Archives / 2019 / August

The Sassy Scientist – Science Sweethearts I

The Sassy Scientist – Science Sweethearts I

Every week, The Sassy Scientist answers a question on geodynamics, related topics, academic life, the universe or anything in between with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Do you have a question for The Sassy Scientist? Submit your question here.

Apollo and Artemis ask:

What is your opinion on workplace romances?

This week’s question just gives me lots of inspiration. This question (in slightly different formulation) was sent to me twice, separately, by a guy and girl, so I’ll answer in two separate posts. To keep their private thoughts private I named them Artemis and Apollo, the Greek twin gods. I turned to my good friend the limerick to respond. Ladies first. Enjoy.

Dear Artemis,

There once was a girl called Artemis
Her choice of men was fairly remiss
Alone in the shower
Exempt of brainpower
She was pining for someone to kiss

When you’re into the fault interface
And foreseeing a lovely embrace
Just cease now with waiting
Stop differential equating
Go out and charm him with grace

With a focus on mantle convection
That he beholds with strong abjection
Switch subject soon
Go study the Moon
And he will partake with affection

When you’re still sat on the fence
You might feel it very intense
“I like working with him”
Don’t collapse on a whim
Love oftentimes doesn’t make sense

Don’t fall for your cute supervisor
Even though he’s your thought analyser
In several years
You’ll both be in tears
Now go out and find someone nicer

Yours truly,

The Sassy Scientist

This post was written in style
Thinking of this took a while
Much to my liking
The rhyming is striking
I’ve got more on one massive pile

PS2: Can you think of a better limerick?

Ada Lovelace Workshop 2019

Ada Lovelace Workshop 2019

This week (August 25 to August 30), the Ada Lovelace Workshop on Numerical Modelling and Lithosphere Dynamics takes place at La Certosa di Pontignano near Siena, Italy. 

And the workshop started… how should I put it… electrifying. Literally, because the WIFI device got struck by a lightning bolt and therefore there is (at the time of writing) no internet connection. Can you imagine what this does to a bunch of scientists when they are a few days without internet? Chaos has broken out and everybody is on their own now.

Ok, you got me. I’m exaggerating … a lot.

So, let’s have a look what we are actually doing during the workshop.

Every day is organized with 4 keynote talks in the morning, a plenary discussion with the keynote speakers after lunch and a poster session in the afternoon.  The poster session is also preceded by a PICO-like 1-minute oral presentation by every poster presenter.

All of this takes place at the beautiful “Certosa di Pontignano”. Here are a few pictures of the charming venue:

In the following is an overview of the keynote sessions which took place in this beautiful conference room:

Day 1

The first day started with a session about “Planetary Geodynamics”:


The second keynote session was about “Plate-mantle dynamics in the Early Earth”:

Day 2

The topic of the first keynote session of the second day was “The emergence of plate tectonics”:

And the second keynote session’s topic was “Global mantel convection”:

An impression from the poster session in the afternoon:


During day 2, participants have also been asked what they like most about the workshop. Here are their answers:

Very relaxed environment to discuss science with your peers.

It is really nice to get to know the community of geodynamics. And of course the delicious italian food.

There are a lot of serious people with serious answers to serious problems.

The lovely landscape

There is a lot of time to discuss with people.

Meeting the community in a friendly and open environment.

I like the PICO-like poster sessions.

The anomalous overall friendliness of the geodynamics community.

Being together with a bunch of other nerds.

Plenty of informal time to interact and discuss with people and you don’t have to run from one room to another such as in a big meeting.

Juniors can talk to seniors without any borders

I will tell you my answer after the Karaoke session.

Not too big, not too many people: you can get in contact with a lot of people.

We are locked up, so that forces us to talk to each other.

Being tortured by a geologist.

The mobile data connection in my room (for real)

The wine

The compulsory digital detox

The amount of garlic in the food

The perfect venue

Day 3

The first keynote session on Wednesday was about “Plate-mantle dynamics in the Cenozoic”:

The second session was about “Modelling deep surface process connection”:

On Wednesday, instead of a poster session there was also a guided tour to Siena where we have learned a lot about this beautiful city with its famous horse race called “Palio” that is organised twice a year.

Day 4

The last day started with a session called “Data assimilation and inverse geodynamic modelling”:

And the last keynote session was about “Geodynamics across the scale” where Ylona van Dinther gave a keynote talk “How Tectonics Affects Seismicity”.

