NAME: Mike Cassidy
CURRENT TITLE: UPDATE! Now, NERC Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. Previously, at the time of this guest blog, Humboldt Research Fellow at the University of Mainz, Germany.
EXPERTISE: Volcanology, petrology and geochemistry
YEARS EXPERIENCE: ~7.5 years
EDUCATION: 3 year Geology BSc at the University of Bristol, 1 year Volcanology and Geological Hazards MSc at the University of Lancaster; and 3.5 year PhD at the University of Southampton. Following my PhD, I have 2.5 years of post-doctorate experience from Southampton, Cambridge and Plymouth Universities.
What’s your job like?
I love it (well, 90% of the time). I am a person who gets bored quickly and likes to keep busy doing different things, so this job suits me well because I can do a variety of different tasks. It can be very hard work at times and is sometimes frustrating, but I enjoy solving problems and focusing on the bigger picture of what I’m trying to achieve, which gives me lots of enthusiasm and motivation.
At the moment, I am researching why volcanoes sometimes erupt explosively and at other times erupt effusively. I’m studying Mt. Kelud, a volcano which often shifts its eruptive style and is located in a “most at risk” country for volcanic eruptions in the world – Indonesia. To study this problem, I am using analytical petrology and geochemistry and doing experiments in the laboratory. My experiments involve putting freshly collected volcanic rocks under high pressures and temperatures to simulate the conditions the magma endures beneath the volcano and during its transit to the surface. We change different parameters to see which ones match our natural effusive and explosive rocks to help us find out which factors control eruptive style. Eventually, I am hoping to link our findings with monitoring data for both effusive and explosive eruptions, so that in the future we might be able to forecast the style of eruptions.
What’s a typical day like?
This can vary enormously, from spending hours in the lab preparing rocks for analysis on a machine, writing papers to communicate my results to other scientists, to being in an exotic country measuring gas emissions or collecting ash from volcanic eruptions.
A) Realising that there’s still so much we don’t know about volcanoes;
B) Getting new results which may help us to understand how volcanoes work;
C) Trying to solve problems which could move forward the science of volcanology, and therefore, ultimately help those at risk from volcanoes;
D) Communicating my science to both scientists and the general public, although it can be a little daunting at times;
E) And, of course, traveling to great places and seeing amazing geology.
A) The most difficult part of academic research is finding job positions to carry on your research. Funding is very competitive, so perseverance, adaptability and luck are needed!
B) It’s great being your own boss, but sometimes the life of a scientific researcher can be quite solitary, so this can be challenging at times too.
C) Trying to expand our scientific knowledge is a trial and error process, so some things will work and some things will not. This can be frustrating, but it is extra rewarding when you can overcome these problems!
What’s your advice to students?
No scientist was perfect at school (least of all myself), but it’s important to battle through any bad test results or job/university rejections and to concentrate on the bigger picture of what you want to do. Retaining this focus will help to keep you motivated through the tough times.
Also, don’t be afraid of asking your teachers/bosses questions about your future. This also applies to people you don’t know yet that you want to work with in the future. Most people will be happy to give you advice and help you out.