NAME: Cortney Cameron
CURRENT TITLE: Graduate Student
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Hydroseismicity
EDUCATION: A.B., Duke University; M.S. Candidate, North Carolina Central University, United States
What’s your job like?
As a graduate student, I divvy my time between research and associated responsibilities, classes and homework, and departmental duties.
What’s a typical day like?
Right now, my research focuses on investigating “hydroseismicity” in the eastern Tennessee seismic zone. The press has previously termed this as “trickle-down earthquakes” with the general idea being that surface water can trigger earthquakes. For the time being, my research entails mostly statistical work with seismic and hydrologic data. I hope to expand to modeling in the future. As a side project, I’ve also been working with congressional redistricting since my department is big on the geographic information system (GIS). Of course, the meaning and significance of my results still have to be analyzed and packaged for presentation at conferences and ultimately for publication. I also spend time in class and completing assignments.
That’s a lot of words to say that I pass most of the day on the computer, whether coding, reading, or writing. One dismayed high school student discovered this last summer! Our university hosts summer research for such students. Each student selects professors from a list of projects. The student that chose our department was utterly dismayed to discover that most of computational seismology amounted to crunching numbers on the computer rather than adventuring on exotic field excursions!
Which segues nicely into teaching — depending on the semester, I also have tutoring and teaching assistant (TA) responsibilities. One of the highlights of my career thus far was when a student called me at semester’s end to personally thank me for helping make his Geology 101 class a success.
In the process of conducting research, you’ll be the only person in the world who intimately knows about your specific topic for a time. It is quite rewarding to know that one has pushed the envelope of knowledge farther, even if just by the smallest amount. Finally, I love attending scientific conferences (especially the smaller ones that host field trips), and I treasure meeting so many diverse and wonderful people!
As in many jobs, juggling all of the responsibilities has at times required logistical Hail Marys and lots of caffeine. Additionally, dealing with administrative, bureaucratic, and funding aspects is famously migraine-inducing. Plus, given that we’re surrounded by the best and most experienced minds in the field, I think most graduate students suffer from imposter’s syndrome at some point or another. Even now, I feel a bit presumptuous to have my story alongside those of some of the other scientists featured on this site! 🙂
What’s your advice to students?
Don’t be afraid to talk to your professors. You’ll find they’re quite human and have shared many of your struggles whether academic or otherwise. So, they can be invaluable resources. Take advantage of any departmental funding you might have (talk to your professors!) to attend and, even better, present at scientific conferences (there’s always some small or big research project you can tackle – talk to your professors!). It sounds intimidating, but scientists generally go easy on the students and will love talking to you. It’s a blast to meet so many people interested in your field. Participate in local geological societies and go on as many field trips as you can while you still get the student discount (and often, student grants!); you’ll learn a lot and you’ll grow your network. Finally, enjoy your time as a student – and never stop learning!