Iris van Zelst

Iris van Zelst

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.

A belated happy new year!

A belated happy new year!

It was that time of the year again: holidays! Time to take a break from work, relax, and see all your friends and family again. The blog team is no different: we took a break from blogging for a little while as well, so you had to survive the holidays without us! Did you survive Christmas day without one of our blogposts? It must’ve been dreadful, I know, but that’s life! Luckily, we have some good news: we are back with some belated happy new year wishes and wintersport recommendations. We also tried to write limericks. Also also, we discuss chocolate and peppermint. Because we can. Cheers to a good blog year in 2019! 

Iris van Zelst

I once tried to ski down a slope
as friends thought there might be hope
I was covered in snow
from my head to my toe
If they invite me again it’s a ‘nope’

So, as many of you might have guessed, winter sports (or any sports, really) are not entirely my thing. Particularly skiing did not go down well for me. However, as a true Dutch girl, I do really enjoy ice skating and can recommend it thoroughly! However, this year no winter sports at all for me: I flew towards the sun in an effort to actually destress from work (feeble attempt as I brought my laptop, but still, kudos for trying, right?). I hope everyone had a very nice holiday and relaxing break. May all your (academic) wishes come true in 2019!

I also tried cross-country skiing once. That was infinitely better than alpine skiing. It was actually fun!

Grace Shephard

In hemispheric defiance of the “wintersport” edition, I am currently back Down Under where I have replaced the (seemingly eternal) television coverage of cross-country skiing with cricket, swapped a toboggan for me ‘togs’, and exchanged a pull-over for some ‘pluggers.’ I wish all of our blog readers a very happy and safe end to the year that was, and a fabulous start to the next!

What Aussies call swimming-related attire from

Anne Glerum

This year I spend winter in Berlin,
Where no snow has fallen and the ice is too thin.
So I drink myself heavy,
With hot chocolate and Pfeffi,
And wait for the fresh air of spring!

In the weeks before Christmas, Christmas markets dominate the streets of Berlin. Besides delicious food, they offer mulled wine and, as I discovered this year, hot chocolate with peppermintliqueur. A green version of the liqueur is made by Pfeffi, while a colorless Berlin-made peppermintliqueur is called Berliner Luft. It’s as clear and fresh as Berlin’s air according to the manufacturer. Although the freshness of Berlin’s air is debatable, the combination of chocolate and peppermint is delicious. I wish everybody a fresh start of the New Year with loads of hapiness!

Get conference ready!

Get conference ready!

It’s almost time for the AGU fall meeting 2018! Are you ready? Have you prepared your schedule and set up all your important business meetings? Here are some final tips to nail your presentation and/or poster!

Nailing your presentation
The art of the 15-minute talk: how to design the best 15-minute talk
Presentation skills – 1. Voice: how to get the most out of your presentation voice
Presentation skills – 2. Speech: how to stop staying ‘uh’

Making the best poster
Poster presentation tips: how to design the best poster layout
The rainbow colour map (repeatedly) considered harmful: how to make the best scientific figures

Presentation skills – 2. Speech

Presentation skills – 2. Speech

Presenting: some people love it, some people hate it. I firmly place myself in the first category and apparently, this presentation joy translates itself into being a good – and confident – speaker. Over the years, quite a few people have asked me for my secrets to presenting (which – immediate full disclosure – I do not have) and this is the result: a running series on the EGU GD Blog that covers my own personal tips and experience in the hope that it will help someone (you?) become a better and – more importantly – more confident speaker. Last time, we discussed your presentation voice. In this second instalment, I discuss everything related to how you speak.

1. Get rid of ‘uh’

Counting the number of times a speaker says ‘uh’ during a presentation is a fun game, but ideally you would like your audience to focus on the non-uh segments of your talk. Therefore, getting rid of ‘uh’ (or any other filler word for that matter) is important. I have two main tips to get rid of ‘uh’:

Write down your speech and practice (but don’t hold on to it religiously)

Practice. Practice. And practice it again. Maybe a few more times. Almost… no: practice it again.
I am being serious here. If you know exactly what you want to say, you won’t hesitate and fill that moment of hesitation with a prolonged uuuuuhhh. The added benefit of writing down your presentation and practising it religiously is that it will help you with timing your presentation as well. I also find it helpful to read through it (instead of practising it out loud) when I am in a situation that doesn’t allow me to go into full presentation mode (on the plane to AGU for example). However, make sure to practise your presentation out loud even though you wrote it all down: thinking speed (or reading in your head) and talking speed are not the same!

If you write down your presentation, and you know exactly what you want to say, you have to take care to evade another (new) pitfall for saying ‘uh’: now that you know exactly what you want to say and how to say it most efficiently, you start saying ‘uh’ when you can’t remember the exact wording. Let it go. Writing down your speech helps you to clarify the vocabulary needed for your speech, but if you don’t say the exact sentences, just go with something else. You will have a well thought out speech anyway. Just go with the flow and try not to say ‘uh’.

