By Tiah Penny

For three weeks of July I go to say “arrivederci” to the Canberra winter, as I travelled to Italy to attend the 14th Urbino Summer School in Palaeoclimateology (USSP). The summer school was taught by some of the leading scientists in the field of palaeoclimate, and attended by over 70 palaeoclimate nerds – I mean HDR students – from around the world.

I was severely jet-lagged in Milan and got into a car with three strangers who were driving me to Urbino. I should clarify that they were also USSP students and we had organised the road trip over email a few weeks prior. It was 38 °C and we were in a car with no air conditioning, four people, four large bags, and four poster tubes which always seemed to hit everyone in the face whenever moved. Despite all of that – I had an amazing time! We played music, stopped in rivers and lakes for swims along the way, and stayed in a hostel in Santa Sofia overnight before arriving in Urbino.

The Google image search that I conducted earlier in the year when I found out I was accepted into the Summer School, did not prepare me for the beauty of the city. Being from Australia, any building that is more than 100 years old impresses me. It’s fair to say that Urbino (a city built in the 1400’s) impressed me very much! Not only is it a beautiful city, with cobbled streets and stunning views – it has its own palace (Palazzo Ducale) and cathedral (Duomo)!

Urbino Cathedral (Duomo)

Needless to say, an event like USSP is a fantastic opportunity to network with leading researchers in the field, and other nerds. A normal day in the summer school consisted of 4 × 80-minute lectures on various palaeoclimate topics. The beginning of the course focused on palaeo-proxies and the carbon cycle, and then moved on to palaeoclimate reconstructions and modelling techniques. Several evening sessions were also run on non-science subjects such as sexual harassment in academia, and how to communicate science to the media.

The lectures were so informative and inspiring, after each day I was always filled with excitement, ideas and questions about my own project. It was very helpful taking a step back from my PhD and seeing the bigger picture of palaeoclimate, and where my research fits in.

During the field trip day, two busloads of excited nerds got taken to some beautifully exposed outcrops of significant palaeoclimate events such as the PETM and the KT boundary. It was obvious when looking around at the faces of my fellow nerds who had a geology degree and who didn’t. Those who hadn’t done a geology degree looked severely underwhelmed by the KT boundary outcrop. Those of us nerds who had done a geology undergraduate degree were waiting in a line to get a selfie with the iridium rich clay layer.

KT Boundary

After a day of lectures the students and academics would meet in the square and share a few drinks, talk some science (and some non-science), find somewhere to eat dinner, then migrate to the “Bosom Bar”. Here, science talk was replaced with foosball and dancing – I learnt that Australian’s aren’t very good as foosball compared to Europeans (much like real soccer).

Picnic in the park overlooking Urbino (Photo credit Sonja Penafiel Bermudez)

I was originally quite nervous about going to the summer school, scared it would be intense (which it was), the academics would be intimidating and the students would be competitive. This wasn’t the case at all! Everyone was so nice, and made the whole experience so enjoyable. It was so cool getting to know people from around the world, and I hope I get to run into everyone at conferences in the future.

Group Photo at the KT boundary (Photo credit Lucas Lourens)

I can highly recommend USSP to anyone studying palaeoclimate, you will learn a lot, and you will meet some other awesome palaeoclimate nerds – I mean HDR students.

And finally, gelato. I miss gelato.