NEW POST! PhD Student, Glacial Hydrology, Marc Matterson @MarcMatterson: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Featured

Photograph taken again at the Aguille du Midi summit in Chamonix, France. Background shows the Matterhorn peak in Switzerland as well as Monte Rosa.  Copyright 2014 Marc Matterson

Photograph taken again at the Aguille du Midi summit in Chamonix, France. Background shows the Matterhorn peak in Switzerland as well as Monte Rosa. Copyright 2014 Marc Matterson

NAME:  Marc Matterson

CURRENT TITLE:  PhD student and lecturer at the University of Salford, England

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Glacial hydrology, sedimentology, modelling and climatology

YEARS EXPERIENCE:  3 years (BSc Geography)

EDUCATION:  First class honours BSc Geography whilst also obtaining the Kerry Worthington Award for best Dissertation at the University of Salford 2014. Currently in first year of PhD studies.

What’s your job like?

Combination of tasks, obviously research on my PhD is the main focus. My area of study is Zermatt, Switzerland. Glaciers such as Findelengletscher and Gornergletscher both provide substantial data which has been collected now for more than 40 continuous years throughout the ablation season. Taking part in field trips, lectures and seminars for undergraduate students and helping develop their skills and knowledge along the way.

What’s a typical day like?

Not one day is the same as another. Some days are exciting, motivating, and happy whilst there are also days of frustration, fatigue and sometimes boredom. You just have to make sure that you remember the good times to push you through the bad spells. I am currently studying for my PhD along with working part-time in luxury goods. This is something which I have had to continue with in order to fund my living costs allowing me to stay close to university and not having to move home nearly 3 hours away. I have an office which I share with a small selection of PhD students as well as access to facilities such as the library and laboratories whenever I need them. I am now entering week 7 of my PhD studies so reading is vital at the moment. Learning computer programs which I had not used during undergraduate studies, for example, R Programming is also something which I am increasing my knowledge on.

What’s fun?

I personally love that moment when you link two pieces of information together and figure something out for the first time. Learning something new every day and then being able to pass on that knowledge to both students and peers. Going out into the field is also an experience you will never forget, even during cold days collecting samples you still have fun! Not knowing what is coming next also creates huge excitement, dealing with yearly sediment samples collected since 1973 and seeing how they alter throughout time due to a varying number of factors is especially exciting and challenging (particularly because they were collected 20 years before I was born!).

glacial

Photograph taken up the Aguille du Midi, Chamonix. Stop off point before heading to the summit. Copyright 2014 Marc Matterson

What’s challenging?

The biggest challenge which I have faced is the step up from BSc to PhD. I have always been credited on my punctuality and time management so sticking to deadlines and independent timetables was not too difficult. Mainly the enhanced workload, for example, vast datasets, extended reading, file organization, as well as learning new programming software. Luckily I have a good supervisor who I am in constant contact with and visit on a regular basis to keep me on track. Another side-challenge is having to work a part-time job alongside my studies, this means some days I may not be able to complete any research although I am often seen with some sort of literature on the train or bus heading to and from work.

What’s your advice to students?

Don’t look at your studies as something you need to complete, hand in and move onto the next assignment. Take a bit of interest, listen to the experts around you and take advantage of their knowledge on the subject. You can then use that knowledge to inspire yourself and others around you. Everybody has genius-level talent, they just have to find out what they are genius at and then apply themselves in a way that supports that genius. First recognise that genius, and then believe in it.

“Assessing Aquifers” by Sandie Will @RockHeadScience for @GeoDrilling International

Featured

Earlier this year, I was approached by GeoDrilling International to write an article for their magazine. Since their September issue focused primarily on coring, I prepared an article related to the work we do in water resources.  I have a staff of 15 who collect, test, analyze, and report on lithostratigraphic and hydrostratigraphic characteristics of several aquifers in Florida including the surficial, Hawthorn aquifer system, Upper Floridan and Lower Floridan.  Water supply is primarily drawn from the Upper Floridan aquifer in the southwest region of Florida and new studies are currently underway of the Lower Floridan aquifer. Staff include drillers, geologists and technicians who spend years at a site to collected the needed data.  This includes three phases of field work:  1) coring and testing; 2) well construction; and 3) aquifer performance testing.  The article, “Assessing Aquifers,” was published in the September 2014 issue of GeoDrilling International and describes how we collect the cores and various hydrogeologic data.  If you’re interested in what it’s like to work in the hydrogeology industry, this article will give you great insight into this specialty.

Here’s the link:  Assessing Aquifers

I would like to thank GeoDrilling International, for the opportunity to provide an article for their magazine and highlight the talents of my staff and drilling program.

