PostDoctoral Researcher, Volcanology, Dr. Geoff Lerner @tyranakisaurus: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Collecting paleomagnetic samples on Imbabura volcano, Ecuador ©2020 Geoff Lerner

NAME: Dr. Geoff Lerner

CURRENT TITLE: PostDoctoral Researcher at the Autonomous University of Mexico

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Physical volcanology, volcanic hazards, paleomagnetism


EDUCATION: BS Geological Sciences, Tufts University 2011
MS Michigan Technological University 2014
MSc University of Milan-Bicocca 2015
PhD University of Auckland 2019

TWITTER NAME: @tyranakisaurus


What’s your job like?

My job is trying to find out more about the hazards that affect people who live near volcanoes. That ranges from looking at the way these hazards (like pyroclastic flows and ashfall from eruptions) affect people or places to looking at how the actual volcanoes and their hazards work. That can involve a whole bunch of different methods (I have used paleomagnetism quite a bit in the past!). I’m not a specialist, but I’m happy to use whatever gets the job done or answers the question. Looking at hazard impacts can also involve reviewing descriptions and accounts by others about the way volcanos have affected people and infrastructure in the past and using different types of models and statistics to try to understand the likely ways they’ll affect people in the future.

Exploring the summit crater of Mt. Taranaki, New Zealand ©2020 Geoff Lerner

What’s a typical day like?

It varies quite a bit! More days than not, I’m in the office reading scientific papers, writing emails, planning future research, sharing ideas with colleagues, or writing about my research. Some days I get to talk about science with teachers and students by video chat or in the classroom. When I have a collection of samples brought back from the field lying around, I get to spend some time in various types of labs sawing, drilling, crushing, and melting my rocks and then running tests and collecting data from them. And on the best days, I’m out somewhere on or near a volcano, taking notes, making observations, and collecting samples to analyze later.

What’s fun?

Heaps of things! Learning new things about volcanoes through my research is exciting, and discussing new ideas and plans with colleagues is always fun, as is finally getting results from hard work testing your samples in the lab. But nothing beats the moments spent out in the field. Fieldwork on (sometimes active) volcanoes can be at once stressful, awe-inspiring, fun, strenuous, and frustrating—it’s a chance to search for answers and come up with new questions. It’s energizing and I love it. I’m always looking forward to the next chance to get out in the field.

Mt. Taranaki
Sampling in the deeply cut river channels near Mt. Taranaki, New Zealand ©2020 Geoff Lerner

What’s challenging?

Learning new things and working in areas where I’m not an expert. It’s great to find a new method that will be useful to answer your scientific questions, but it can be quite a challenge to wrap your head around something brand new that you’ve never worked on before. It can be stressful working on a project when some of the time you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, but it pays off in the end when you’ve learned a new skill or solved a problem using new information or a method you just learned.

What’s your advice to students?

Be flexible! You can learn a lot and have great experiences when you take a chance and do something a bit outside your comfort zone. Go to a new, unfamiliar place even if it’s a bit intimidating. Try learning how to do something you have no idea about, even if you’re not confident about it. Spend time with other geologists, if you can. You can learn so much just by being around others, both those at your level and more senior.

hydrothermal eruptions
Studying deposits of hydrothermal eruptions in New Zealand ©2020 Geoff Lerner

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