MSc Student, Disaster Analysis, Badal Pokharel @GarnetBadal: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Badal Pokharel, MSc Student in Geological Engineering

NAME:  Badal Pokharel


AREA OF EXPERTISE: Geological Engineering, Disaster Analysis, Geographic Information System (GIS)

EDUCATION:  Enrolled as MSc Engineering Geology student (Third Semester). After completing my BSc in 2014, I worked mostly around disaster and its analysis in GIS. After the Gorkha earthquake in April 2015, I worked on a project for the Japanese International Cooperative Agency (Nepal). The project dealt with an earthquake risk assessment in Kathmandu Valley.


TWITTER:  @GarnetBadal

What’s your job like?

My class begins at 7 am and goes to 2.30 pm. We do a lot of practical works and field trips along with theory subjects. Basically, our area of concern is applying geological principles​ in engineering construction.

What’s a typical day like?

The study time typically runs for 7 to 8 hours. There are theory and practicals. To add, field excursion is also done once a month. There is a separate field work excursion for 15 days.

What’s fun?

The fun is learning and exploring new things in geology. The interesting part is how a small parameter in engineering is driven by the geology of the site. Field trips are the amazing chapters.

What’s challenging?

The challenging part is judgement as a learner of geology. Like, in most of the cases, we are asked to give our analytical ideas on the occurrence of disaster (in most of the cases landslides). It’s hard to make the local people understand risk, probability and vulnerability of disaster. Most of the time, people seek 100% guarantee in occurrence of future catastrophes.

What’s your advice to students?

I hear a lot of issues on difficulties girls face in field work. I want to say that sometimes it’s up to the determination a girl has to learn and unravel the mysteries. It is not only the situation or people who create the hard things. Everyone has potential. It’s about the choice. Geology is a beautiful subject. Once you dive with interest and passion, you will go high.

===Thank you for reading. Check out Badal’s great blog at the website link above. If you would like to ask Badal any questions, please comment below.

Graduate Student, Hydroseismicity, Cortney Cameron: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Cortney Cameron

Graduate student, Cortney Cameron.

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.


Graduate student, Cortney Cameron

What’s fun?

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!

What’s challenging?

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!


Hydroseismology graduate student, Cortney Cameron.

PhD Student, Volcanology, Kerry Reid @Kerry_Reid21: A Day in the GeoLife Series


Volcanology PhD Student, Kerry Reid

NAME:  Kerry Reid


AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Volcanic degassing, lava lakes

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE:  2 years of PhD research

EDUCATION:  PhD in Volcanology (The Open University); MSc in Volcanology (University of Bristol, United Kingdom); BSc (Hons) in Physical Geography


TWITTER:  @Kerry_Reid21

What’s your job like?

My PhD is awesome. Climbing up volcanoes and peering into lava lakes — what’s not to love?! For my PhD, I am working on the Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua. It is an active volcano which is almost constantly churning out a cocktail of toxic gases. In the past, the degassing has reached crisis levels leaving the people that live downwind from the volcano vulnerable to crop failures, water contamination and health implications. My research is to monitor the degassing levels and figure out the different factors which contribute to the rate of degassing.


Degassing at Masaya Volcano. Photo copyright: Kerry Reid

lava lake

Masaya Volcano Lava Lake. Photo copyright: Kerry Reid

What’s a typical day like?

If you ask any PhD students, they will most likely agree that days can be fairly variable, which I think is one of the best parts of a PhD! Earlier on in my PhD, I spent most of my time familiarising myself with the literature. Now that I am entering my third year, I have reached the exciting/scary phase — writing up! So the vast majority of days involve a combination of plotting up data (also known as shouting at ArcGIS and pieces of code!) and starting to interpret my data. I also have a few conferences coming up, so I have been working on presentations for them.

What’s fun?


Photo copyright: Kerry Reid

Definitely the best part of being a PhD student is your fieldwork! The feeling of exhaustion/relief/happiness after a hard days graft in the field collecting data is great — mainly because of the cold beer reward! I also love the freedom and flexibility of a PhD, because you never know what avenue it is going to take you down next!

What’s challenging?