Post Doc, Water Resources Natural Hazards, Mike Simpson @mike_simpson_82: A Day in the GeoLife Series

NAME:  Mike Simpson

CURRENT TITLE:  Postdoctoral Research Assistant on Decision Analysis for Natural Hazards, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Hydrology and Water Resources Modelling

YEARS EXPERIENCE:  7

EDUCATION:  PhD in Water Resource Assessment (nearly finished!); MSc in Hydrology; and a BSc in Biology

WEBSITE:  http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/people/simpsonmike.php

What’s your job like?

I have one of those jobs where you learn new things all the time. In my PhD, I was looking at fine detail modelling of hydrogeology and very small catchments on islands in an environmental hydrology context. So far, my postdoc has looked at national-scale resource assessment and is much more concerned with human processes such as decision theory and the planning and costing of strategic infrastructure. International travel is pretty rare, although good when it happens (I was in Australia earlier in the year to test out some new software), but every month or so I’ll be at a meeting or conference in the UK. My research group comprises researchers in all types of natural hazards, and we meet up every three months or so to talk about our work and discuss plans.

A postdoc is much more like a consultancy job than most academic positions. There is relatively little contact with students, although I work closely with some PhDs. There is a good sense of teamwork and lots of collaboration on projects, rather than everyone solely researching their own work.

What’s a typical day like?

Much of my recent work has been research and writing or building water resource models. If I’m researching I’ll spend some time in the office and some time in the library, otherwise I’ll be writing code and reading reports from water companies for much of the day. A big part of academic research is collaboration, so I regularly catch up with colleagues over a cup of tea or lunch, usually at the nearby Linacre College. Oxford has a really busy program of evening talks, so there’s often a good speaker to see, although I’m often too busy with a deadline to actually go! On Wednesdays, there are departmental seminars, and on Thursdays, there is an interdisciplinary seminar series on water, both of which are good for stimulating ideas. On Friday mornings at 11 a.m., the department stops for coffee and cake, which is also an opportunity to meet new staff and visitors.

What’s fun?

There is constantly something new on the horizon. Our section is growing quite quickly, so there’s a lot of new ideas and new directions for work, and because we are in a building with food, ecosystems, forestry and climate researchers, there’s lots of opportunities. Coupled with the large numbers of visiting researchers and guest speakers, this makes for a great research environment.

What’s challenging?

It’s really easy to overcommit! It’s tough to miss events or seminars that are interesting and relevant because other work is looming but finishing off old projects is important. Working as part of a large group can lead to a lot of pressure if you are the one holding everything back, but the trade-off is being able to contribute to some large and innovative projects.

What’s your advice to students?

If you are thinking of working in your subject area, don’t be afraid to ask for advice or even summer work from your department. I worked with a couple of undergraduate students this summer. They were really helpful and hopefully they’ll get dissertation topics from the work. Also, keep an eye out for courses that aren’t necessarily available at undergraduate level – studying for an MSc in hydrology was a change of direction for me, but it has led me to some really interesting work.

Lecturer, Glaciologist, Dr. Tom Holt @tom_holt: A Day in the GeoLife Series

NAME:  Dr. Tom Holt

CURRENT TITLE:  Lecturer in Physical Geography

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  I am a glaciologist who uses remote sensing data and techniques to assess changes to the cryosphere, focusing on the structural and dynamic evolution of ice sheets, ice shelves and stand-alone glaciers in Antarctica, Greenland, and other High-Arctic environments.

YEARS EXPERIENCE:  I completed by PhD thesis between 2008 and 2012 at Aberystwyth University, but have been working as a lecturer since October 2011, initially on various short-term contracts. I gained a permanent position in the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University in August 2014.

EDUCATION:  I have a BSc in Geography (2005), an MSc in Glaciology (2006), and a PhD in Glaciology (2012)

WEBSITE:  http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/iges/staff/academic-staff/toh08/

What’s your job like?

Exciting, varied, challenging, and often hectic! For the first year of lecturing, I was putting the finishing touches to my PhD; it was a steep learning curve, but that situation allowed me to figure out a good balance between the research, teaching and administrative tasks we’re expected to complete as university lecturers.

I’m surrounded by great colleagues and friends, and I get to teach some fantastic students. It’s incredibly rewarding seeing them progress from their first year through to graduation, and then out into the real world! It’s a two-way process, as well. I leave each session having learnt something new from the students, which I’m sure many of them don’t realize! I try to keep my lectures, workshops, assignments, etc. varied. Not everyone is manufactured to sit and listen for two hours, likewise not everyone finds writing a 3,500-word essay enjoyable! A varied approach keeps both me and the students on our toes, and keeps us all busy and out of trouble…

For the last few years, I’ve also had the role of Scheme Leader for the Physical Geography degree we offer at Aber. This position has many aspects, largely revolving around student progress and student welfare. It’s an eye-opening role for sure, and day-to-day, possibly throws up the most challenging aspects of my job.

