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Geodynamics

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Iris van Zelst is a PhD student at ETH Zürich in Switzerland. She is working on the modelling of tsunamigenic earthquakes using a range of interdisciplinary modelling approaches, such as geodynamic, dynamic rupture, and tsunami modelling. Current research projects include splay fault propagation in subduction zones and the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake. Iris is Editor-in-chief of the GD blog team. You can reach Iris via email. For more details, please visit Iris' personal webpage.

Work-life balance: insights from geodynamicists

Work-life balance: insights from geodynamicists

Maintaining a good work-life balance is essential for a steady career and happy life in academia. However, like with all good things, it is not easy. In this new Wit & Wisdom post, Jessica Munch, PhD student at ETH Zürich, explores how to achieve a good work-life balance.

Jessica Munch
Credit: Manon Lauffenburger

Research is a truly amazing occupation, especially in geodynamics (okay, that might be a bit biased…). However, disregarding the position you have academia, research is also a job asking for a lot of commitment, an ability to deal with pressure, (very) good organisational skills and an ability to deal with everything on time to (hopefully) stay in academia (if you want to learn more about stress and pressure effects on researchers, there are plenty of articles related to that on the web – if you did not experience them by yourself already – yay!) Hence, it seems that this dream job can sometimes turn into a nightmare, which could partly explain why so many people quit academia.

The solution to avoid having to make such an extreme decision as quitting? The legendary work-life balance: how to reconcile a job that you cannot get out of your mind once you’re done with your day (it’s not like you can easily switch off your brain once you leave your office and forget about all the questions you are trying to answer with your research, right?) with your private life, hobbies, and families?

I wanted to try to figure out what a work-life balance really means. At the very least, I wanted to find a more meaningful answer than wikipedia’s definition:

Work-life balance is a concept including the proper prioritisation between work (career and ambition) and lifestyle (health, pleasure, leisure, family)

The definition I would give based on my limited experience, is that a work-life balance is an (often rather fragile) equilibrium between academia and your private life that allows you to stay efficient and motivated about your research without losing the link with/neglecting the world outside. All of that while being happy and healthy. Easy, no?

Given my restricted experience with this balance, I wondered how other researchers at different stages in their career deal with this. I contacted several researchers and they took the time to reply to my questions although they had a very tight schedule (thanks you very much!).

A first insight comes from Susanne Buiter, Team leader at the Geological Survey of Norway: “I guess the fact that I am writing you in the weekend, on a Saturday evening says something about my balancing work and private life at the moment!”. Sounds quite tough, but then she gives some explanations. She appreciates that everyone is very dedicated to their research in our field. This often leads to long and rather unconventional working hours for research and teaching duties. This is fine as long as it is voluntary, but it should not become an expectation. Susanne’s take on this is that there should be flexibility from both sides, and that it is absolutely fine that some weeks are very busy as long as other times can be more relaxed. Considering her research not only as a job but also as a hobby seems to allow for a lot of dedication while keeping being her both happy and motivated. She also raises the question if anyone is able to actually do all the work he or she has to do when only working regular hours.

A second opinion on this precious work-life balance comes from an early career researcher, Marie Bocher, a postdoc at ETH Zürich. When discussing with her, she first points out that a work-life balance is not necessarily a condition to do a good research: one should not directly link the lack of balance in your life to a burnout. For Marie it is okay to work a lot, as long as her research is meaningful to her and she is efficient and motivated. Sometimes you work really hard, do not have a real balance, have no time for hobbies, etc., but this does not necessarily mean you are going to end up with a burnout. These kind of moments can actually be enjoyable, because you often notice that you are efficient and making progress, which is quite rewarding. Hence, what you need in research (even more than a balanced life) is a meaning to what you are doing or a reason for going to work every morning. This is what will prevent you from having a burnout and will help you to be a happy researcher. Support and validation from peers can also help.

However, Marie wonders if the work-life balance issue has always been an issue in academia. She mentions the fact that sometimes people feel pressure to have a balanced life according to someone else’s definition. Sometimes colleagues comment on the fact that you work late and that this is not normal, and that you should have a hobby (pressure to have hobbies, quite paradoxical, no?). This might result in you pushing yourself to do activities even though you would prefer to for once hang out at home and relax during your weekend. Not everyone needs to have an hyperactive life. Instead, people should just try to live a life they enjoy.

Finally, she raises the point that work-life balance is actually a dynamic equilibrium: it is something that changes depending on your situation. You cannot organise yourself the same way if you are single, if you have a partner, or if you have kids. It is a hard to find balance and that evolves with life and responsibilities.