If there is one thing I have learnt about research, it’s that it’s never going to be smooth. I have had my fair share of bumps along this PhD journey. Field work can be challenging. For example, one day I was pulled over by the Nicaraguan police, as they believed I was part of some sort of elaborate drug smuggling scheme and my spectrometers were full of cocaine … that was awkward and soon made me realise I needed to improve on my Spanish skills! Oh, and not to forget, the zopilotes (vultures) — it turns out that they are quite fond of stealing my kit and dropping my diffusion tubes into the crater. I think in all seriousness, the most difficult part of a PhD is the self management. Setting your own deadlines and managing your time efficiently can be really daunting at first.


The guilty zopilote! Photo copyright: Kerry Reid

What’s your advice to students?

A PhD will be the greatest and most challenging thing you will do. I, at times, have found it pretty brutal, but I think it’s all about making the most of your experiences. Try not to get caught up on the negatives and grab onto every opportunity you get, whether that is training sessions, conferences, field work or networking opportunities. It’s quite easy to get wrapped up in your little research bubble, but you need to get yourself out there and make sure you are employable at the end of it!

Marine Research Scientist, Alessio Rovere @alessio_r_: A Day in the GeoLife Series

marine science

“The good side of coastal geology.” Alessio Rovere, Junior Group Leader in Marine Sciences. Photo copyright: Elisa Casella

NAME:  Alessio Rovere

CURRENT TITLE:  Junior Group Leader; Adjunct Research Scientist

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Marine Sciences, Sea Level and Coastal Changes


EDUCATION:  I was born 100 meters from the Mediterranean Sea in Northwestern Italy. In 2011, I received my PhD in marine sciences from the University of Genoa, Italy. Following this, I did a two-year postdoc at Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, where I still hold a position as adjunct research scientist. Since March 2014, I have been the junior group leader of the ‘sea level and coastal changes’ group at MARUM, University of Bremen and the Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology in Germany. In brief, a junior group leader has the duty to manage staff (PhD students and postdocs) to independently realize research projects and assume budget responsibilities.

I use field techniques combined with various modeling approaches to understand past sea levels and past climates. My research also has a focus on modern coastal processes. I have a broader interest in the application of new field techniques (such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), geographic information system (GIS) tools and hydrodynamic models to investigate environmental issues, such as coastal erosion and extreme wave events.


What’s your job like?

My job is a combination of collecting data during field trips and analyzing the data and writing papers during periods in the office. In general, I am the guy that tries to gather observations as precisely as possible in the field. Therefore, I need to travel with a lot of gear, such as global positioning systems (GPSs), drones, echo sounders to measure bathymetry, and all kinds of sensors. And, of course, my hammer…at some point, someone was calling me, “Inspector Gadget”…


No matter how much technology one uses, in the end, geology is about breaking the rock! Bahamas, 2016. Photo copyright: Elisa Casella

What’s a typical day like?

When I am in Germany, I arrive in the office around 8-9 in the morning. First thing, I check in with the other members of my group (PhDs, masters, postdocs) to see if there is anything they need to ask or tell me. Then, I do the usual office duties: email, administrative tasks that I procrastinated for ages, etc. Then, I basically work on my data or write unless there is some meeting or some interesting talk in my department.

When in the field, it’s quite different. Usually we wake up early (we work mostly in tropical areas, so early morning is cooler). Most of the times, we drive or walk for many kilometers in search for new sites to sample or we do surveys to monitor some particular coastal process. Sometimes (it can get really fun) we have to jump in the ocean and secure some sensor on the bottom of a coral reef.

What’s fun?

Everything related to my work is fun! I always have a great time in the field, but also when I am in the office, playing with some new dataset, I have fun. I am grateful for my job.

Last year, for example, was a blast! In May, together with some German and Ghanian colleagues, we walked nearly 10 kilometers with a GPS in our backpack along the beach in Ghana to get data to monitor coastal erosion. In August, I joined my team and some French colleagues to Tahiti, where we measured the energy of the deadliest wave on the planet. Check it out: it is called Teahupo’o — in Polynesian it means “the wall of skulls.” There are some scary waves out there. What kind of job allows you to do all this?


Measuring coastal changes in Ghana. Photo copyright: Elisa Casella

What’s challenging?

