Lecturer, Structural Geology Dr. Eddie Dempsey: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Dr. Eddie Dempsey – working hard…

NAME: Dr. Eddie Dempsey

CURRENT TITLE: Lecturer in Structural Geology; Programme Director – Geology and GPG (geology with physical geography)

AREA OF EXPERTISE: I have a broad range of expertise within the field of Structural Geology – Field Mapping, Palaeoseismicity, Tectonics, Palaeostress analysis, Microstructural geology, EBSD, Re-Os geochronology of sulphides, U-Pb Geochronology (zircon & calcite)



BScEnv – Geology – University College Cork
PhD – The kinematics, rheology, structure, and anisotropy of the Alpine schist derived Alpine fault zone mylonites, New Zealand – University of Liverpool

WEBSITE: https://www.hull.ac.uk/faculties/contact-list/eddie-dempsey.aspx

TWITTER NAME: @tectonictweets

What’s your job like?

My job at the University of Hull is full of variety. One day I could be carrying out administrative tasks associated with being a programme director, and the next day, I could be hopping off a helicopter onto some remote North Atlantic island.

For me, my job has two main focuses – my students and my research. Working at the University of Hull allows me to combine those two drivers in many aspects of my career. I like to let my research drive my teaching, and I like to get my students involved in my research. 

The geology department I work in is pretty young and forward-looking. I work with very proactive and optimistic colleagues and that is a really great environment to be in.

What’s a typical day like?

I don’t really have what you call a typical day as every day offers new challenges and opportunities. I suppose there are two broad categories though including office days and field days.

A typical office day starts about 8:30 am for me after a nice walk or cycle through the leafier parts of Hull. The first task is usually to turn on the plasma on our mass spectrometer (LA -QQQ-ICPMS) so that it’s nice and stable for when I start the analysis later in the morning. From there, it’s back to the office in the Cohen Building. Importantly, this is when the coffee machine gets switched on (I am 100% addicted to coffee and am ashamed to admit how many mugs get consumed daily). My first office job of the day is to open my calendar and emails usually followed by Twitter. I find Twitter a great tool in academia and will log in regularly during the day. For me, Twitter provides a great snapshot of ongoing conversations in academia, people sharing their latest research or providing useful teaching aids. Of course, it also provides some light relief and humour and of course #MinCup.

Cohen Building
Cohen Building, University of Hull. ©2019 Eddie Dempsey

Following this, I will either be heading to one of the lecture theaters to teach or off to the rock prep room getting samples of calcite polished for analyses under cathode luminescence and then onto the laser. This usually takes me to ~10 am and it’s time to return to the LA-QQQ-ICPMS. The first job is to get the laser ready for zapping and tune the mass spectrometer (normally takes about half an hour), then it’s a case of mapping out calcite veins using the laser. We create maps of various isotopes, but I’m mostly looking for the uranium and lead distribution to see if the sample may be “dateable” using U-Pb geochronology. These maps can take anywhere from 30 mins to a few hours to run, so it’s time to head for a coffee break before heading to the microscope room to do some microstructural geology research on samples collected during one of my recent expeditions to the remote island of North Rona. This brings us to lunchtime when a group of staff will normally meet in one of the coffee rooms but we have been known to spend our lunches outside on the grass if the weather is good, playing on a slackline or throwing a tennis ball for the department dog (a black cockapoo called Muckle who is utterly spoiled and more than a tad crazy).

Muckle the department dog. ©2019 Eddie Dempsey

After lunch, it’s teaching time. Today’s lecture & practical is “Flow laws and deformation mechanisms” with the 2nd years… lucky them. After teaching, it’s a quick email/twitter check then back to the mass spectrometer lab to collect today’s data and set up an overnight run. This brings me to the end of the afternoon when I try to take an hour or so to work on manuscripts, do paper reviews or editorial jobs. Then it’s home time at about 6 pm.

It’s very hard to say what a typical office day is – some days will mostly be devoted to teaching or sitting in university meetings, other days I will be feverishly modeling structures on my computer, while other days I will be devoted to supervising my mapping students, masters students or PhD candidates.