So, the non-existent WIFI wasn’t too bad after all. In the end, it brought the geodynamics community even closer.
The workshop will finish on Thursday evening with an epic party.  I’ve been even told that some people only have started doing research in geodynamics because of the party at the end of the Ada Lovelace Workshop! So, if you want to take part in the next Ada Lovelace Workshop (taking place in 2021, place TBD), make sure to not miss the registration deadline!
(Note from the author: Although I could update this last paragraph about the party, I am not doing so as the party was indeed epic and therefore “What happens at the ALWS farewell party stays at the ALWS farewell party.” But you should definitely come and experience it yourself next time at the ALWS2021!)




The Sassy Scientist – Managing Monsters

The Sassy Scientist – Managing Monsters

Every week, The Sassy Scientist answers a question on geodynamics, related topics, academic life, the universe or anything in between with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Do you have a question for The Sassy Scientist? Submit your question here.

Aminta asks:

How do you deal with bad co-authors (i.e. people who make writing papers more complicated and unpleasant than it needs to be) that are also senior scientists?

Dear Aminta,

Annoy them as much as possible. Relentlessly, but politely. Haunt their dreams. In case they are located within the same university, don’t just start emailing them willy-nilly. You can do so much more. Knock on their door every single day. Invite them for a coffee or join ‘em for lunch. Use casual conversations to fortuitously steer the topic towards your manuscript. Conveniently leave the office at the same time as your co-authors and come back in the morning when they do. Simply butter them up as much as possible, without presenting yourself too needy or a suck-up. It should be their idea to respond quicker to your requests. For those not in your institution, other rules apply. Try to set deadlines several weeks in advance of your actual goal, and up the ante in terms of email check-ins the days building up to their deadline.

Trust me. This is the only way that may turn out fruitful. I’ve tried to cross the only other path: patience. Just utter patience. Problem being that you cannot actually do that much. You’ll end up frustrated anyway. Tread carefully though; if your co-authors have some big toes and cannot be too bothered with your progress, the best way is to simply wait and see. A long wait may result in a finalized manuscript, while a short wait will result in tears. There are three grades of co-authors; 1) happies [quick responders with real constructive comments], 2) fickles [oftentimes tardy with the same comments on repeat], and 3) grumpies [no explanation needed]. Your job is to push every co-author into that first grade by smooching and appearing to be interested in whatever they’re up to. Preferably done before you start writing a manuscript. Remember that you do actually need them. Turn that frown upside down and start grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Yours truly,

The Sassy Scientist

PS: This post was written with some sore cheek muscles.



As temperature records have continuously been broken all over the world, many of us scientist had to endure extreme conditions in our overheated offices. Climate change is happening, and faster than we’d like to think, but how does this play a role in the scientific community? In this week’s blog post, geodynamicist Nicolas Coltice (professor at Ecole Normale Superieure de Paris) shares his passionate opinion on the matter and sheds light on several important topics that may easily be overseen by enthusiastic scientists. 


Nicolas Coltice is a professor in the Laboratoire of Geology of Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris.

I took my last flight for work in May 2017 to go to a meeting of the Deep Carbon Observatory in Moscow. I had started evaluating my carbon footprint a couple of years before, and flying to do science on carbon questioned me. The first flight I ever took was when I was about 14, to go to a place close to Chernobyl (in the U.S.S.R. at the time), a few years after the catastrophe. It seems that Russia brings me back to environmental questions. In the context of climate change today, many scientists give their opinions on the future. Civilization will collapse, or science will magically save us all. There is so much abstract agitation and noise in the debates. Both the exploitation of nature and pollution impact landscapes and the living so quickly. What will the world be like in 30 years? Who can guess rationally?


Climate countdown

When I started to write this blog post, it was June 13th. The temperature in Delhi was about 48°C and the Monsoon did not seem to start. Water shortages led to fights with people being killed. In Poland, temperatures reached over 30°C. But in France, temperatures were cooler and close to those occurring in Greenland. A few weeks later, we had the highest temperatures ever recorded in the South of France. Particles and pesticides are all over the place and we eat and drink litters of them every year. Climate will continue to change: even if we stop emitting carbon and methane, the ocean will keep on doing so for centuries.


Surface temperature of some European countries on June 27th 2019 (European Space Agency).


The IPCC and diverse agencies have given a very simple recommendation: by 2030, we have to lower our carbon emissions by 50%. That is 11 years from now, soon to be 10, soon to be 9… In the next 10 years, there is minimal chance that humanity has developed new energy sources for the billions of people all over the world. For example, building a nuclear power plant takes years, and it can only distribute energy about 10 years after completion. Besides blaming politics and big companies, what can one do here and now? Because the shift of society does not seem to start in comfortable offices, it has to start everywhere. It is now. What actions can we take as geodynamicists? In geodynamics we tackle problems with a large vision, including long-range dependencies, evaluating the forces at play.