The research I undertake is also enjoyable and exciting. As a remote sensing glaciologist (a cosy/lazy glaciologist according to my colleagues), I get to study some of the most beautiful and rapidly changing environments each day. I use a combination of optical, radar and microwave data to build up a complete picture of glacier characteristics and dynamics, and how they change through time. The changes observed, particularly in the Antarctic Peninsula, are just incredible. I’m still amazed by the response of the cryosphere to the slightest shift in atmospheric or oceanic conditions.

MSc in Glaciology students getting their first glimpse of Vadret da Morteratsch, Switzerland. Copyright 2014 Tom Holt

MSc in Glaciology students getting their first glimpse of Vadret da Morteratsch, Switzerland. Copyright 2014 Tom Holt

What’s a typical day like?

I’m an early riser, usually at my desk by 7.30 am, but it means I get a good hour-and-a-half distraction-free time before my colleagues arrive. This can sometimes be the most productive part of my day and can make a huge difference over the whole week when those hours are added up.

Most days I’ll spend a bit of time preparing or delivering teaching material, particularly during term-time, but it varies day-to-day and week-to-week. Some days are full of lectures, practical classes and tutorials, others are a little less hectic which frees up time for research, writing papers, reviewing manuscripts and grant proposals, for example.

My role as the Scheme Leader for Physical Geography is quite demanding at certain times of the year, especially during the first few weeks of term and towards deadlines and examination periods. Because of this role I tend to operate an “Open Door” policy, so I get students dropping by quite often – 5 minutes of my time means the world to some students, so I’m more than happy to keep it that way (I’m blessed with an ability to work in short bursts of time, so it doesn’t really upset my rhythm or productivity).

Each day is different, though, and some days are also filled with outreach, website editing, social media output, Open Days, Visiting Days and school visits. I don’t think I could do the same tasks each day, so it’s a perfect job in a way!

What’s fun?

Fieldwork classes are particularly fun. I’ve recently returned from a week in the Swiss Alps with our MSc Glaciology students. We had six fantastic days in southeast Switzerland, studying the processes and geomorphology of Vadret da Morteratsch. In April, I’m off to Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains with our second year undergraduate students, and there are various day trips down the Welsh Coast and to the Snowdonia National Park to do some palaeoglaciology. Fieldwork is such a key component of any geography degree, and it’s certainly the highlight for staff and students!

Undergraduate students discussing fluvial geomorphology in the Wicklow Mountains. Copyright 2014 Tom Holt

Undergraduate students discussing fluvial geomorphology in the Wicklow Mountains. Copyright 2014 Tom Holt

What’s challenging?

The workload is challenging – not the type of work, but the sheer amount of it. It doesn’t stop. Something else always makes its way onto your “to-do list”, which can sometimes be several pages of A4 paper size in length. But that’s part and parcel of the job, and I’m most productive when I have a lot of things on my agenda. Over time, though, it does get easier – the workload is still tough, but you learn to prioritize, say no, and just get on with what you have to do! Regular tea breaks help.

What’s your advice to students?

Ask questions. Listen to answers. Make up your own mind.

PhD Candidate, Volcano Seismology, Kathi Unglert @volcanokathi: A Day in the GeoLife Series

NAME:  Kathi Unglert

CURRENT TITLE:  PhD Candidate at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver (since 2011)

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Volcano seismology, other volcano geophysics, machine learning

YEARS EXPERIENCE: 5

EDUCATION:  After graduating with a combined BSc in geosciences from Ludwig-Maximilians-University/Technical University of Munich (Germany) in 2008, I went to get my MSc at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. I graduated in 2011 and moved to Vancouver, where I am now working on my PhD.

WEBSITE:  http://volcano-diaries.blogspot.com

Kathi Unglert, Volcanologist at Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador. Copyright Kathi Unglert 2014

Kathi Unglert, Volcanologist at Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador. Copyright 2014 James Hickey

What’s your job like?

For my PhD project, I have three main tasks: 1) Travel to volcano observatories or meet with people who have seismometers on volcanoes to get long time series of earthquake data from them, 2) process and analyze the data from all the different places, which involves some computer programming and lots of time series analysis tools, and 3) comparing the results to other data types (e.g. how the volcano deforms or emits gases) to be able to come up with an interpretation. Travelling is the most fun part: I get to see cool volcanoes, experience other cultures and work environments, and meet lots of interesting people.

What’s a typical day like?

