UPDATED! Research Associate, Volcanology, Lis Gallant @lisgallant: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Volcanologist, Lis Gallant, at Crater Lake. ©2019 Lis Gallant

NAME: Lis Gallant

CURRENT TITLE: Research Associate



EDUCATION: B.S. Electronic Media, Arts, and Communications (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)
B.A. Geology (Buffalo State College)
M.S. Geology (University of South Florida)
Ph.D. Geology (University of South Florida)

WEBSITE: https://www.lisgallant.com

TWITTER NAME: @lisgallant

What’s your job like?

I am currently a postdoctoral researcher (research associate is my fancy title) in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge working on the European Research Council funded IMAGINE project (PI Amy Donovan: http://imaginingrisk.com/index.php/imagine/). My role is to model different types of volcanic hazards for various projects throughout South America.

Death Valley
Volcanology Research Associate, Lis Gallant, in Death Valley. ©2019 Lis Gallant

What’s a typical day like?

A typical day is painfully computer based due to the pandemic. My primary task is to model volcanic hazards for different eruption scenarios. This means I spend a lot of time fighting with various codes to get things to work. Reading about field sites I’ve never been to and exploring them via remote sensing data and google earth is also a very regular part of my day. I work with several social scientists and we help improve the conceptual approaches to each other’s work — I give them technical advice on volcanology and they make sure I am modelling hazards with a human-context first approach. I really value this type of working relationship where everyone’s expertise is needed and valued.

I am a supervisor for the upper-level volcanology course at Cambridge. A supervisor is like a more focused TA — I give students feedback on work related to specific parts of the coursework. We “meet” in groups of 3 once a term so I will have several meetings a week to catch up with all 100 students at some point during the semester. 

Since transitioning from PhD student to postdoctoral researcher, I have received many more requests to review publications. I am also a new editor for Volcanica (www.jvolcanica.org), so I suspect I will be spending more time on professional service related tasks in the near future. 

Lis Gallant studies volcanology at Momotombo, a stratovolcano in Nicaragua.

What’s fun?

I really enjoy my colleagues. I look forward to our weekly meetings and value being part of a team where everyone’s background is so different. This has helped me fight a bit of my impostor syndrome because I am the only one in my working group with my skills who can do my part of the job. Working in a geography department has been especially rewarding because it challenges the way I approach my work as a geologist. I would highly recommend that folks engage in inter- and trans-disciplinary research. I credit the PI on the project, Amy Donovan, for putting these different skill-sets into the same “room” — I think everyone on the project has grown tremendously as researchers, even given the hard circumstances. One of the most fun parts of research is seeing others grow and succeed alongside you. 

Research Associate, Lis Gallant, studying volcanology in El Salvador. ©2019 Lis Gallant

What’s challenging?

Professionally: I have a lot of anxiety about the future because the academic job market has absolutely evaporated this year (at least in my field of study) and it’s very difficult to manage the stress of having an expiration date on my employment during a global crisis. I am unable to conduct any field research at the moment due to the ethical concerns of traveling abroad for work during a pandemic and I am afraid that will harm my professional progress.

Learning the idiosyncrasies of Cambridge life has provided some challenges, as well. The teaching style and format is very different here, and I’ve gone from being a confident and accomplished lecturer to a novice, effectively. 

Personally: I immigrated to England at the beginning of March solo, so I had about a week in my office before the lockdown. Adjusting to life in a new country was pretty difficult, and even after 8 months, I still don’t feel like I’ve made much progress. 

Volcanology Research Associate, Lis Gallant, in Utah. ©2019 Lis Gallant

What’s your advice to students?

I am writing this in the time of the ‘rona, and so my only advice is to stay safe, look after your friends and colleagues, and protect your well-being. Take care of each other and try and do nice things for the people around you when you are able to. In a professional sense, this looks like helping the folks coming up behind you in whatever meaningful way you can. Offer to help your friends with their grad school applications. Share your grant materials with them. Talk to grade school and high school aged kids about your academic experiences. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own worlds at the moment, but try and make an effort to help others stay afloat and navigate the chaos. 

I have no idea what my future looks like in the geosciences (I’m pretty distraught about my lack of security as I watch my desired job market fall out from under me, if we’re being honest), but I’m really trying to give my time the people I want to see on the other side of this. Whatever the next 5-10 years looks like professionally, I want to make sure we don’t lose some of the gains and momentum for intersectional justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion that folks have fought so hard for. Make sure you’re putting effort into developing the professional culture that you want, even if it’s difficult to see yourself in it at the moment. 

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