Because the shift of society does not seem to start in comfortable offices, it has to start everywhere.

I started to think about our job as a scientist. Many carbon footprint tools help us identify how to mitigate our carbon emissions. The Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research proposes guidelines for low-carbon research, that are quoted here: ”

    • Monitor and reduce. I will keep track of the carbon emissions of my professional activities, and set personal objectives to reduce them in line with or larger than my country’s carbon emissions commitments (…).
    • Account and justify. I will justify my travel considering the location and purpose of the event, my level of seniority, and the alternative options available.
    • Prioritise, prepare and replace. For activities that I organise, I will choose the location giving high priority to a low carbon footprint of travel of the participants, and I will encourage, incorporate and technically support online speakers and webcasts to reduce unnecessary travel.
    • Encourage and stimulate. I will resist my own FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) from not attending everything and work towards sensitizing others to the need of the research community to walk the talk on climate change.
    • Reward. I will work with my peers, Institute and Funders to value alternative metrics of success and encourage the promotion of low-carbon research as a realisable alternative to a high-carbon research career.”

The Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research also provides a Travel Strategy (link to PDF) that aims to help individual researchers to reduce their emissions through time.

Emit carbon or perish

This is essentially dealing with travel, clearly the main source of scientists’ carbon footprint. Let’s identify the forces at play that make us using tons of carbon every year on average. I identify a major shift in our practice between 2000 and 2010, with digital doping of the old “publish or perish”. It would be easy to blame computers. Private companies build publication databases with our work to compile performance indicators of individuals. Now a handful of business groups own most of the journals, questing increasing financial profit (Elsevier and Springer operated a better profit margin than Apple in 2014, 37% and 35% respectively). What was common (not state-controlled but controlled by the scientific community) became increasingly private and marketable. Growth of publication numbers generates billions of euros of dividends for stakeholders, at the expense of public money. Every year subscriptions cost more to the scientific community (see for instance the website of the University of Virginia Library). And we are now productive workers in a globalised science-market. It is for granted that competition is the source of good science… or in any case good money. Therefore, scientists have to publish more, be everywhere to “sell” their results or see which ones they “buy”, and hence travel all over the world.

Journal and articles figures for 2018 by the STM association. Profit data for the Scientific, Technical & Medical division of Reed-Elsevier only (Larivière et al., 2015) .


Competition-strategy modifies the science itself, introducing loss of integrity (Fanelli, 2010), and of course dramatically increasing our environmental impact. We are pushed to acquire the most powerful machines, generate the biggest datasets, do large-scale analysis, publish as many papers as we can, and travel the world to disseminate the results. Or perish. Bigger machines often require less energy to obtain the same performance as the old ones. However, the energy gain of new technology becomes more than compensated by accentuated use of it. This is the rebound effect. New technology is not a substitute but an addition. Hence we need more energy and more natural resources. Can we substitute instead of add? Can we identify when it is so easy to use machines instead of our brains, but somewhat irrelevant to do so?

Scientists have to publish more, be everywhere to “sell” their results, or see which ones they “buy”, and hence travel all over the world.

Although planes are getting more carbon-efficient, travel for science has become intensive. Some colleagues like their job because they can travel, which I understand. The number of conferences and workshops exploded. The increase in attendance of worldwide meetings like AGU (11,422 attendees in 2004 and 21,702 in 2012) questions their role in terms of scientific relevance and impact on the planet. What shall we do with all these gatherings? Mobility looks like a necessity today. However, research has shown that limiting the use of planes to travel has barely any impact on scientific careers (Wynes et al., 2019).

(Lower-carbon) Science as a common

Competing, publishing as much as possible, privatising science and transferring public money to the stakeholder of publishing groups constitute a dead-end for our job. This is a dead-end for science. This is a dead-end for knowledge and humanity. Exponential growths of h-index, publication rates, data collection and conference travel are not sustainable. The rebound effect often kills the gain of progress for production gain. Can we make a transition as a community, building our commons and collaborative organizations? Can we start to teach new research ethics and practices so the new generation will be ready to do this job in a sustainable way? We have 10 years, soon to be 9.


Larivière, V., Haustein, S., and Mongeon, P. (2015). The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0127502

Fanelli, D. (2010). do Pressures to Publish Increase Scientists' Bias? And Empirical Support from US States Data. PLoS ONE 5(4): e10271

Wynes, S., Donner, S. D., Tannason, S. and Nabors, N. (2019). Academic air travel has limited influence on professional succes. Journal of Cleaner Production 226: 959-967