The second main tip for getting rid of ‘uh’ is to

Realise that it is okay to stay silent for a while

If you forget the word you wanted to say and you need some time to think, you can take a break. You can stay silent. You don’t need to fill up the silence with ‘uh’. In fact, a break often seems more natural. Realise that you forgot something, don’t panic, take a breath, take a break (don’t eat a KitKat at this point in your presentation), and then continue when you know what to say again. Even if you don’t forget the exact words or phrasings, taking a breath and pausing in your narrative can be helpful for your audience to take a breath as well. It will seem as if your presentation is relaxed: you are not rushing through 50 slides in 12 minutes. You are prepared, you are in control, you can even take a break to take a breath.

2. Speed

A lot of (conference) presentations will have a fixed time. At the big conferences, like EGU and AGU, you get 12 minutes and not a second more or less. Well, of course you can talk longer than 12 minutes, but this will result in less (if any) time for questions.

I don’t think the conveners will kill you, but don’t pin me down on it

And on top of that, everyone (well, me at the very least) will be annoyed at you for not sticking to the time.

So: sticking to your time limit is important!

But how can you actually do this? Well, there are a few important factors:
1. Preparation: know exactly what you want to say (we will cover this more in a later instalment of this series)
2. The speed at which you speak.

We will be discussing the latter point in this blog entry. For me (and many other people), I know I can stick to the rule of “one slide per minute”, but I always have a little buffer in that I count the title slide as a slide as well. So, my 12-minute long presentation would have 12 slides in total (including the title slides). This actually spreads my 12 minutes over 11 scientific slides, so I can talk a little bit longer about each slide. It also gives me piece of mind to know that I have a bit of extra time. However, the speed at which you talk might be completely different. Therefore, the most important rule about timing your presentations is:

Knowing how fast you (will) speak

I always practice my short presentations a lot. If they are 30 minutes or longer, I like to freewheel with the one slide per minute rule. But for shorter presentations, I require a lot of practice. I always time every presentation attempt and make a point of finishing each attempt (even if the first part goes badly). Otherwise you run the risk of rehearsing the first part of your presentation very well, and kind of forgetting about the second part. When I time my presentation during practice, I always speak too long. For a 12 minute presentation, I usually end up at the 13.5 minute mark. However, I know that when I speak in front of an audience, I (subconsciously?) speed up my speech, so when I time 13.5 minutes, I know that my actual presentation will be a perfect 12 minutes.

The only way to figure out how you change or start to behave in front of an audience is by simply giving a lot of presentations. Try to do that and figure out whether you increase or decrease the speed of your speech during your talk. Take note and remember it for the next time you time your presentation. In the end, presenting with skill and confidence is all about knowing yourself.

3. Articulation and accent

There are as many accents to be heard at a conference as there are scientists talking. Everyone has there own accent, articulation, (presentation) voice, etc. This means that

You should not feel self-conscious about your accent

Some accents are stronger than others and may be more difficult for others to follow. Native speakers are by no means necessarily better speakers and depending on whom you ask, their accent might also not be better than anyone else’s.
Of course your accent might become an issue if people can’t understand you. You can try and consider the following things to make yourself understandable for a big audience:
1. Articulate well.
2. Adapt the speed at which you talk

Some languages are apparently faster than others. French is quite fast for example, whereas (British) English is a slower language. You have to take this into account when switching languages. If you match the pace of the language you are speaking, your accent will be less noticeable, because you avoid any ingrained rythm patterns that are language specific. Then you might still have your accent shine through in your pronunciation of the words, but it will not shine through in the rhythm of your speech.
In addition, you can consider asking a native speaker for help if you are unsure of how to pronounce certain words. Listening or watching many English/American/Australian tv series/films/youtube will also help with your pronunciation.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is about everything I have to say on the matter of speech. You should now have full control over your presentation voice and all the actual words you are going to say. Next time, we go one step further and discuss your posture during the presentation and your movements.

An industrial placement as a geodynamicist

An industrial placement as a geodynamicist

After years of trying to get a PhD, publishing papers, networking with professors, and trying to land that one, elusive, permanent job in science, it can be quite easy to forget that you actually do have career options outside of academia. To get a little taste of this, Nico Schliffke, PhD student in geodynamics at Durham University, tries out the industry life for a few weeks!

When coming close to the final stages of a PhD life, many students reconsider whether they want to stay in academia or prefer to step over to industry or other non-academic jobs. This is surely not a simple decision to take, as it could strongly shape your future. In this blog post, I would like to report my industrial placement experience during my PhD and share a few thoughts on the topic.

