Education and Qualification

the early days (1971-1982)

My Primary and Secondary school experience..

1971-1977) Despite it’s subsequent transformation into a secure unit St James primary was where I begun school life. Attached to a church this small compact school was run by a progressive head master by the name of Ian Nutter, who struggled to teach this left-hander how to write… My reluctance to learn was not a consequence of stupidity but of boredom.  Joining the third intake into Jersey’s most modern and recent secondary school, Le Rocquier in 1977 I again found myself bored but looked forward to the coming opportunity to transfer to the local grammar school, Hautlieu; where I would finally get access to the knowledge I seeked.  However it was a system based on recommendation and not merit, a system similarly biased towards social background.  So when my name was not on the transfer list I returned to Le Rocquier  and 2 years later left with half a dozen  ‘O’ levels.

the return (1998-2001)

So it was that 15 years later and following careers in banking, engineering and horticulture I would, more in desperation than hope, send a document on my endeavours in Jersey to Dr Peter Harris. I was though lucky; for Peter Harris had been the admissions tutor and senior soil microbiologist at the University of Reading for over 30 years. He had reached a point in the mid 1960′s from which he had failed to ascend any further. He had watched pupils come in underneath him to go on to exceed him and he similarly felt cheated. He had similarly seen how non-scientific credentials, membership of elite organisation and dubious practices were the true means to modern academic success. Whilst he had long given up on the institution and was now biding his time until retirement, the arrival of my letter, enclosed document and news paper cuttings struck a cord. He later confided in me that it was after 30 years as admissions tutor one of the most original approaches he had come across and as it was his last year in the post he saw no potential penalty to his career in making an unconditional offer. A view though not shared by his colleagues who once aware of what he had done quickly appointed me as his charge: “You let him in.. So You can have him”. For Peter Harris had indeed overstepped an academic line. The soil science department at Reading prided itself as being a grade 5* establishment and it did not admit students without some ‘A’ level or access course credentials. It had a reputation to protect and I potentially threatened that. However after the first year my results vindicated him and when 2 years later I cruised into a 2:1 he was in some respects more pleased than me.

degree certificate

academic transcript pt 1

academic transcript pt 2

academic transcript pt 3

Dissertation: The influence of compaction on the emergence and shoot production of Basil (Ocimum basilicum) grown in novel horticultural substrates.


Abstract Studies were conducted to evaluation plant responses to three novel organic substrates. The three substrates, two worm -worked and one allotment were compared to an Irish moss peat with a proprietary seed and cutting compost as a control. Toxicity was measured using a variation of the direct seed method. To improve the test’s sensitivity the concentration of any potential toxins was encouraged by using more substrate and less water. Phyto toxicity was then assessed by germination over a 72 hour period at 300C. A 20 day bio-assay using Basil (Ocimum basilicum) to evaluate the growth responses was also conducted. In the bio -assay each substrate was subjected to four compaction treatments determined by ratios of 1.25, 1.5., 1.75 and 2.0 times the substrates measured bulk density. Acid washed sand was then used as a casing agent in order to provide a uniform seed covering. Emergence was counted for the first eleven days with a final count on harvesting. Plants were removed intact, shoot and root weights were taken before the roots were preserved for future examination and the shoots dried and weighed. In the phyto-toxicity experiment germination rates for all but one substrate were not significantly different [P = 0.94] however in the bio -assay, compaction ratio had a greater influence on emergence than substrate type. Rates of, and total emergence did not always correspond with shoot bio -mass production. Total shoot bio -mass production for each substrate showed comparatively similar amounts being produced in the three novel substrates whilst the peat produced the least and the control produced the most. Emergence between the control, the peat and one of the worm-worked composts was comparative however bio -mass was 64% lower in the peat and 30% lower in the worm-worked than in the control. At compaction ratio 1.25 bio -mass in the worm -worked composts was 22% and 100% greater than that in the control. Overall the control gained the greatest in bio -mass production whilst the peat the worst. Emergence was greatest at compaction ratio 2.0 and lowest at 1.5 [P = 0.0004] whilst at 1.25 and 1.75 emergence was comparable [P = 0.63]. Generally the performance of the novel substrates was superior to the peat however at different compaction ratios each novel substrates produced greater bio -mass than the control; although in all cases the control had the fastest rate of emergence. Therefore in assessing phyto responses to novel substrates comparison by substrate without regard for compaction effects cannot be relied upon to confidently assess the potential.

Whilst structured slightly different (largely due to the retirement, promotion and departure of key lecturers) I found this pdf (BSc Hab and Soil man) buried in the University of Readings archives. Sadly the Soil Science Department no longer offer this or I believe any degree with the word ‘Soil’ in the title. I remember Dr Peter Harris, one of the key lecturers who retired just prior telling me that “Soil wasn’t Sexy enough” and one could aver that this truism is also why the Soil Science department has become buried into the School of Human and Environmental Sciences (SHES) where it offers a miserable choice of three M.Sc’s.

Essays of note

Free Cultural Works: Malcolm McEwen (2011) (CC BY-NC-SA)

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