NAME: Dr. Daniel Pastor-Galán
CURRENT TITLE: Postdoctoral Fellow at Paleomagnetic Laboratory “Fort Hoofddijk”, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands. (UPDATE 12/10/2016: Dr. Pastor-Galán is now a JSPS Fellow, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan!)
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Tectonics. I try to combine the maximum number of tools including structural geology, isotope geology, thermochronology, paleomagnetism, modeling, geochemistry, petrology, sedimentology, etc.
YEARS EXPERIENCE: 7.5 since I finished my degree. This is the first time I’ve counted them, and I’m scared…
EDUCATION: Attended Salamanca University in Spain for B.Sc through Ph.D
What’s your job like?
It is really fun!
First, I work at a fortification, the “Fort Hoofddijk” (http://www.geo.uu.nl/~forth/), that was built in the 19th century, and most of the instrumentation is situated quite deep inside a (fake) hill. I call the room “the dungeon,” so I guess it needs no more comments. Inside, there is a laboratory of paleomagnetism, which is the study of the Earth’s magnetism recorded in the magnetic minerals (such as magnetite) present in rocks. This record provides information on the past behavior of Earth’s magnetic field, geochronology, and the past location of tectonic plates. However, I am the weird guy in the lab. I certainly use paleomagnetism for my research, but I am not a paleomagnetist. I am just a user of the tool (as I am with geochemistry, geochronology, structural geology, etc.).
My main research projects are related to the formation of the last of the supercontinents (Pangea) and about curved mountain belts (so-called oroclines). I combine field-collected data with laboratory data to provide tectonic reconstructions of orogens and continents. I also try to understand the relationship of the geological processes observed in the surface with the deeper Earth. For that reason, I use modeling. I started with analog (clay, silicon, etc.), and now I am also trying numerical (computer-driven models).
(Note from Dr. Pastor-Galán 12/10/2016: “Now I work in Japan. You know, lights everywhere, noodles, technology, rice, manga. Japan is a world to discover, so close and so far at the same time. It cannot be better!”)
What’s a typical day like?
My position is focused in research more than teaching, but actually I am supervising two M.Sc. students this year. So everyday, I have a short meeting with both to share results and give them feedback, and I monitor their progress. Additionally, I write reports and research papers, and I prepare proposals to get funding for my future research. Additionally, as I am not a permanent staff member of the university, I spend part of the time writing job applications.
Several times in the year, I go to the field to get new data. I either go alone or with colleagues or students. I am, at present, doing fieldwork in Ireland, Spain, France and Iran, but I would love to move soon to other places. This is definitely the most exciting time of my job.
The leading activity in the fun-o-meter is fieldwork (I say this with no hesitation!). Following some colleague’s definition, I am a rock addict. So being in the middle of nowhere with the rocks is just excellent, whether alone or with colleagues or students, but especially with friends! Discussing work in the field is exciting.
The second level of fun are meetings and conferences. These have a three for the price of one benefit. You learn a lot of what your partners are doing, you gather with old friends from all around the world, and you visit new and exciting cities!
In this second level is also teaching. Students can be demanding and stressful, but more than anything, they are fun. And you really learn a lot by teaching.
A third level of fun is the moment in which a paper is accepted. At that moment, you feel the happiness of getting a job done and knowing that the efforts in the field and laboratory are, in the end, available for society. Feeling useful is nice.
There are three kinds of challenges. Some I love and some I hate.
The first challenge is bureaucracy, and I hate it. Fortunately, I have not yet been in a tough position in administration. The challenges include really getting to know every single thing you need to do to get funding, justifying expenses, and even submitting the final grades of the students.
The second challenge is fieldwork in remote areas, but I love this one. Though it is a great challenge, you feel like you are an explorer, as if you are there for the first time to study a chunk of the Earth. Teaching is also a great challenge in this sense.
The third challenge is taking a holiday without looking at email every day or expending time into a new proposal… this is in the love-hate level! 🙂
What’s your advice to students?
Study what you love. If you do it, then it is not studying. It is just another hobby. And it is a key to success, both as a professional, and most importantly, as a person. Everything is easier if you enjoy what you do. Really.