NEW! Research Student, Volcanology, Ailsa Naismith @AilsaNaismith: A Day in the GeoLife Series


Nevado de Colima

On the summit of Nevado de Colima, while interning in Mexico. Photo copyright: Ailsa Naismith

NAME: Ailsa Naismith

CURRENT TITLE: First-year postgraduate research student at the University of Bristol

AREA OF EXPERTISE: I use a variety of geophysical techniques to understand the eruptive activity of the active Fuego volcano in southern Guatemala. I’m also interested in how local people perceive the volcano and its hazards.


EDUCATION: I read Earth Sciences at University College London (UCL), achieving an MSci in 2015. My third year was spent abroad at the University of British Columbia, where I first gained an interest in volcanology. After graduating from UCL, I spent nine months working at research institutions in Ecuador and Mexico, before returning to the United Kingdom (UK) to begin a PhD in September 2016. My research group leader is Dr. Matt Watson; we are primarily studying how remote sensing can illuminate the changing activity of Fuego, but our research network extends into collaborations with readers of mathematics and engineering.

TWITTER: @AilsaNaismith

What’s your job like?

A healthy mixture of variety and monotony, and of confusion and certainty. My impression is that this PhD is teaching me to be an all-rounder. I have to organise and manage my own time, arrange meetings and discussions, and generate new ideas. Since starting last autumn, I have learned many skills that include coding, academic writing, time management, office politics, Guatemalan Spanish … the list goes on! I have almost full control over how I spend my days, which is pleasurable and sometimes intimidating – although I love the work, so it isn’t always hard to stay focussed. Most of my work is independent and individual, although I have regular group meetings. The best part is unfortunately also the least frequent: I live for fieldwork.

What’s a typical day like?

The majority of days I spend in the office, with most of my time split between writing, reading articles, or writing code. If it’s a productive day, I can usually spend five hours on these tasks. Outside of that, I usually have one group meeting a day: either a research group discussion to catch up and share ideas, or a Volcanology meeting, like reading group. My work during term time also includes demonstrating in undergraduate classes, where I discuss concepts and provide help for students. I usually demonstrate for several hours each week. Occasionally I am able to participate in outreach activities, which I love – baking soda volcanoes are wonderful!


Locals from Panimache village talk and relax below the volcano. Photo copyright: Ailsa Naismith

The highlight of my year will be fieldwork, which could last up to a month. Instead of sitting and ruminating, it’s go, go, go all day – hours are long, work is manual. I will operate equipment, study outcrops, sort logistics like food and gas, and discuss Fuego’s activity with colleagues. I had the great luck to demonstrate the MSc Volcanology field course in Guatemala this February, where I acted as demonstrator and translator for two weeks, before gathering data for my own research. My supervisor and I spent several memorable days on the roof of a golf resort under the volcano, trying to fix an infrared camera.

What’s fun?

Of course, it’s the fieldwork, and the opportunity to travel to a country so dissimilar to the UK. Although a day in the field may be 12+ hours, those hours are spent in focus, and I am rarely still. Instead, I may be fixing a car, operating a camera, hiking a volcano, or asking directions in Spanish. There isn’t time to be bored, and because Guatemala is still relatively new to volcanologists, a lot of problems I encounter are simple, but not necessarily straightforward to solve. That encourages inventive thinking and practical solutions. For instance, how do you prevent a camera from being struck by lightning? These challenges can seem a lot more fun to solve than the nebulous questions your thesis attempts to answer.

I love the opportunity to work in an environment so dissimilar to my own, with people who are passionate and informed, despite somewhat limited resources. The national institute I work with, INSIVUMEH (, is home to intelligent and generous scientists who are interested in understanding Guatemala’s volcanoes, and protecting those who are vulnerable to its hazards.


Volcan de Fuego, Guatemala, is the subject of my PhD project. Photo copyright Ailsa Naismith

What’s challenging?

It can be very difficult to see a way through, sometimes. Often a PhD begins with high ideals and an ambitious plan for how to answer a scientific question – but now that I have started, things sometimes seem a little less clear-cut. It is challenging to work with the hope of delayed gratification: that your experiments will work soon, that your paper will be published some time, and that your plans will come to fruition. Luckily this problem is extremely widespread, so there are others who empathise, and the feeling never lasts – hope springs eternal when you have an interesting project!

What’s your advice to students?

Just go ahead and say it if you don’t know. I constantly am asking questions and feeling uninformed, but if you ask then that feeling is only temporary. Attempt to be curious about lots of things. Collaboration is key: regularly ask for help, input and advice, even perhaps too often. Having mentors and inspiring teachers around you is a great help. If you are sure what you want to do, then do that. If not, then do what you find the most interesting: it’s your life, so you should decide.

