences?

Beloved and complicated Bolivia 2: Sieving your life and the elements

After arriving from an eight hour car trip to our base site in the city of Cochabamba, we then went to a remote site in the middle of the Andean mountains. This was our first study site, and took a 4 hour drive, plus a 4 hour hike to get to. We found a gorgeous landscape at an elevation of 4,100 meters, hardly visited by humans, and surrounded by grasslands with patches of gorgeous, highly diverse forest (our reason to be there). We were there to work and camp for five days.
The extreme absence of humans, the silence, the wind, the birds, the sound of the branches of woody plants when bending in the wind, were all evident from the moment I left the car. Breathing seemed so evident, not an autonomous action anymore, the air was pure and crisp. An enormous freedom; freedom from pollution, from noise, from commitments, and from normal life. When I go to remote areas for field trips I find my life cleared out from all those things that seem to be like mosquitoes around my head. I clear the clutter. I like to think that these opportunities are like a sieve, I sieve my life, and I hold onto the things that are useful, and matter to me.

Nature. Enjoying one of the best things of this field trip: nature at its maximum expression. Can you believe these flowers growing at an elevation of 4,000m?

Nature. Enjoying one of the best things of this field trip: nature at its maximum expression. Can you believe these flowers growing at an elevation of 4,000m?












It is true that in this situation we also had a lot of challenging work to do. We had heavy gear and equipment to both carry and work with. Here is when you find some of the elements in their full expression:

Air/oxygen. How we overlook it, and oh dear, I missed it while I was there! At an elevation of 4,000m you have almost half of the amount of oxygen available compared to when you are at sea level, and I can tell you, it is little. As I mentioned in a previous post, when you walk, you notice it, even when you first talk. Walking is hard! My male colleagues in the field were counting their heart rate, and they found that even in a resting position (lying down in their tents before sleep) they had a heart rate similar to the one they would have when running at a low elevation. That, ladies and gentleman, is hard. You struggle to breathe and your performance is far lower than what you are used to. Even though it was hard there was still a silver lining as we would have to stop quite often to recover a more gentle heart rhythm, and were “obliged” to have a look at that gorgeous landscape. I didn’t complain.


Khomer Kocha site. An example of the amazing landscape I had the chance to appreciate every time we stopped to catch our breath. Notice our helpful driver on the left of the photo, he helped us carry our equipment for several hours and then drive himself to his home (taking him another four hour drive).

Khomer Kocha site. An example of the amazing landscape I had the chance to appreciate every time we stopped to catch our breath. Notice our helpful driver on the left of the photo, he helped us carry our equipment for several hours and then drive himself to his home (taking him another four hour drive).














Water. It was not ideal, but there was a reason for us going into the field during the rainy season, but I won’t get into the details of it here. Imagine those abundant and inescapable tropical rain storms, add summer temperatures, and now mix them with high elevation: a recipe for thunderstorms. By the evening of the second night we noticed how the clouds that were under us were now coming closer and we sheltered in our tents. Not much later we noticed the rain start, heavy rain…. Well, not just that, but also an enormous and angry thunderstorm. You would see the light from the inside of your tent like camera flashes shooting at your tent (the paparazzi in the high Andes?). Three seconds later the sound of thunder would follow making my hair vibrate. Coming from an Andean country myself I had experienced this many times, but never so close. The thunderstorm went on like this for the whole night. Although I was restless I was tired enough after the intense working day to fall asleep.
When I woke up at 4.30am, my tent was a pool, and my sleeping bag had soaked up as much water as available (a lot of water!). Everything was wet, including inside my tent. I went out to check on my colleagues. They seemed to be okay, they were all sleeping. Although it was cloudy the storm had stopped. There was snow outside… it was cold. We just managed to change our camp to a higher, more drained area, and a new thunderstorm started. For safety that day we remained in our tents. That was the longest day of my life. I had to stay for the whole day lying down inside a wet sleeping bag and tent (in which I didn’t fit sitting as it was very low). That was a hard day.