Office work is only half of my job though. As a geologist, I’m not confined to the university but instead get released into the world to carry out field research… by far my favourite thing! Typical field days can be hugely variable, I could find myself on gentle Yorkshire Wolds looking at fractured chalks, navigating my way across an Alpine glacier in the hunt for past earthquakes, or jumping out of a helicopter to study the ancient rocks of the North Atlantic region on some uninhabited rock 50 kilometers off the Scottish coast. I love all fieldwork but for me the more remote the better. There is nothing like the feeling of standing at a remote outcrop knowing that you are the first geologist for 50-100 years to study it (in rare occasions you may be the first-ever and really feel like a true explorer). What I actually do in the field can be variable depending on the project.

My recent work on North Rona was particularly fun. North Rona is a small uninhabited island 45 miles north of the island of Lewis in the Scottish Outer Hebrides…so pretty remote. 

North Rona
Dr. Eddie Dempsey on North Rona. ©2019 Eddie Dempsey

To get there, we jumped on board the LHV Pharos operated by the Northern Lighthouse Board. We sailed through the night in the middle of October from Stornoway and anchored just off the island. The following morning, we (Dr. Anna Bird, Mr. Tim Armitage and myself) were helicoptered from the boat to the island to begin work. Being the middle of November this far north meant the sun rose late and set early, so we only had a few hours of daylight to work in. Our task was to re-map and sample the entire island! We had to go at this time of the year so as to not disturb the nesting seabirds and pupping seals (which were everywhere and disguised themselves as small outcrops!!!).

Seal chillin’ at 100 meters above sea level (absl) on North Rona. ©2019 Eddie Dempsey

The last geologists to work on the metamorphic rocks of the island were a group of Glasgow Uni undergrads in the late 1950s. Prior to that, they were only visited in the 1930s. This was no small task. It was frantic note-taking, mapping, and sampling with no time for breaks before jumping back on the helicopter to the boat. We had two days to complete our mission and then it was back to the mainland. While there, we got to map and document some of the most spectacular geology I have ever seen including granulite-facies gneiss and metasediments, massive folds, and beautiful garnets and feldspar crystals the size of watermelons. Hopefully, it won’t be 60 years before geologists return!

A lifelong dream of mine is to do field work in Greenland and other parts of the high Arctic.

What’s fun?

There are many parts of my job that are really fun. Fieldwork is a definite highlight. The sense of adventure is thrilling and addictive. That feeling of exploration carries through to the office when you process your samples or field data and then get to share your discoveries with your colleagues for the first time. I also find public engagement really enjoyable. I love an audience, and I love talking about rocks. Whether it’s over a coffee/beer or on a stage, it gives me a chance to talk about rocks and you’ll struggle to shut me up.

The other part of my job that I find really, really fun is interacting with our students. Here in geology at Hull, I honestly believe we have the best students in the world. I really enjoy teaching them and watching them become geologists over their three years with us. We have a great open-door policy and I love that our students are happy to just pop into my office for a chat and a cuppa whenever they feel like it.

What’s challenging?

The workload. Being an academic can feel like being a plate spinner in the circus. The variety in our job makes it so interesting but also makes it stressful and exhausting at times.

Personally, due to my dyslexia, writing is also a challenge. Apart from the writing itself, people’s conception of how dyslexia works can be tough to deal with. Comments like “can you not just use spell check” are less than helpful. Writing for me can be a real confidence breaker but can also be a source of great pride when it goes well.

What’s your advice to students?

Sometimes it’s gonna get tough. You’ll feel like you hate it all and want to quit. At that point, just step back and think about what it was that got you interested in geology/geoscience in the first place. Keep that topic close to your heart, and it will act as a lifebuoy during the tougher days. Doing degrees is not easy but remember you wouldn’t have got a place on the programme if we didn’t think you were able to do it. We are here to help you become geologists. We are not judging you or setting traps for you to fail on. We want to see you succeed. If you succeed then our science will flourish.

Don’t be afraid to “get your geek on” and let everyone know how much you love particular parts of your subject. Organise talks, attend seminars, ask questions, talk to your lecturers, Tweet and Instagram your love of rocks, read books and be proud to be a geologist!

Finally when you are out doing fieldwork and you get to the first outcrop… DON’T SIT ON IT! You don’t have eyes in your bum!

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