PhD Student, Hydrology, Chinedum Eluwa @NedumEluwa: A Day in the GeoLife Series


Hydrology and Water Resource PhD Student, Chinedum Eluwa

NAME: Chinedum Eluwa

CURRENT TITLE:  PhD Student (since August 2016) and Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, United States

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Hydrology and Water Resources


B.Eng (Civil Engineering) – University of Nigeria
M.Sc (Hydrology and Climate Change) – Newcastle University, United Kingdom

TWITTER: @NedumEluwa

What’s your job like?

As a research assistant, my primary duty is to assist with my advisor’s research for 20 hours a week. He has a few different projects at the moment, but I work on a project to improve simulations of coupled human-hydrologic systems (e.g. water supply systems) by investigating the whole range of influencing factors including hydrology, economics, climate, existing infrastructure, governance and policy. I also have credit requirements for my PhD, so I spend a fair bit of my time working on class assignments.

What’s a typical day like?

As I am yet to take the PhD qualifying exam, my typical schedule is dotted with transit to campus, classes, research meetings, homework, literature reviews, and sleeping. The mix of these depends on what day of the week it is. I arrive at the office usually in time for one of these (class or meeting). When I am not at these, I spend time at my desk either finishing some class project or reading papers for my literature review or writing up a meeting report. There is an open layout at the office, so it is easy to look up once in a while and find someone to smile at during the day.

What’s fun?

The fun part for me is participating in research meetings with the group and learning a bit more about individual and collective progress. The idea of research across the geophysical and social sciences seems fun. Some classes have been also quite enjoyable, but most of all, I enjoy the light talk at office parties/social hours and free food at research meetings.

What’s challenging?

For me, the first semester seemed a bit overwhelming. Managing my time was the biggest challenge for me, especially at the end of the semester when multiple class projects were due. I tried to reduce this workload by selecting a literature review as the individual project for one of my classes, so I was able to combine the literature review for my research with a class project. This was quite relieving.

What’s your advice to students?

Plan well and manage your time! This is advice to myself as well. But I never take my own advice, do I?

Assistant Professor, Volcanology, Alison Graettinger @AlisonGraetting: A Day in the GeoLife Series


Alison Graettinger, Volcanologist

NAME:  Alison Graettinger


NEW TITLE: Assistant Professor



Following 3.5 years of life as a postdoc, I have now started working as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Missouri Kansas City. This new job has many similarities to being a postdoc, but also a lot more responsibility to do at the same time.

What’s your job like?

My work is a combination of research and teaching, spending my time trying to balance and integrate the two. My research focuses on volcanoes and their deposits. I use field work, remote sensing and laboratory experiments. My new job also means I spend a lot of time training students and helping them do their own research in this direction. I also spend a lot of time analyzing the data I’ve collected, writing about it, and writing proposals to do more of it.

What’s a typical day like?

A typical day can range from being in the field in a far off place looking at or talking about rocks, melting my own lava, or for most of the year, teaching a class, or working at a computer all day. The most consistent part of my job is that I do something every day to help one of my students, or their projects, even if it is only sending an email. So, I might start my day by turning on my small furnace to melt some basalt. Then, I have to spend time preparing for classes or working on a paper I’m writing about my latest field campaign. There are likely some international phone calls and emails to my colleagues to see how their data or experimental design is shaping up. Also I may have responsibilities for my department, such as looking over applications for incoming students or departmental awards. This sort of service is new to me, but I enjoy getting to play a larger role in the overall experience of the students in our department and help them achieve their own success.


CURRENT TITLE:  Postdoctoral Scholar



EDUCATION: 2 yrs master’s, 1 yr research assistant, 3 yrs PhD, 2 yrs post doc


What’s your job like?

My work is research focused with light teaching and mentoring responsibilities. My research focuses on experimental physical volcanology. At the moment this means making man-made, maar-type volcanoes using dynamite. The craters we make are between 1 and 3 meters wide with jets that get up to 20 m tall. We do between one and two experiments a year. So the rest of the time is spent planning experiments, analyzing results of previous blasts, writing papers, writing grants, and running a graduate student seminar. There are occasional field work and conferences that involve travel in the U.S. and internationally.

What’s a typical day like?