Striking. The thunderstorm, very, very close. (See the lighter patch in the bottom right? That is the lake next to which we were camping). Photo courtesy of brave Chris Morris

Striking. The thunderstorm, very, very close. (See the lighter patch in the bottom right? That is the lake next to which we were camping). Photo courtesy of brave Chris Morris












Were the elements against us? I don’t think so, it is all a cycle and thanks to the abundant water supply we had plenty of water to drink and to recover after our exhausting hiking days. There is no way we would have been able to carry so much water there… we needed that rain.



Delicious freshly made. Our very well equipped colleague Chris brought a fabulous water pump that would produce litres of filtered water from wild running streams in just minutes!! Here in action.

Delicious freshly made. Our very well equipped colleague Chris brought a fabulous water pump that would produce litres of filtered water from wild running streams in just minutes!! Here in action.



Sun/heat/fire (?). When it wasn’t raining, it was hot as a sauna during the day. Imagine the radiation at that elevation? From the international scale of 0-11+ for UV index, considering 11 extreme, we were above the value of 14. I guess it is needless to say how we felt. Our high metabolism trying to pump as much oxygen as possible to our body while we were working did not match well with the heat and the radiation. Of course we used sun cream protection, long sleeves, hats, sunglasses, etc. But that didn’t stop us from experiencing the sun. And although it sounds extreme, I was so grateful when, two nights after my tent got flooded, I saw the sunshine coming up at 5am. I literally took everything out and happily experienced the heat drying everything, aaaahh! Such a blessing.

 Adored by ancient civilizations, and me! the God Sun. Drying up everything, including my feet.

Adored by ancient civilizations, and me! the God Sun. Drying up everything, including my feet.















Some of the things I learned/reinforced from this fieldtrip were:
• Coming back to basics, sieving your life, all feels good to me
• I can sleep in a wet sleeping bag in the high mountains and I won’t die in the process
• Everything, absolutely everything has their bad AND good aspects
• As my very experienced male colleague Chris said: “women in the field are badass!”
• Fieldwork, it is such hard work, but it is also so worth it; I couldn’t live without it

Do I also have to mention that when the sun appeared in the morning those were the most amazing sunrises I have ever seen?

Sunrise. Glorious moments at 5.30am at our camp site

Sunrise. Glorious moments at 5.30am at our camp site












Macarena_Lucia_Cardenas__wSee further posts from Macarena on the 7th November 2014 (Fieldwork and Empowerment), 3rd December 2014 (Beloved and Complicated Bolivia 1) and 14th January 2015 (Giving Back in Field Research).

Giving Back in Field Research

Macarena multitasking in the field.

Macarena multitasking in the field.

Macarena Cardenas (see blog posts from the 7th November 2014 – Fieldwork and Empowerment, and 3rd December 2014 – Beloved and Complicated in Bolivia 1) has highlighted a Special Issue of the Journal of Research Practice – Giving Back in Field Research, edited by Clare Gupta and Alice Bridget Kelly.


”The project of this special issue emerged from the guest editors’ experiences as field researchers in sub-Saharan Africa. During this time both researchers faced the difficult question of “giving back” to the communities in which, and with whom, they worked—communities that were often far less privileged than the researchers were in terms of wealth, mobility, education, and access to health care………….”  http://jrp.icaap.org/index.php/jrp/article/view/423



Beloved and complicated Bolivia 1: Field Series by Macarena Cardenas

Following Amanda’s post about the hard reality of fieldwork, I wanted to share the beginning of my journey to Bolivia, which is happening right now. I am writing from a bus and using a tablet, so please be aware that this is far from a master piece.

A British scientist, an American GIS expert and I have all come to Bolivia to extract sediments from high elevation (~3000 – 4000m above sea level) lakes in Bolivia. That means bringing a large amount of equipment and of course, logistics and planning.

Oh dear airline. The first step shouldn’t be hard: leaving England to Bolivia. We arrived at Heathrow airport three hours in advance of our flights in order to make sure we had plenty of time to check everything in. We were flying with AA. When they saw us coming with the boxes of equipment they had a kind of “fried egg eyes” expression, and said to us ” a new embargo policy came out yesterday, you cannot fly with these boxes to tropical South America.” That was the beginning. No information was available when booking the flights, not even when Joe, the British colleague in charge, called the company to ask if we could fly with the boxes (“it’s fine, you just pay excess ” they said at that time). The other option, sending the boxes by cargo, meant (based on previous experience) the equipment would arrive by the time we needed to come back.

