Research Fellow, Tectonochemistry, Chris Spencer @travelinggeolog: A Day in the GeoLife Series


Chris Spencer in the Italian Alps. Photo copyright: Chris Spencer

NAME:  Chris Spencer

CURRENT TITLE:  Research Fellow, Department of Applied Geology, Curtin University, Australia

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Tectonochemistry

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: Since birth (I was born a geologist)

BSc in Geology: Brigham Young University 2009
MSc in Geology: Brigham Young University 2011
PhD in Earth Science: University of St Andrews 2014


TWITTER:  @travelinggeolog


What’s your job like?

I am a tectonochemist. This means I apply the principles of geochemistry (and isotope geochemistry) to understanding tectonic processes. Tectonochemistry works on a range of scales from minute atomic migration in the crystal lattice to large-scale mantle convection cells driving planet-wide subduction systems.

I spend 30% of my time in the field doing research and teaching field camp, 30% in the laboratory crushing, imaging, dissolving and lasering, rocks and minerals, 30% in front of a computer sorting through data, making figures, and writing papers, and 10% at conferences or seminars sharing the results of my research.

Scottish Highlands

Chris Spencer in the Scottish Highlands. Photo copyright: Chris Spencer

What’s a typical day like?

If it’s a field day, I am probably getting stuck in the dunes of Namibia or hiking in the Himalaya.
If it’s a lab day, I may be vaporizing zircon in plasma or dissolving rock in hydrofluoric acid.
If it’s a computer day, typing, typing, typing (and YouTube).
If it’s a conference day, I am generally drinking lots of lemon honey tea to soothe my sore throat from talking too much.


Chris Spencer in southern Namibia. Photo copyright: Chris Spencer

What’s fun?

Everything is fun. If it ain’t fun, I don’t do it.

Oman ophiolite

Chris Spencer in the Oman ophiolite. Photo copyright: Chris Spencer

What’s challenging?

Everything is challenging. If it ain’t challenging, then it ain’t worth doing.

All flippancy aside, I think that part of having a successful career in science is recognising the unique opportunities scientists have to discover new things that add to the collective knowledge of our species. Adding to this collective knowledge (however small it may be) is challenging, but it is also very rewarding and therefore fun.

What’s your advice to students?

Only do what you love. If you don’t love it, then do something else. I mean this with all sincerity. In the end, I may learn that this mantra is naive. But if that day comes, then I will know that I had a great time while it lasted!


Chris Spencer in the Northwest Himalaya. Photo copyright: Chris Spencer

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