CURRENT TITLE: Research Assistant
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Tectonics and sedimentology, thermochronology, geochemistry
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 3.5 (3 in industry, the rest in academia)
What’s your job like?
I’m studying landscape evolution in the Himalayas of North East India using Fission Track Thermochronology. This involves a lot of time spent looking through a microscope and counting little damage trails left behind when radioactive elements in crystals decay. Whether or not the tracks are preserved (and can be counted) depends on the thermal history of the crystal, which in turn tells us how the rock from which the crystal was extracted moved through various depths in the crust.
What’s a typical day like?
My agenda on a typical day depends very much on what phase of the project I’m in. So far, my days have involved things as diverse as planning fieldwork, preparing samples for Fission Track counting, reading textbooks to understand the basics, scanning literature, using software to model my data, and so on. I’ve recently started exploring a project in volcanology so I’m back to reading for a while, though I will shortly start working on an SEM-EDS instrument to understand how it works, how to run it, and how to prepare samples for analysis.
Learning about all the fascinating geology that’s out there. There’s nothing quite like being part of an enthusiastic group of people excited about geology!
Keeping up with all the literature while learning how to use new instruments while preparing samples while writing everything up and…you get the idea . There is a lot to do and only so much time in a day. Of course, this is all part of the training if you want to become an academic or even enter industry, and it will serve you well if you learn how to manage your time and priorities.
What’s your advice to students?
Explore: Get out there and explore as many geological disciplines as you can. Spend time in the field if you can to learn what different kinds of geologists do. Get into industry for an internship, or maybe get into it for a couple of years after you graduate (that’s what I did) to see what it’s like. Do summer research, or spend a few evenings a week working with your professors on a research project. More important than loading up your curriculum vitae, this will help you figure out what you want to do with your career.
Get Quantitative: If your college allows it, take as many courses in math and physics as you can, and find ways to apply what you learn in these subjects to geology. As a challenge, try to learn one programming language or mathematics/statistics software per year of your programme.
Learn How to Tell a Good Story: Learn how to describe your subject and capture people’s interest. Sketch 3D geology at every opportunity. Master technical writing. Learn how to use a good graphics package. Whether you go into industry, academia, or leave geology altogether, being able to communicate effectively is a skill that will take you places.