This depends on the time of year, but since most of the time is NOT the fun of the experiment, I’ll describe a day I would have leading to an experiment. I do all the logistical planning for our experiments, so a typical day will start with checking and replying to emails with various international collaborators (various times zones may mean this happens even at 11 pm). I’ll spend some time in my office reviewing the latest science plan and budget for the project, then consulting my to do list. This likely means I need to make a bunch of phone calls to vendors: van rentals, explosives contractors, gravel suppliers, safety coordinator, etc. Other tasks include checking on bills related to all of these purchases. I will also likely spend some time in the lab directing/helping students prepare sample bags, visual scales for videos, or occasionally filling ping pong balls to use as ballistic tracers in the videos. We may also be processing samples of ejecta from experiments, which means grain size analysis, componentry (picking out grains of different varieties), and adding all of this to our growing dataset.  If I’m lucky I’ll get some time to look at some data. This could be watching high speed and high definition video to see how ejecta is transported and deposited, or all that grain size data. We integrate observational data with deposits and geophysics, so this could be any combination of datasets and softwares at any time. Likely during the day I spend time meeting with students, colleagues and my boss to discuss the progress of preparations (experiments or papers). We likely also digress into conversations about experiments we hope to do in the future on submittable grants or ideas that may remain pipe dreams. My day typically ends with deciding if the next day needs to be spent at the experimental site building up our artificial strata that exists before our ‘eruptions’ or if I need to return to the office to manage the business and computer end of the project.


Volcanic experiment. Photo by Alison Graettinger

What’s fun?

The experiments are of course the most fun. We make mini volcanoes to our own specifications! But I do really enjoy the design and implementation stage of this job as well. It starts from the ‘I wonder if we could’ and evolves into the actual construction of large pits full of substrates to our specifications that will be used to answer specific questions about phenomena that are observed in maar-deposits around the world. Since it is an internationally collaborative project we get insight, suggestions and good advice from a group of experts each with their own perspective. This means the final project is always so much more than I would have imagined before hand, but also something I can feel great pride in and personal satisfaction (and not just because I push the button to make the ground go boom).

What’s challenging?

The experiments, the planning and the collaborators! So the same things that make it fun are the greatest source of challenge. The logistics of an experiment this size and the group this size means it takes a good amount of patience and practicality to make it happen. We have a limited budget, and limited time (though time always seems to be a greater factor), and we all have to be very creative to make sure we get strong science from a feasible project. I have to worry about the strangest things (like how many portable cement mixers can fit into a 12 seater van) and make quick stressful decisions (such as instead of a crater we have a hill, where do we put our next eruption and maintain the integrity of the experiment?).

What’s your advice for students?

My work requires a combination of scientific expertise and lots of practical knowledge (carpentry, landscaping, vacuum repair, and crafts). I suggest taking advantage of any learning opportunity that presents itself. If you assume you will never need to know something, you will miss out on opportunities to be a part of something new. Whether it is a new multi-disciplinary approach to your field using the tools of another, or creating experiments that have never been done before, you will value diversity in knowledge and experience. As scientists we are trained to be experts in a narrow field (mine is volcanology), but you can use your experience from all other aspects of your life to improve your science. Also, always give the ideas of others an honest chance, for they can provide a unique solution to a problem you thought was unsolvable.


Alison Graettinger, Volcanologist

PhD Student, Volcanology, Kerry Reid @Kerry_Reid21: A Day in the GeoLife Series


Volcanology PhD Student, Kerry Reid

NAME:  Kerry Reid


AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Volcanic degassing, lava lakes

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE:  2 years of PhD research

EDUCATION:  PhD in Volcanology (The Open University); MSc in Volcanology (University of Bristol, United Kingdom); BSc (Hons) in Physical Geography


TWITTER:  @Kerry_Reid21

What’s your job like?

My PhD is awesome. Climbing up volcanoes and peering into lava lakes — what’s not to love?! For my PhD, I am working on the Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua. It is an active volcano which is almost constantly churning out a cocktail of toxic gases. In the past, the degassing has reached crisis levels leaving the people that live downwind from the volcano vulnerable to crop failures, water contamination and health implications. My research is to monitor the degassing levels and figure out the different factors which contribute to the rate of degassing.


Degassing at Masaya Volcano. Photo copyright: Kerry Reid

lava lake

Masaya Volcano Lava Lake. Photo copyright: Kerry Reid

What’s a typical day like?

If you ask any PhD students, they will most likely agree that days can be fairly variable, which I think is one of the best parts of a PhD! Earlier on in my PhD, I spent most of my time familiarising myself with the literature. Now that I am entering my third year, I have reached the exciting/scary phase — writing up! So the vast majority of days involve a combination of plotting up data (also known as shouting at ArcGIS and pieces of code!) and starting to interpret my data. I also have a few conferences coming up, so I have been working on presentations for them.

What’s fun?


Photo copyright: Kerry Reid

Definitely the best part of being a PhD student is your fieldwork! The feeling of exhaustion/relief/happiness after a hard days graft in the field collecting data is great — mainly because of the cold beer reward! I also love the freedom and flexibility of a PhD, because you never know what avenue it is going to take you down next!

What’s challenging?

