NAME: Bob Gooday
TITLE: PhD Student, Cardiff University, United Kingdom
PROJECT TITLE: “The Formation and Evolution of the Arran Central Complex”
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Field geology, igneous petrology and geochemistry
What’s your job like?
My PhD is focussed on the Island of Arran in western Scotland, which contains a beautifully preserved Paleocene caldera system. It’s my job to find out how this volcanic complex formed and evolved throughout its lifetime. To do this, I use a combination of petrology, whole-rock and mineral geochemistry, isotope geochemistry, and radiometric dating. All of this hangs off field work, which consists of detailed mapping and volcanic-succession logging. I try to spend around six weeks on Arran every year, and there will always be new observations to make and samples to collect.
What’s your typical day like?
I try to treat a day in the field like a day in the office. Wake up, drink tea, plan my route, pack my bag (mostly biscuits and sample bags) and try to be in the field by 9 a.m. I usually work alone, so I send detailed route plans to my supervisor and make sure someone on Arran is expecting me back for dinner. Once I’m in the field, I may be focussing on extending my map, making logs, or attacking particular problems that could help things make more sense. I’m a firm believer that you can’t have too many samples for a geochemistry project, so by 5 p.m. my bag is often in danger of falling apart under the weight of the rocks. When I’m not doing fieldwork, I could be writing or data crunching in the office, preparing samples for analysis, or using the scanning electron microscope (SEM). I also demonstrate igneous and metamorphic courses to the Cardiff undergraduates, along with various day-trips around South Wales.
I got into geology because I love being outside, so fieldwork in the beautiful parts of the world is always fantastic. With geology, I’ve had the chance to do fieldwork in Iceland, Norway, Tenerife, and the Faroes. Just spending a day poking around in a stream or up a crag, looking for contacts or structures, is absolute bliss. I also love conferences – the idea of people gathering from all over the world to drink beer and talk about volcanoes really appeals to me.
Doing fieldwork alone for three weeks can get very lonely. When it has rained for a week and nothing seems to be making any sense, it can be very hard to find the motivation to stay out for a good day of fieldwork. Also, many tasks in a PhD will initially seem overwhelmingly huge. Where do you start if you have 300 samples all jumbled up in different buckets? Will it really take a whole week to crush and grind this one batch? A positive attitude and a clinically precise filing system can do wonders.
What’s your advice for students?
Don’t judge yourself by the people around you. All projects are different, and all people work in different ways. Some people will have collected all of their data within a month of starting their PhD. Some people will have published two papers after 18 months. Some people will get to work before you and leave after you. That’s fine. I’m a big fan of going along at my own pace, and it seems to be working for me so far! And always label your sample bags.