Disappointed and laughing - Joe and our equipment at the airport

Disappointed and laughing – Joe and our equipment at the airport

I love how we dealt with the situation, we didn’t give up, we stayed firm, remained open to ideas and kept smiling. We got to speak to the manager who was very helpful, and managed to change us onto two other flights.  Although that meant we had to wait for 10 more hours at the airport (and this involved lots of running around with the boxes between flights) we could still fly.

Old-new country. Our arrival in Bolivia was not easy either: Chris, our American colleague didn’t get his bag, and the equipment almost didn’t make it to the country because of customs. After waiting and dealing with this we got all of the luggage later on.

Do not judge on looks. Our next step was to hire a driver and his car to get both us, and our equipment, to a location 10 hours from the city. Considering that hire firms don’t use the Internet to publicise their services, there is nothing you can do before you get there. Fortunately we had Ulises with us, the most helpful local I have meet so far. We got to the terminal to hire a mini bus. Everyone seemed equally untrustworthy, with everyone offering different things. We decided to go with the one that seemed to have the largest office (which looked to me like an old workshop after a war had taken place).  They even gave us a receipt… Our instinct about their reliability had failed us though since they just took the money and then disappeared. After hours of chasing and waiting (with extremely valuable help from Ulises), we managed to get the money back, and also to get a real driver with a mini bus. (He is now driving us as I write, chewing enormous amounts of “green chicken”, aka coca leaves, that he takes from a little green bag at his right hand side, and which makes him look like a hamster).

Our brave and fantastic driver - Coca leaves in his hand and cheek

Our brave and fantastic driver – Coca leaves in his hand and cheek

It’s not the language that makes us different, at least not the only thing. During this trip I have confirmed that it doesn’t matter if you speak the same language (I have felt a little lost already, even though there isn’t even a difference in vocabulary). There are so many codes, and procedures we learn and follow even without realising it. That is beautiful, and we take it for granted. I like being aware of this, and enrich myself by learning about others.

In the main plaza of Santa Cruz - people, culture and heritage

In the main plaza of Santa Cruz – people, culture and heritage

We laugh anyway. My colleagues and I have been quite positive, and are really enjoying the experience. It’s great to know you don’t have to take decisions alone, and as it is said: three brains think better than one.

What I have learned so far:

● Use your smile and insist at the same time if you want to get something done (not very new really)

● Always check for “late changes in legal procedures” before traveling, especially for the not so legal

● Love locals and have one on your side if you can

● And, team work is so much fun, no matter the circumstances

I will hopefully be able to write more soon with news about the pretty hard hiking we will be doing into the mountains to get some samples.


The team, from left to right: Chris, Macarena and Joe

The team, from left to right: Chris, Macarena and Joe

Field Work and Empowerment by Macarena Cardenas

Another amazing field trip site. Cosanga area (1,800 m.a.s.l.), Western Amazonia, Ecuador

Another amazing field trip site. Cosanga area (1,800 m.a.s.l.), Western Amazonia, Ecuador

As a Palaeoecologist and coming from a Biology and Botany background I have spent a good period of time in the field. My fieldtrips would usually be in remote areas with extreme weather, camping, with no water supply, doing hard muscular work, lifting and carrying heavy material and I have always, so far, been the only woman in the team.

I never even thought about differences amongst the gender in the field until now. I think this may be due to two main reasons:

  1. I have always been treated as an equal; and
  2. I always push myself to do as much as I can (no more, no less).

The former means doing loads of muscular work, like carrying 50kg bags uphill (and let’s say that I am not really a weightlifting type of girl; I am more the yoga-lover type really), working in rather cold (when working with snow) or hot (working at 40ºC) conditions if it needed to be, and as dirty (camping and with no running water for two weeks, which means, ehem… not showering for that long) as you can possibly be. Same as everyone in my team, asking about especial comfort was out of the question. When you work with limited resources, you just do what you can without complaining. In this sense I am kind of thankful, because I have learned and achieved a lot in the field, not just for science sake, but for me too. But don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that field work has to be hard; what I want to highlight here is: equality.