The taste of industry life was an opportunity I had within the frame of my PhD project. Split into two terms, I spent four weeks at a medium-sized company developing optical imaging techniques (both software and equipment) to measure flow fields and deformation. The branch I worked in was “digital image correlation” (DIC) which measures strain on given surfaces purely by comparing successive images on an object (see figure below). This technique is used in both industry (crash tests, quality assessments, etc.) as well as in academia (analogue experiments, wind tunnels, engineering..), and has the substantial advantage of measuring physical properties precisely, without using any materials or affecting dynamical processes. DIC is not directly related to or used in my PhD (I do numerical modelling of subduction zones and continental collision), but surprisingly enough I was able to contribute more than expected – but more on that later.

Basic principle of ‘digital image correlation’. A pattern on a digital image is traced through time on successive images to calculate displacements and strain rates.
Credit: LaVision

The specific project I worked on was inspired by the analogue tectonics lab at GFZ Potsdam, that uses DIC measuring systems to quantify and measure the deformation of their sandbox experiments. Typical earthquake experiments like the figure below span periods of a few minutes to several days during which individual earthquakes occur in a couple of milliseconds. The experiment is continuously recorded by cameras to both monitor deformation visually and quantify deformation by using the optical imaging technique developed by my host company. To resolve the deformation related to individual earthquakes, high imaging rates are required which in turn produce a vast amount of data (up to 2TB per experiment). However, only a small fraction (max. 5%) of the entire dataset is of interest, as there is hardly any deformation during interseismic periods. The project I was involved in tried to tackle the issue of unnecessarily cluttered hard discs: the recording frequency should be linked to a measurable characteristic within the experiment, e.g. displacement velocities in these specific experiments, and controlled by the DIC software.

Setup of the analogue experiment to model earthquakes in subduction zones (courtesy of Michael Rudolf). Cameras above the experiment measure deformation and strain rates by tracking patterns on the surface created by the contrast of black rubber and white sugar.

My general task during the internship was to develop this idea and the required software. We finally developed a ‘live-extensometer’ to calculate displacements between two given points of an image during recording and link its values to the camera’s recording frequency. Therefore, restricting high imaging rates to large (and fast) displacements of earthquakes should result in reducing the total amount of data acquired for a typical earthquake experiment by 95%. However, we needed an actual experiment to verify this. So, I met up with the team at GFZ to test the developed feature.

The main experiment the GFZ team had in mind is sketched in the figure above: a conveyor belt modelling a subducting slab continuously creates strain in the ‘orogenic wedge’ which is released by earthquakes leading to surface deformation. Cameras above the experiment monitor the surface while software computes strain rates and displacement (see figure below). The developed feature of changing frequencies during the experiment depending on slip rates was included and worked surprisingly well. Yet freshly programmed software is seldom perfect: minor issues and bugs crept up during the experiments. My final contribution during the internship was to report these problems back to the company to be fixed.

Displacement measured by ‘digital image correlation’ during an earthquake lasting ~5 ms (courtesy of Mathias Rosenau).

My geodynamical background allowed me to contribute to various fields within the company and resulted in various individual tasks throughout the internship: coding experience helped with discussing ideal software implementations and testing the latest implemented software on small (physical) experiments. My knowledge of various deformation mechanisms and geosciences in general, with its numerous subdisciplines and methods, provided a solid base for searching further applications for the developed software within academia, but also in industry. Last but not least, pursuing my own large project (my PhD) strongly facilitated discussing possible future development steps.

The atmosphere at the company in general was very pleasant and similar to what I experienced at the university: relaxed handling, pared with discussion how to improve products or use of new techniques that might be applicable to a problem. To stay competitive, the company needs to further develop their products which requires a large amount of research, developments and innovative ideas. Meetings to discuss further improvements of certain products were thus scheduled on a (nearly) daily basis. On the one hand this adds pressure to get work done as quickly as possible, but working on a project as a team with many numerous areas of expertise is also highly exciting.

This internship help reveal the variability of possible jobs that geodynamicists can have in industry besides the ‘classical’ companies linked to exploration, tunnel engineering or geological surveys. The skill set acquired in a geodynamical PhD (coding, modelling, combining numerics, physics, and geosciences) makes a very flexible and adaptive employee which is attractive to companies who are so specialised, that there is (nearly) no classical education at university level. Jobs at small to medium-sized companies are often harder to find, but it’s just as difficult for the companies to find suitable candidates for their open positions. Hence, it may be worth searching in-depth for a suitable job, if you are considering stepping out of academia and maybe even out of geoscience as well.

If PhD students are hesitant whether to stay in academia or change into industry, I would advise to do such a short internship with a company to get a taste of ‘the other side’. During a PhD, we get to know academic life thoroughly but industry mostly remains alien. Besides giving a good impression of daily life at a company and how you can contribute, an industry internship might also widen your perspective of which areas might be relevant to you, your methodology and your PhD topic. In total, this internship was definitely a valuable experience for me and will help when deciding: academia or industry?

Here are a few links for more information:
Host company
Digital Image Correlation
TecLab at GFZ Potsdam
Previous EGU blog post interviews of former geoscientists