Potentially dangerous/lethal way of working on your work-life balance
Credit: Antoine Grisart

Speaking about kids and family, the third and last (but definitely not least) thoughts on this topic come from Saskia Goes, lecturer/reader at Imperial College London. For her, having a balanced life means having time for other things besides works and occasionally time for herself – a definition she is not sure she could apply to her own life where she constantly has to juggle between work and family. Saskia explains that it is a continuous challenge to do enough work to keep the department happy and functioning, but to also say no to enough work so that she still has time for her own research, students and her family. She also points out that she has very little time to do research herself – only a few hours now and then. Her main research activity at the moment actually consists in working with students and postdocs on their papers.

When asked how she reconciles family life with her work, Saskia replies that it is doable, but only with sufficient support in the form of a partner, school care, family or friends. Moreover, she emphasises that you need to accept that you simply cannot keep up with people who work 60 to 80 hours every week and can attend three to four conferences a year. Some types of research do not work with a family, unless you have a partner who can significantly help out for a while. Bringing up the fact that a job in academia often implies a lot of moving (research positions in different countries, etc.), Saskia mentions that until now, she only moved once with her kids. The main challenge was then the lack of support (for instance from friends and family) when you move to the new place.

Finally, when I asked her for tips on how to manage all of this, she suggested to make lists to keep track of what needs to be done when, and to then divide and plan the tasks day by day, week per week so that they look manageable. The main challenge lies in trying to balance the amount of things you take on with the time you have!

According to these different insights on the work-life balance, a universal definition seems impossible. Instead, the precious balance appears to be quite personal. It depends on your situation in life, on how much your time you can actually dedicate to your project, and your ability to manage the tasks you need to do (or refuse to do). Hence, the work-life balance is a very personal concept everyone has to figure out for him/herself. Ultimately, it is just a matter of being happy with what you do.

Happy new year!

Happy new year!

It’s 2018! Another year to finally publish that paper, finish your PhD, find a new job, finish that project, and be happy! The EGU Geodynamics Blog Team is looking forward to keep brightening your Wednesday mornings with the most interesting and funny blog posts. In this first post, we wish you all, of course, a happy new year!

Iris van Zelst

 

 

I wish everyone a very happy, productive, writing-guilt-free 2018 with lots of publications, funding, success, and happiness!

 

 

 

Anne Glerum

 

 

Wishing everybody a happy, inspiring and fruitful 2018! Time to start with a clean slate and write another adventurous chapter of life!

 

 

 

Luca Dal Zilio

 

Run, run, run
It’s time to have
fun, fun, fun 🙂
Sprint to the tree,
it’s the season to be jolly!
Happy Holidays is what you’ve won!

 

Grace Shephard

Greetings from EGU’s Geodynamics Blog team
We’ve enjoyed our first year and look forward to twenty eighteen
We’ll report on Earth’s secrets from the frontlines
And wish you fruitful collaborations, realistic expectations, and manageable deadlines.

The fluid dynamics of wine

The fluid dynamics of wine

The Christmas holidays: the one time of year that you don’t need to think about work. Instead, you are focussed on your family (including the in-laws), the massive amount of food still left (a miscalculation every year), and you’re starting to think about your New Year’s resolutions (because we give it a try every year, right?). So, this is definitely not the time to go and read a blog post (or write one, for that matter).
Lucky you: there is a blog post anyway! But, in the spirit of the holidays, it has a festive theme. We are concerned with geodynamics. In numerical modelling we even assume that the Earth flows like a fluid on geological timescales. So what could be more festive than looking at a different timescale today by looking at the fluid dynamics of wine (‘oenodynamics’)? Pour yourself another glass, swirl it around a bit, and sit back for a relaxing post about how the swirling of wine works.

If you are unfamiliar with the process of wine tasting, let me give you a short introduction (although I am by no means an expert): to fully appreciate and taste a wine, you need to follow five basic steps: color, swirl, smell, taste, and savor. To make this a bit easier to remember after a couple of glasses, these five steps are also known as the ‘Five S’ steps:

See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Savor

From a layman’s point of view, the see, sniff, sip, and savor might make some intuitive kind of sense. However, the swirling step might be less intuitive. This swirling of the wine releases the so-called bouquet (‘the total aromatic experience’) of a wine. You usually swirl a glass of wine by a gentle circular movement of the glass. This creates a wave along the glass walls, which enhances the oxygenation and mixing of the wine. The shape of this wave formed by the swirling of the wine (or ‘orbital shaking’: the motion on a circular trajectory, at a constant angular velocity, of a cylindrical container maintaining a fixed orientation with respect to an inertial frame of reference) has been investigated by Reclari et al., 2011.