Highlands of Ecuador (4,000m.a.s.l)

Highlands of Ecuador (4,000m.a.s.l)

The latter reason, for which I never thought about differences, pushing myself to do the best I can, means to me that there is no limit, no limit to grow. There is so much you can do, and of course, the more experience and self-belief, the more you achieve. For example, the field in which we had to carry 50 kg bags (that is just as much as my body weight!) with pieces of kit. That task was more that muscle strength. Let me tell you a little bit about that experience. That was in a fieldtrip to highlands in Ecuador. We were at around 4,000 meters of elevation, which means that every step was already a difficult task. At that altitude there is so little oxygen available, that you think you have just come out of a building in fire, and that it doesn’t matter how deep you inhale, there is no oxygen to breathe! We were at this protected area in the high Andes, and we were left by the reserve guards at the bottom of the hill. No cars could come up… and we needed to go to the top for collecting the samples. We didn’t know that, we didn’t expect we wouldn’t have a lift by car up there. It was three of us, two men and myself. What do you do? Not carrying out that part of the field was out of the question.

My supportive team doing sediment coring in western Amazonia, Ecuador (2,000 m.a.s.l.)

My supportive team doing sediment coring in western Amazonia, Ecuador (2,000 m.a.s.l.)

So what do you do?… you go for it! We needed to be uphill before the night came (you wouldn’t risk walking on a cliff with 50kg bags in your back, would you?). My team expected me to do the same, they trusted I could do it (we didn’t have an alternative really). So we did it. Every time I took a bag from the bottom to bring it up I felt that was the most difficult and painful part of the field (and I was wrong… but that’s another story) and that I was glad we needed to do that only once. But magically enough I had the strength to do it every time, and not just that, but I kept up with the speed of my male colleagues. Later on, one of my colleagues told me he was impressed in seeing how such a little thing (a.k.a. me) could do that.

What I have learned from those and many other experiences is that I always find the way to go through whatever is needed in the field, and in life. I believe the way you see things and carry out your field trip says a lot about what you expect from yourself in life (which may be a lot more pleasant as well when you do have showers). Did you think about it in that way before? Think about a previous experience in the field (if you have had one, or maybe when you went camping, or for a day trip), did you believe you could do it? If yes, that is great; keep doing it! If not, what can you learn from that trip that may prepare you, empower you for the next one?

Me multitasking. Maximising time

Me multitasking. Maximising time

I believe field trips are empowering, you do it for yourself and for others. I wonder about the impact I have in other people when I am in the field, do I support and encourage others as much as I like to be supported and encouraged?

Field work is for me not just collecting data or material, it is also about personal achievement, learning from nature and from and with others, it is working as a team (even if it’s just two people), it is growing as a social and empathetic person. Sometimes I think fieldtrips may not happen often enough. I like to make the most of it every time.


Macarena_Lucia_Cardenas__wA bit about today’s blogger: Dr Macarena Cardenas first started working in Palaeoecology during her research in her BSc (Hons) and she has been working in this area ever since. Macarena’s previous research has focused in understanding climatic events/change and human impact in Central and Southern Patagonia and on Hyper-diverse Amazonian Ecosystems. Her research is based upon high resolution and multi proxy approach using modern analogues and studying fossil material from profile, bogs and lake sediments. Macarena’s current research, ‘Je Old Landscapes of Southern Brazil’ is focused on understanding the creation and transformation of southern east Brazil landscapes and their relationship with the emergence of social complexity during the past two millennia. This is an interdisciplinary project that integrates archaeology, ethnography and palaeoecology. Specifically Macarena is looking at the relationship between Je groups and the transformation of the landscape, understanding their organisational regional scale in different ecological zones and their role in the expansion of Araucaria pine forest. You can follow Macarena on Twitter.