If there is one thing I have learnt about research, it’s that it’s never going to be smooth. I have had my fair share of bumps along this PhD journey. Field work can be challenging. For example, one day I was pulled over by the Nicaraguan police, as they believed I was part of some sort of elaborate drug smuggling scheme and my spectrometers were full of cocaine … that was awkward and soon made me realise I needed to improve on my Spanish skills! Oh, and not to forget, the zopilotes (vultures) — it turns out that they are quite fond of stealing my kit and dropping my diffusion tubes into the crater. I think in all seriousness, the most difficult part of a PhD is the self management. Setting your own deadlines and managing your time efficiently can be really daunting at first.


The guilty zopilote! Photo copyright: Kerry Reid

What’s your advice to students?

A PhD will be the greatest and most challenging thing you will do. I, at times, have found it pretty brutal, but I think it’s all about making the most of your experiences. Try not to get caught up on the negatives and grab onto every opportunity you get, whether that is training sessions, conferences, field work or networking opportunities. It’s quite easy to get wrapped up in your little research bubble, but you need to get yourself out there and make sure you are employable at the end of it!

Geomorphology, Olusola Adeyemi @olusolayemi: A Day in the GeoLife Series


Olusola Adeyemi, Geomorphology PhD Candidate

NAME:  Olusola Adeyemi


AREA OF EXPERTISE: Geomorphology


EDUCATION:  Olabisi Onabanjo University (B. Sc); University of Ibadan (M. SC and PhD – ongoing)

What’s your job like?

As a junior faculty member with Osun State University, Osogbo, Osun State, Nigeria, I am involved with teaching and research. I teach geomorphology, laboratory techniques in physical geography, and also handle quantitative techniques. The teaching is interesting. Although most students complain about geomorphology, they find it really interesting when we go for field work.

What’s a typical day like?

Most days are spent in school teaching. Once that’s done, I retire to my office to either send mails to authors for a copy of their papers that I can’t access or working on my field methodology for my PhD.

What’s fun?

When you see young ones aspiring to be like you or want to know more about geomorphology, it’s really encouraging.
Another aspect of it is when I’m teaching glaciers and I start to mention depositional and erosional features. I’m asked by my students, “Sir, I’ve you seen those in real life?”

What’s challenging?

The challenges are there for developing countries, ranging from data mining and availability of equipment, but they are not insurmountable. It will just take time.

What’s your advice to students?

The path to success is not always smooth. Just make up your mind and aim high.

Principal, Palaeontology Professor, Dave Harper @VM_Principal: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Dr. David A. T. Harper, Palaeontology

Professor David A. T. Harper, Principal of Van Mildert College, Professor of Palaeontology, Durham University, United Kingdom

NAME:  Dave Harper

CURRENT TITLE:  Professor of Palaeontology and Principal of Van Mildert College in Durham University, United Kingdom (UK); President, Palaeontological Association; Chair-elect, International Commission on Stratigraphy

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Geology, mainly palaeontology and stratigraphy

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE:  Worked in the university sector in Ireland, Denmark and the UK in a career of nearly 40 years.

EDUCATION:  BSc, Imperial College London, Associateship of the Royal School of Mines (ARSM); PhD, DSc (Queen’s University Belfast), Fellow of the Geological Society (FGS), Chartered Geologist (CGeol), European Federation of Geologists (EurGeol).


What’s your job like?

My current job is a 50% split between leading and managing one of the largest of Durham University’s colleges and researching and teaching in the Earth Sciences department.

What’s a typical day like?

My typical day starts early with breakfast meetings with colleagues either within the College or from across the University. I do not have huge teaching responsibilities but may have a morning session with my final year palaeobiology class. Before lunch, I usually check with my Executive Assistant (EA) to the Principal and Deputy Principal regarding any current challenges or incidents in College that are on the horizon. There may be a lunch time committee meeting or an advisory session with a dissertation or research student. I try to catch up with emails that can be everything from communications from senior management, students, and research colleagues to queries from the general public. I then attempt to find some time for research in the laboratory (currently with my new postdoctoral student, Tim Topper) and may snatch an hour to work on a manuscript. Most evenings there are functions to attend, a college formal, an art opening or a College match to support. If I’m home early, there may be a detective series on television! I usually check my email again before bed and hope the porter has no need to inform me of any serious incidents during the night.

What’s fun?

The interaction with students both in College and in Earth Sciences. The diversity of the interactions and seeing their development not only in academic studies but also their participation in the many strands of the student experience that we offer from music, sport to outreach and volunteering, is extremely rewarding.

What’s challenging?

It is always challenging to work in an increasingly regulated environment with decreasing levels of funding. Navigation of these constraints is the key to success.

What’s your advice to students?

Obviously work hard at your chosen course(s) but also be aware that there are huge opportunities to participate in your University community in ways that will suit you and enhance your education. The student experience can provide you with many lifetime skills (including leadership) and new networks outside those in your departments.