NASA Postdoc Fellow, Tectonics, Chris Milliner @Geo_GIF: A Day in the GeoLife Series


Postdoc, Chris Milliner, visiting the surface rupture of the Mw=6.9 1954 Dixie Valley earthquake, NV. ©2018 Chris Milliner

NAME: Chris Milliner


AREA OF EXPERTISE: Active tectonics, faulting mechanics, tectonic geomorphology, geodesy, hydrogeodesy

If we were in an elevator: I use geodetic imaging systems (e.g., radar interferometry and optical satellite imagery) to measure surface deformation from large magnitude earthquakes.

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: PhD (5 yrs), Postdoc Scholar (2yrs)


Masters – Imperial College of London [2006-2010]
PhD – University of Southern California [2011-2016]
Postdoc – UC Berkeley [2016-2017]
Postdoc – Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), NASA [2017-present]



What’s your job like?

Multidisciplinary. At JPL, people are constantly working on a range of projects, so it helps to know how your technique could be applied to different areas. For instance, right now I’m using GPS to measure Earth’s elastic response from water loading due to Hurricane Harvey. This requires a geophysical understanding of how water mass affects Earth’s crust, geodetic theory and processing to obtain precise GPS positioning, the behavior of the hydrologic system and inversion theory.

Overall, it’s exciting to be constantly working on a variety of interesting problems.

What’s a typical day like?

As a postdoc, I’m lucky to have 100% of my time focused on research and be completely independent in what problems I choose to address (although I do miss teaching a little!). Like any researcher on a daily basis, I’m constantly trying to overcome obstacles and think about new approaches to solve problems. JPL’s work environment is very much team-based, so on a day-to-day basis, I usually attend meetings, either about recent developments in a project or ideas for future proposals.

What’s fun?

JPL is a like a big playground, in that you have all of the tools, data and top experts in almost every field down the corridor from you. You have a question or an interesting project? It can probably be done.

And of course, walking around seeing the next spacecraft being assembled or testing of a new prototype! I’m most looking forward to seeing data from the newly launched GRACE-FO satellite and Mars InSight mission.

What’s challenging?

Pushing yourself outside of your known field is always challenging, but I think the rewards are usually worth it. In addition, thinking about what is the next worthwhile project to work on, and whether it’s fundable!

What’s your advice to students?

Find a class/major/project you really care about. If you don’t know what you want to do, that’s fine too. It’s good to try something new. Usually, it can lead to something else that’s more interesting. Always try to push yourself outside your comfort zone. Most academics are always looking for motivated and enthusiastic students, so finding your passion is really key.

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