NAME: Haydon Mort
CURRENT TITLE: Visiting Professor
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Geochemical paleoceanography and a few other things.
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 10 years of experience, post-PhD, including post-doc, teaching, consultancy, freelance and web design.
BSc (Hons) Earth Sciences. Plymouth University, UK; MRes. Global Change. Plymouth University, UK; PhD. “Biogeochemical changes at the Cenomanian-Turonian Oceanic Anoxic Event.” University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland; Post-doc. “Phosphorus cycling in Baltic Sea sediments.”
What’s your job like?
I’m responsible for teaching a few modules, most notable paleoclimatology. I have also taught “Stratigraphic Methods,” “Petroleum Geochemistry,” and “Analytical Geochemistry.”
I currently supervise three students: one bachelor’s, one master’s and one doctorate. In one way, the job is cool. As a visiting professor, I don’t have to deal with all the administrative work that a typical faculty member normally has to deal with. On the other hand, Brazil is going through a financial crisis, so there is no certainly as to whether my contract will be renewed after next year, which isn’t great when you have a family.
More recently, I have taken to making YouTube videos on my channel “Geologize.” The reasons for this initiative were two-fold: 1) As anyone who knows me will tell you, I love communicating science to anyone who will listen; and 2) Levi, our 6 month old son, gets up at 4:30 a.m. every day (even when the room is dark). So, instead of twiddling my thumbs, I find stuff to do until it’s time to go to university. I go downstairs (we live in an apartment) and walk around…mostly thinking about how I can make a cool geoscience story and sometimes doing some filming. This explains why Levi and Raphael occasionally appear in my videos. This was necessary rather than intentional. However, I can now see that people often like my videos precisely because I mix family with science. And in a way that goes well with the central narrative of the channel, which is that the geosciences are all around us and are something that everyone can participate in.
What’s a typical day like?
I’ll typically get up between 4-5 a.m. with Levi and Raphael (6 months and 3 years). My wife, Carla, frequently gets insomnia and sleeps late, so I have the morning shift. With Levi in his pushchair, I make a beeline for the coffee percolator, and in a few minutes, a glorious aroma of freshly brewed coffee fills the kitchen and living room. After some cereal, I put Levi in his baby kangaroo, head downstairs for a walk, and bring Raphael along if he’s awake.
I’ll head back upstairs at about 7.30 a.m. Hopefully Levi will have dropped off to sleep and Raphael will watch an episode of “Mickey Mouse’s Club House” whilst I jump in the shower and get ready to go to university [the Universidad Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE)]. I’ll then hand over the reins to Carla.
I normally arrive at UFPE at around 8-9 a.m. The day will consist of classes (I teach Paleoclimatology, Instrumental English and Geocommunication this semester), meetings, chasing up things with e-mails and phone calls, and editing (occasionally filming my videos).
I’ll go back home at about 11.30 a.m. (our place is a 20-30 drive from UFPE) for lunch to help out with the kids and help get Raphael ready for school (in Brazil, kids go to school either in the morning or the afternoon). I go back to UFPE at 2 p.m. for more of the same. Then I will try to come home by 5.30 p.m. to help with dinner and getting ready for bed.
With two kids, routine is important, and I try to be as flexible as possible at work in order to preserve this. Occasionally I have to travel for fieldwork or conferences, which throws things out of whack…but that’s the nature of the job.
Going downstairs at 5-6 a.m. was a chore but has become fun. At university: teaching, discussions, debates and doing research (most recently with some fascinating stuff on the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum).
Brazilian bureaucracy is suffocating. I once had to send a £1 million project to a different university because our financial department couldn’t handle the bilingual contract. A lack of functioning high-quality internal and available infrastructure means generating the quality and quantity of interdisciplinary data necessary to make it into a high-impact journal extremely difficult. In Europe, I was used to publishing in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (GCA), Geology and Nature Geosciences. In Brazil, if you get into Cretaceous Research, you’ve achieved something big.
The university faculty, many of whom are excellent, do their best with a system which is stacked against them. If they had the infrastructure available to them that scientists in the developed world take for granted, I have no doubt they would do outstanding research.
What’s your advice to students?
- Do what interests you and if you don’t know what that is, find out. Be curious and ask obvious questions.
- Don’t go to a lecturer/professor asking for ideas for a research project. Make your own and choose the appropriate faculty member. They will be far more impressed that you have come with your own interests.
- Always remember to undertake interdisciplinary research. We live in a world where academics have become high-specialised. This is not healthy. Make a habit of chatting with geoscientists outside your research area. You might be surprised at the overlaps you have and thus create some highly novel ways to tackle old and unresolved questions. Interdisciplinary research gets you into high-impact journals.
- Learn to communicate with the public. This will also help you communicate with other geoscientists in academia who are not from your area. It’s a skill that can and should be learned by any scientist, and it will be your ethical duty to correct misinformation put out by vested interests and the media. We live in a world of high information liquidity. Being heard is difficult. Finding your voice is the first step.