THE TOUGHEST CHALLENGES most postgraduates are likely to face are computer fatigue, finishing their theses on time and defending their papers before a board of experts. But for the students who take on environmental science-related courses, the potential challenges become more adventurous. Field trips to climate change hot spots, extreme weather locations and toxic recycling sites are necessary for research to back up the more commonplace charts and figures, but add to the already copious workload. The research is cutting edge as well, with some of the students at the University of Hong Kong discovering microscopic new species, called extremeophiles, as part of their studies into the origins of life. 'These are organisms that live in extreme environments where we would not normally expect to find things living,' said Jonathan Aitchison, head of the university's department of earth sciences. Professor Aitchison said his students went all over the world as part of their studies and would be returning to Tibet next year to continue their research. 'We teach students how the Earth works,' he said. 'We look at how the Earth changes and we look at how the climate has changed in the past to predict how it may change in the future.' One of the earth science postgraduates going on the field study is Alan Baxter, who is studying Tibetan geology and, in particular, what happened when India collided with Asia that led directly to the creation of the Himalayas and resulted in altered weather patterns. 'I went to Tibet for two months in May and June and will be going back there in May and June, and maybe September as well,' he said. 'It's quite hard to understand what happened millions of years ago by just working with the rocks. But climatologists need to know the timing of the collision for their ocean circulation models and for the monsoon.' Like many graduates in this field, 23-year-old Mr Baxter, from Ireland, who graduated from Trinity College in Dublin in 2005, worked in the mining industry in Australia before starting his current course. Academically, his biggest challenge has been in tapping into his existing scientific knowledge obtained during his previous studies while on the isolated Tibetan plateau. 'Not many people take earth science, as physics, maths and chemistry have a bigger pull,' he said. ' It's such a diverse subject, I found I needed all of my skills from those subjects. Fellow postgraduate Chiu Hon-chim, 23, who is studying the 'tsunami potential' and the risk in Hong Kong and the South China Sea, said that a wide general knowledge was needed to cope with the level of research work. 'My main area of field work is in the Philippines and Hong Kong but my model is the South China Sea,' he said. 'We really need to take in knowledge from other science disciplines. It's learn as you go.'