Now before you ask why on Earth it would be useful to investigate this (other than to satisfy a healthy dose of academic curiosity), the authors provide a very sensible reason: this orbital shaking has been applied to large scale bioreactors for the cultivation of antibodies in cells. Of course, looking at the swirling of wine is a less expensive experimental setup to study the physics behind this orbital shaking and, let’s be honest: it just sounds like a really fun, slightly quirky, research project.

To simplify the experimental setup, Reclari et al., 2011 use cilinders instead of wine glasses. The free parameters that Reclari et al., 2011 consider are the inner diameter of the cilinder D, the diameter of the shaking trajectory ds, the elevation of the water at rest H0, and the angular velocity ω. Varying these parameters results in a variety of wave shapes. Reclari et al., 2011 identify three dimensionless parameters:

đsds/D,

Ħ0H0/D,

Fr22ds)/g

These dimensionless parameters define the wave shape of the wine and ensure the similarity of the free surface between experiments with the same dimensionless numbers.

For a comprehensive demonstration of their findings have a look at their video, which illustrates their methods very nicely and shows you lots of swirling wine. Hopefully, you will now have another interesting story to bring to the dinner table during the holidays.

Cheers!

 

 

Reference
Reclari, Martino, et al. "Oenodynamic": Hydrodynamic of wine swirling. arXiv preprint arXiv:1110.3369 (2011).
Reclari, Martino. Hydrodynamics of orbital shaken bioreactors. (2013).

Conferences – so near and yet so far

Conferences – so near and yet so far

Attending conferences is expensive and time consuming, so going to all the conferences relevant for your research topic(s) is an impossible mission. One solution might be to attend (parts of) conferences remotely. Suzanne Atkins, postdoc at ETH Zürich, Switzerland, discusses the pros and cons of remote conferencing.

Last month the Geological Society of London live-streamed their celebration of 50 years of plate tectonics. Here at ETH we joined the love-in, camping out in the lecture theatre for two days. This follows the trend of many conferences to live-stream sessions or make them available on-line afterwards. But can video conferences replace the real thing? And would we want them too?

On paper, there are so many reasons to support video conferencing and replays. The most obvious one is financial. Many students are limited to local conferences and even professors have to watch their expenditure. The eye-watering cost of a large conference like EGU makes annual attendance unfeasible for many scientists, especially when extras like beer are factored in. If you’re only interested in one or two sessions, dropping in remotely makes far more sense than dragging yourself halfway across the continent for an afternoon.

But there are plenty of other reasons. Here at ETH, our flights make up around 60% of the department CO2 budget. Yes, I could take the train but I’m too lazy and impatient (I know, I know), especially if I’m only interested in half the conference. This doesn’t even take into account the vast carbon footprint of the hospitality industry, to which we are contributing every time we stay in a hotel or eat at a restaurant. Remote conference attendance is therefore the only really defensible environmental option.

The attraction of attending a conference where I can sleep in my own bed is high, but for academic parents, or even just academics with a life outside work, the benefits of cutting a few trips off the yearly circuit without missing out are obvious. Especially in the summer season, when we’re all trying to cram in holidays and a bit of teaching-free research time, the seemingly endless round of meetings and workshops can end up feeling more of a chore than a pleasure.

This brings me to my final point in favour. For a remote conference, etiquette is far more flexible than in person attendance. No one at the conference can see you checking your emails, or dipping in and out to talk to students. The university WiFi is nice and reliable. And the quality of the coffee is just so much more … predictable.

So, what are the drawbacks? Why don’t we all switch over immediately? Obviously attending conferences remotely can make it difficult to present your own work and get feedback, which is invaluable for us. We will never be able to fully replicate digitally the experience of a long poster discussion, chatting to someone after a talk, or the serendipitous meeting in the coffee queue.

But there may also be some subtler disadvantages. At cash-strapped institutes, remote conferencing will allow staff and students who otherwise couldn’t attend to see the talks. But it might also lead to pressure, particularly on students and junior researchers, to cut expenditure by never leaving the building. That deprives them of the networking and presentation opportunities that conferences offer. The flip-side of this is that conferences would get boring scientifically. The same few faces would attend every time, starving the community of new ideas and input. Both of these seem somewhat extreme endpoints, which could be guarded against by careful management within institutes and by conference organisers, and the availability of grants and scholarships for attendance.

So all in all, I think I have to conclude that live streaming conferences seems a sensible way to go. I can even head off to my post-conference Friday beer in the common room afterwards. Cheers!