My “typical” day doesn’t involve travelling, but is devoted to data analysis and interpretation. I usually show up at work and prioritize my emails first thing. Then, I might work on some computer code for my data processing, or look at my results. Reading lots of other studies about all the different volcanoes and their eruptions might be another thing I do while my computer codes are running. Once my codes are set up, my data analysis doesn’t involve much input from my side. Getting them to the point where they work in the way that I want them to, however, is surprisingly difficult and labor intensive. On some days, I have one or more group meetings to talk with other people in the department about our research. I’m also involved in a bunch of other things, like organizing graduate student events, sitting on department committees, going to schools around Vancouver to talk about volcanoes, coordinating the Outreach Program at our department museum (Pacific Museum of Earth) and more, so any day can have a number of other things added to my schedule. I usually wind down doing some exercise in the evening, which keeps me from staying at work too long (which otherwise easily happens, because there’s always some interesting result to ponder over, or some code that appears to be close to working…).

What’s fun?

Travelling is the best part, but I also really enjoy the first look at a new dataset after a few days of processing. There is always something interesting in a new dataset that catches my eye and inspires my imagination about processes going on underneath volcanoes.

My other favourite thing is to talk about volcanoes in many different ways: To students at schools around Vancouver, on my blog (volcano-diaries.blogspot.com), or at scientific conferences.

What’s challenging?

Sometimes the data processing poses challenges: Every dataset is slightly different, and comes with issues, so it can be difficult to get everything into the right format and apply all the processing steps. On the other hand, it would be boring if everything was easy, wouldn’t it?

What’s your advice to students?

Being in science mainly means to be curious – it doesn’t matter about what. One can always learn the skills required by a topic on the way. Always asking questions is an important part of being a scientist, and you can start doing that right now!

Some scientists might enjoy sitting in their lab and not interacting with people all day long, but in my experience, communication is a big help. Being able to explain your research to somebody else is something that you will have to do sooner or later as a scientist, so the more comfortable you are presenting things to different audiences, the better. It’s something that you can easily improve by practicing. Nobody is going to get on your case for making mistakes while you’re learning, so don’t be shy and try it out!

PhD Student, Structural Geology, Tim I. Yilmaz @YilmazTim: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Tim Yilmaz, structural geologist, in Cornwall after a rainy day in the field.

Tim Yilmaz, structural geologist, in Cornwall after a rainy day in the field.

NAME:  Tim I. Yilmaz

CURRENT TITLE:  Research and teaching assistant and Ph.D. student at Tectonics and Material Fabrics Section (TUM) in the final year.

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Structural geologist specialized in large-scale hydrothermal fluid flow, mineralization, brecciation, liquefication of cataclasites, silicification, mineralogy, microscopy, cathodoluminescence, and fractal analysis.

YEARS EXPERIENCE:  5 years of education

EDUCATION:  Diploma in Geology at Technical University of Munich, TUM; now in the fourth year of Ph.D.

WEBSITE:  http://www.geofabrics.bgu.tum.de

What’s your job like?

It’s a mixture of organizing and giving lectures and courses in the field, grading (e.g. mapping reports), and supervising B.Sc. theses, but the main focus is the research on my Ph.D. studies.

What’s a typical day like?

There is no typical day. In terms of emotions, there are frustrating days, motivated days, bored-to-death-days and exciting days.

I am preparing my second first-author-publication, so there is not a lot of lab work or field work at the moment. For this second paper, I was creating and arranging figures and writing the results chapter at the office within the last couple of days. Now, I am focussing on literature research to fill some gaps again. I am doing literature research and writing from back home where maximum concentration is guaranteed. So, I am switching a lot between the office and home office depending on the tasks.

What’s fun?

I was in charge of organizing and supervising three mapping courses and three field trips and grading the reports within the last three years which is definitely huge fun. In general, being in the field is great, and therefore, it doesn’t matter whether it’s for teaching or research. But there are, of course, amazing days at the laboratory as well, especially when the results of my research start to make sense. Furthermore, I deeply enjoy literature research.

Cathodoluminescence picture of area a microshear zone. The angular fragments display red colors. The matrix is blue to dark blue. Locally, fragment outlines are possibly arranged into sets of conjugate micro-shear-planes (white short-dashed lines). Copyright Tim Yilmaz

Cathodoluminescence picture of an area in a microshear zone. The angular fragments display red colors. The matrix is blue to dark blue. Locally, fragment outlines are possibly arranged into sets of conjugate micro-shear-planes (white short-dashed lines). Copyright Tim Yilmaz

What’s challenging?

The most challenging part is to structure the schedule due to my Ph.D. thesis. There is nobody telling me what to do, when to do or where to do whatever there is to do. Of course, this is a great challenge for all Ph.D. students out there. Therefore, I am very happy to have a great supervisor who is always (almost always) replying to my emails, answering my phone calls and meeting me at least once a week.

What’s your advice to students?

I always thought Ph.D. students are freaky, uncool geeks until the day I became one of them. So, I think giving advice is a waste of time, but let’s try:  In my view, self-responsibility is the most important keyword in successful studying.