Hydrogeologist, Muhammad Akram Khan: A Day in the GeoLife Series


Muhammad Akram Khan performing aquifer test.

NAME: Muhammad Akram Khan

CURRENT TITLE: Hydrogeologist

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Hydrogeology, water resources assessment, groundwater, pump tests, geotechnical engineer, coal mines dewatering expert


EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: MSc in Geology from the University of Peshawar (Kpk), Pakistan with more than 35 years of experience in water resources assessment, particularly in groundwater exploration and management for drinking and agricultural usage. Now working​ as a Hydrogeologist on Water Master Plan for Thar Coal Field to assess groundwater potential to be dewatered. The project includes 100 electrical resistivity surveys (ERS) for identification of faults, 15 short pumping tests (72 hours each), 5 long pumping tests (each 30 continuous days), 90 water samples for ionic analysis, 200 water samples from existing wells representative of individual aquifers. 25 test boreholes including 10 with data loggers to record groundwater fluctuations for 10 years. All activities are to be performed in order to get access to underneath one of the world’s largest coal deposits.




Performing aquifer test:


Collecting water sample:


What’s your job like?

Previously, I worked as a Hydrogeologist in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas Development Corporation controlled by the Ministry of State and Frontier Regions of Pakistan. Completed various projects of groundwater exploration and management for drinking and agricultural usage. After retirement, I handled various groundwater/hydelpower/road projects as a freelance Hydrogeologist, Geotech/Material Engineer.

What’s a typical day like?

My duty is at the company office, however, my day starts from 9.00 a.m The office work starts by going through all the emails from consortium members and then collecting and assimilating all the date from the previous day to send them. After that, I enjoy a cup of tea with mixed coffee. At 12 o’clock, I attend a General Body Meeting with the CEO, schedule to manage visits for different clients, prepare tender documents, and write reports for each work done. Fortnightly​, I have at least a 3-day visit to a project area.


Drilling rig. Photo copyright Muhammad Akram Khan

drilling rig

Well installation using drilling rig. Photo copyright Muhammad Akram Khan


Well installation. Photo copyright Muhammad Akram Khan


Aquifer pump test. Photo copyright Muhammad Akram Khan

borehole development

Washing/development of sand from borehole using air compressor. Photo copyright Muhammad Akram Khan

Washing/development of borehole until sand-free with air compressor. NX/riser or guidelines lying on ground. Photo copyright Muhammad Akram Khan

What’s fun?

Assessment of water resources and selecting the parameters for its fruitful utilization, particularly groundwater sources both in alluvium and hard rocks, is often a job of common sense and fun based on experience and interaction with locals to understand their thinking and culture. Apart, I love to enjoy different tasks, particularly in remote areas that are extremely underdeveloped. I love to mixed with locals and like to have dinner or lunch with them (usually offered as hospitality traditions).

Performing pump tests in Pakistan. Photo copyright Muhammad Akram Khan

What’s challenging?

I am a citizen of an underdeveloped country – a man familiar with numerical not software and now over 60 years old. It’s a great challenge for me to use software. In Pakistan, there is no scope for a hydrogeologist and finding a job is a serious challenge for a hydrogeologist.

What’s your advice to students?

Learn the very interesting field of geology with full enjoyment of field work. Make​ sure to work abroad to only those who offer you service with respect and dignity (this message is only for Pakistani students).

Associate Geology Professor, Dr. Meagen Pollock @meagenpollock: A Day in the GeoLife Series

geology professor

Dr. Meagen Pollock, Associate Geology Professor

NAME: Meagen Pollock

CURRENT TITLE: Associate Professor of Geology at a small liberal arts college

AREA OF EXPERTISE: I use lava chemistry to understand how volcanoes work. I mostly work on volcanoes that erupt under water or ice. I’m also interested in undergraduate research and how to improve the experience.


EDUCATION: B.S. in Geology and Environmental Science at medium-sized state university, Ph.D. at a private research university

TWITTER: @meagenpollock

What’s your job like?

I’m one of four faculty members in a Geology department at a small liberal arts college. I think my job perfectly fits the description of teacher-scholar-mentor. I spend most of my working time with undergraduate students and largely focus on teaching. Even my research program and service activities are student-centered. Because I’m at a small institution and my students have a wide range of interests, I get to explore lots of different research questions and methods that I might not be able to do at a bigger institution. The rhythm of the job flows with the academic year, so there are moments when I get really busy (like at midterm) and moments when I can breathe a little (like when grades are turned in after the semester). Surprisingly, travel is a big part of what I do, whether it’s for field work, to use lab facilities, or for a conference.

What’s a typical day like?

