NAME: Jamie Farquharson
CURRENT TITLE: Doctorate Researcher
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Volcanic rock deformation, permeability of volcanic systems.
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 3 years of PhD research.
EDUCATION: PhD in Experimental Volcanology (University de Strasbourg, France); MSc in Volcanology and Geological Hazards (Lancaster University, United Kingdom); BSc (Hons) in Environmental Geography (University of Stirling, United Kingdom).
What’s your job like?
Fun, fast-paced, and fulfilling. I have just recently defended my PhD at Université de Strasbourg, where I was studying permeability evolution in volcanic systems. Primarily, I look at how fluids can travel through volcanoes—through the conduit, through fracture networks, and through the edifice rock itself—with the ultimate aim of improving our understanding of how pressures evolve and influence eruptive behaviour in these systems. My PhD research comprised several interrelated projects, each with a different focus and requiring its own techniques and analyses, so my job includes collecting, analysing, and interpreting data through a range of experimental and field methods.
What’s a typical day like?
Much of my work involves experimental rock deformation and characterising volcanic materials in the laboratory. The experimental work is accompanied by fieldwork—I was lucky enough to travel to Mexico and New Zealand during my PhD—which involves making measurements and observations on the ground, as well as collecting rocks to study back in the laboratory (lab). Numerical modelling, microstructural analysis, and statistics are just some of the ways these data are complemented by other methods. As such, a “typical” day doesn’t really exist. Some days may be spent peering down the barrel of a microscope, whilst at other times I might be sequestered away in the basement performing deformation experiments for days on end, or hefting rocks under the Mexican sun (more days than I’d care to mention are spent debugging code). In between all this, I snatch some time for processing data, writing papers, or preparing posters and talks to communicate my research.
As with many other early-career researchers in the geosciences, it’s easy to be effusive about fieldwork: having the opportunity to travel to exotic locales in order to tramp over volcanoes is of course a terrific perk of my research. One of the things I love most about fieldwork is the challenge of having to engineer solutions on the fly if (when) something doesn’t quite go as planned. Things can be just as exciting in the lab (which tweets @LDR_Strasbourg). I work within an active and dynamic research group at the Universite de Strasbourg, surrounded by brilliant and driven people. Despite varying individual schedules, more often than not those of us in the lab have a mid-morning break for coffee and to chat about science, bouncing ideas off each other and sparking each others’ curiosity. This is often where new ideas and projects are birthed—whether that be a new question or developing a method to answer an existing one—and it can be extremely satisfying to see research come to life that started out as an inspired scribble on the chalkboard.
Working simultaneously on different projects is extremely rewarding, but can also be fraught with challenges. It can be tempting to become distracted by a particular topic or idea that is ancillary to the main research project, and difficulties can arise when trying to balance time and expectations of multiple threads of research. Also, the machines we use to perform measurements or deform samples are often built or maintained in-house. As such, my research occasionally requires me to develop skills—such as electronics or software development—that don’t necessarily contribute to my research output in the short-term. While this can be frustrating at times, it is ultimately extremely useful.
What’s your advice for students?
Curiosity never killed any cat that I know of. Also, no matter how busy you think you are, that professor you’re about to email is definitely busier.