I think the main challenge is to accept that no matter how good you are, finding a permanent job in academia is very hard nowadays. Even worse, if your better half is a scientist as well, it can get really crazy to keep together personal and professional lives.

Also dealing with failures can be challenging. As an example, you have to be self-confident to deal with the fact that the paper you worked on for so long was “destroyed” by reviewers who decided that it was not good enough to be published in that high-impact journal!

What’s your advice to students?

Try to decide what you want to do early in your career and dedicate yourself fully to it. If you want to become a scientist, think of what is ground-breaking in your field of research and work on it. And do not be discouraged if you find out that, in the end, it was not that ground-breaking: it is a learning process!

PhD Student, Himalayan Glaciology, Scott Watson @CScottWatson: A Day in the GeoLife Series

NAME: Scott Watson

CURRENT TITLE: PhD Student at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom (2015 – present)

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Himalayan glaciology/remote sensing

EDUCATION: BSc Geography at the University of Leeds (2009 – 2012). MSc River Basin Dynamics and Management with Geographic Information System (GIS) at the University of Leeds (2012 – 2013)

WEBSITE: Rocky Glaciers

TWITTER: @CScottWatson

What’s your job like?

Brilliant! My PhD is investigating the role of ice cliffs and supraglacial ponds for accelerating ablation on debris-covered glaciers in the Himalayas, specifically around the Everest region. This involves a combination of remote sensing analysis using various sources of satellite imagery and three field campaigns on the Khumbu Glacier in Nepal (home to Everest Base Camp). The work will help parameterise the role of cliffs and ponds in dynamic models used to forecast the future evolution of glaciers in the region. Since starting my PhD, I’ve developed new skills using remote sensing and GIS software; made and analysed 3D models using Structure-from-Motion technology; published two papers and a book chapter; and conducted two field campaigns on the Khumbu Glacier in Nepal, the first of which involved four weeks in a tent at 5,000 meters (m) altitude! I’ve also presented my research to specialist and non-specialist audiences at several outreach events. Having the opportunity to help present our team’s work to over 13,000 people at the week-long Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London was one I’ll never forget.

Himalayan glaciology

Climbing the slopes of Lobuche East with the terminus of the Khumbu Glacier visible down below. Photo credit: Scott Watson

What’s your typical day like?

I think the only constant is lots of tea drinking. Before fieldwork, I was using various sources of fine-resolution satellite imagery to quantify the spatial and temporal change of supraglacial ponds in the Everest region. This involved a lot of digitising and error checking so days were quite repetitive, but it was interesting to see the results emerge. Following fieldwork, I have a lot of data to start processing including 3D models of ice cliffs, supraglacial pond bathymetry, and differential global positioning system (GPS) measurements for the ground control of new satellite imagery. Usually I’m multitasking because my models can take weeks to process, so I leave it churning away in the background whilst working on a paper or other analysis. Time flies, but I have clear goals and regular meetings with my supervisors to discuss ideas.

What’s fun?

Discovering new things and the fieldwork. My project involves three field campaigns on the Khumbu Glacier where I’m monitoring the evolution of several supraglacial ponds and ice cliffs. I use a brilliant technology called Structure-from-Motion to monitor the retreat of cliffs in 3D, rather than traditional point-based measurements using ablation stakes. Abseiling down ice cliffs and paddling around the supraglacial ponds in an inflatable boat was also a unique and fun experience. Carrying all my field kit to and from London Heathrow using public transport was less fun. I’m also a keen runner and climber, so having the opportunity to work at over 5,000 m in the Himalayas is amazing, as well as to climb my first 6,000 m peak.


Downloading data loggers deployed in a supraglacial pond. Photo credit: Scott Watson


Abseiling down an ice cliff on the Khumbu Glacier. Photo credit: Scott Watson

What’s challenging?

Probably the biggest challenge I’ve faced during my PhD is securing funding to cover fieldwork costs. I spent a lot of my first year writing grant applications, but thank fully, most have paid off. It’s often hard to switch off from work when faced with a series of research questions, which are evolving all the time. This is where regimented hours (tuned to avoid traffic) and a love of running up big hills helps. I also volunteer for a local youth organisation, which completely changes my focus.

What’s your advice to students?

Ask lots of questions, look for opportunities to gain experience, read plenty, make yourself useful, and be ambitious.