A typical day during the semester involves teaching classes and working with students. My classes cover topics like natural hazards, minerals, and rocks. We do a lot of hands-on activities, which means I have to put a great deal of thought into designing and preparing my courses. I also work with several research students each year, and we meet on a weekly basis to talk about papers, writing, and results. A few times a week, I have meetings with faculty and administrators to serve my community. This might involve talking with other faculty about the curriculum or how to support undergraduate research mentors.

During the summer, my days focus on research. I might be in the field with my students, collecting samples and making maps. I mostly work in Utah, British Columbia, and Iceland. Some of these places are wet and cold and others are dry and hot, so my field clothing might be different, but I always have my rock hammer (I call it “The Stealth”). I also spend time in the lab analyzing the compositions of rocks. This involves crushing the rocks and melting them or dissolving them in acid. We have our own X-ray lab on campus and I also visit labs at other institutions to use different kinds of instruments. Finally, I use my summer research time to write up my results as journal articles to share with the scientific community.

Please don’t think that my life is all job-related, though. As much as I can, I spend time on other fun things: exercising, cooking, reading, hanging out with my dogs, and hiking. Making time to do these things helps me be a better teacher-scholar-mentor.

What’s fun?

The best part of my job is that I get to interact with students. I’m inspired by their enthusiasm and excitement for learning. Their questions and interests push me out of my comfort zone and encourage me to explore new ideas. I get to watch them grow and develop into confident young scientists. It is such a special honor to play a role in their lives. Plus, I get to travel the world and visit beautiful locations!


Dr. Meagen Pollock (right) working in the field

What’s challenging?

Although mentoring students is the best part of my job, it’s also the most challenging. I have to figure out when to offer guidance and insight, or push and question. I have to make sure that students know that they’re not alone when facing their challenges and that their ideas matter. It’s a challenge to know how to respond in a way that ensures their personal and scholarly success. Mentoring is a serious endeavor and I strive to be better at it all the time.

Other challenges involve the expectations of my community: the need to conduct campus business, secure funding to carry out research, publish results on a timely and regular basis, improve and keep up with new developments in teaching, and the demands of having lots of students with limited resources.

What’s your advice to students?

Connect with people who are supportive, and don’t leave out the virtual geoscience community as a source for potential mentors. Don’t rush through your education and do things just to build your list of credentials. It’s the quality of experiences and relationships that really matter. Exploit every opportunity for learning: try new things, listen to the ideas of others, don’t be afraid to fail or ask questions. Finally, pick your own path. Sure, many geoscientists do some common things to get to where they are (like research or taking certain classes), but your journey isn’t identical to anyone else’s. Be unapologetically you and follow your path with confidence.

Director, Petroleum Geomechanics, Mark Tingay @CriticalStress_: A Day in the GeoLife Series

petroleum geomechanics

Dr. Mark Tingay, Petroleum Geomechanics at Lusi Vent

NAME: Dr. Mark Tingay

CURRENT TITLE: Director, Critical Stress Geomechanics and Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Adelaide

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Petroleum geomechanics, pore pressure prediction, mud volcanoes and tectonics


EDUCATION: Completed my PhD in petroleum geomechanics in 2003, University of Adelaide. I also have a Graduate Certificate of Education in Higher Education.


TWITTER: @CriticalStress_

What’s your job like?

I’m a self-employed consultant, specialising in petroleum geomechanics and pore pressure prediction. I usually work in my client’s offices, but also at home. My job mostly involves helping to plan and drill petroleum wells safely and efficiently. I also work on reservoir aspects of geomechanics, in particular understanding how CO2 injection or hydrocarbon production will affect rock stresses and fluid pressures, and the potential for fault reactivation. I also have an adjunct role at the Australia School of Petroleum in South Australia, through which I supervise PhD and Masters students as well as pursue my personal research topics.

What’s a typical day like?

Most of my days involve working on some specific project for a client. This might be interpreting data for stresses and developing geomechanical models for a CO2 sequestration project; trying to predict the pore pressures and geological conditions that a planned well may encounter, so that the well can be constructed to avoid hazards such as blowouts or hole collapse. I also do a lot of training, whether it is teaching training courses for companies or societies, or giving one-on-one in-depth training for geologists and engineers wanting to specialise in geomechanics or pore pressure.

What’s fun?

It’s pretty much all fun! I particularly enjoy trying to solve the more challenging problems, as well as the teaching side of the work. One of the things I specialise in is determining the origin of high pore fluid pressures (overpressures) in petroleum systems. I am commonly brought in after a company has had a significant and unexpected well control incident, and it’s my job to pick apart what happened and why, and then to develop methods and plans to avoid such incidents in the future. I love that type of work because it is stimulating and because I see the primary goal of my work being to help make the industry safer, both for people and the environment.

What’s challenging?

Running my own consulting business has a lot of challenges. There is always the insecurity that comes with being self-employed – and the effort you constantly need to put in to find work, build a network, accounting and such. But, at the end of the day, I am working for myself. I have really enjoyed my previous roles in academia and with a big petroleum company, both of which have their major advantages and disadvantages, but I am now enjoying the challenges of consulting.

What’s your advice to students?

It’s an old line, but you really have to try to find something you enjoy and have a passion for. If you are really fascinated by a topic, then you’ll always strive to learn more and do better at it. Ultimately, that will lead to you enjoying work and life a lot more.

The other advice I always give is to really work to learn the fundamentals of what you do. Petroleum geomechanics is a topic that has been ‘in vogue’ over the past 5-10 years, and the numbers of people doing it around the world now are probably 100 times more than when I started in the field. But, the one thing I see again and again is students or new people in the topic learning the workflows and software, but without really understanding the fundamentals and theory.

As I said earlier, one of my common jobs is to try to figure out what went wrong after a significant safety incident has occurred. The root cause often boils down to practitioners simply making assumptions that just aren’t valid for the situation or geology, or because people blindly trusted erroneous data, software workflows or interpretations without question. There is an old saying “assumption is the mother of all stuff-ups” (a different work is usually used instead of “stuff”). Sometimes such a mistake is just an embarrassing ‘oops’. However, in drilling, and many other disciplines, not recognising when an approach or data may be flawed can result in a major accident, or meaning someone doesn’t come home from work.

So, whatever you do in science, really work hard to understand and challenge the assumptions, and the potential flaws, pitfalls and failures, in the work you do. Not only does this make you a more thorough and better scientist, but it’s also a key to finding ways to improve and advance your field of interest.

Oh, and oral and written communication. Seriously, if you can learn to give a good talk, and write without things like hanging participles, you’ll do well!

PhD Student, Iceland Volcanoes, Thorbjorg Agustsdottir @fencingtobba: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Thorbjorg Agustsdottir, volcanic studies

NAME:  Thorbjorg Agustsdottir


AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Volcanoes, earthquakes, Iceland, rifting events

EDUCATION:  I am a 4th year PhD student, and I am a part of the University of Cambridge Volcano-Seismology group. We study earthquakes in and around volcanoes in the Northern and Eastern Volcanic Zones in Iceland where the plate spreading is accommodated by rifting events. Our dense network is focused around the Askja volcano and surrounding Vatnajökull ice cap and its many volcanoes. The group is lead by Professor Bob White.

My education and experience:
BSc in Geophysics, University of Iceland.
MSc in Geophysics, University of Iceland.
Part-time research and teaching assistant at the University of Iceland.
Currently PhD student in Volcano Seismology at University of Cambridge.
High level international athlete from high school to PhD.
Captain of Cambridge University Fencing Club Women Blues Team 2016-2017.

TWITTER: @fencingtobba



What’s your job like?

The job is great and interactive but also involves quite a lot of pressure to perform and deliver. My group collects its own data – which is great! To record earthquake activity, we use our local passive seismic network in central Iceland. This network is run by us in the Cambridge University Volcano-Seismology group in collaboration with the University of Iceland, and is supported by grants and equipment loans from the Natural Environment Research Council. Tiny earthquakes are often detected under volcanoes prior to eruption, caused by the movement melt beneath the surface. That is what I am working on! My research is focused on the seismicity associated with the 2014-15 Holuhraun eruption and the subsidence of the feeder volcano Bárðarbunga caldera.

What’s a typical day like?

A day in the office involves mostly working on the computer all day. We also have group meetings discussing various aspects of our work as well as paper discussions. Geophysics is quite computational as we are working with a lot of data. It involves using Linux Shell scripting, Python, Generic Mapping Tools (GMT), and many other programs. Everyone in the group helps each other with coding problems, and the environment is supportive. We also go regularly to meetings and conferences in the United Kingdom, Europe and United States.

A day in the field is completely different from the office job. We do our field work in Iceland where we need to drive around in big 4x4s servicing the seismic network, deploying new stations and repairing the old ones. We have also deployed instruments with a helicopter, snow scooters and skis but that is less common. Field days are long days involving a lot of manual labour and driving and in the evening quality checking our data. We were fortunate to have an eruption in our field area in 2014 – that was amazing!

===> Field Video of this Volcanic Eruption:  20140831_164555.mp4

What’s fun?

I really enjoy the field work in the beautiful Icelandic highlands. I also like the problem solving and the science part where we try to understand the data. The discussion with the group is something that I also really like, discussing ideas and discussing the problems.

What’s challenging?

For me the coding part is challenging as I am dyslexic but I still manage. Academia in general is challenging but challenges are also interesting and pushes you further. I have learnt so much the past 3.5 years in Cambridge.

What’s your advice to students?

Always follow your interest and intuition. Science is fun and very varied. It is hard work which pays off in my opinion, and it can take you to incredible places.