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Geodynamics

Ask The Sassy Scientist

The Sassy Scientist – Research Relevance

The Sassy Scientist – Research Relevance

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.

Meghan asks:


Why is your research relevant?


Dear Meghan,

Because I like it. My supervisor is in my office every day to talk about my results. I talk to people outside my department and they say it all looks very promising. Who cares I did not produce a Nature or Science paper? I’m having fun… *cough*

But seriously: this is a frequently asked question and a particularly difficult question to answer when you’re a young scientist. It also depends on the goal: should your research be applicable to society (most funding agencies seem to head in that direction), or is fundamental research in trying to understand the present-day state and history of our (and other) planet(s) also relevant? Oftentimes geodynamics research is only indirectly related in terms of societal impact. Does this mean that our research is irrelevant? I doubt it.

To be clear, when you design a research project or scroll through research job postings, the only thing you should be thinking of is if this is interesting enough to work on for a couple of years. Then, when you are doing this research, the answer to your question is an easy one: because it’s interesting enough for you to work on it.

Yours truly,

The Sassy Scientist

PS: This post was written after seeing the umpteenth ‘exciting observation’ for some space thingy a gazillion miles away on a national news program.

The Sassy Scientist – PhD angst

The Sassy Scientist – PhD angst

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.

Iris asks:


Will I ever finish my PhD?


Dear Iris,

Most researchers won’t admit to it publicly, but they all had doubts when trying to complete their PhD research. Sometimes the daunting task may seem impossible: why did I ever think I was smart enough and could graduate to become a doctor in philosophy? There are too many reasons to throw yourself into a depression: whether it is the ferocious comments on first versions of paper manuscripts, a stumbling and embarrassing presentation at a large conference in front of a room of expert strangers, deleting your work halfway through your project without a back-up, waiting for months for lab time only to find out that the one piece of equipment you needed to process your field study samples just broke down and it will take months and a new grant proposal to replace it: the list goes on and on and for some reason always keeps expanding. Before you find yourself googling the nearest psychiatrist or — even worse — decide to pack up and go home to live in your parents’ basement while working as a barista like every up-and-coming movie star ever, take comfort in this: everybody around you feels, or has felt, the same as you. Talk to your colleagues, your supervisor, your professor or (I dare you) a stranger at a conference: you’ll get positive feedback on your research and encouragement that you’ll make it. Sure, it will take effort and you will see some nights through ‘till daylight, but eventually you’ll be there. And then you’re one of the few…

Waiting for you at the other side…

Yours truly,

The Sassy Scientist

PS: This post was written after struggling to finish a PhD myself, just as every single scientist has in the past.

The Sassy Scientist – Analogue Modelling

The Sassy Scientist – Analogue Modelling

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.

David asks:


What do you think about analogue modelling?


Dear David,

Analogue modelling. Well, what’s not to like? Who doesn’t want to spend weeks or months finding the material that mimics behaviour we suspect to be relevant for Earth-like processes? And then, after finally finding the perfect material and sculpting a subduction zone, seeing it all sink to the bottom of the tank because the ‘lithosphere’ wasn’t placed perfectly on top of the ‘asthenosphere’?

Then again, the realm of analogue modelling isn’t all that grim… Even though you cannot blindly run many models to investigate the full parameter space, this is also a benefit. Analogue modelling requires you to make smart choices about the processes you seek to model. Then, the results are fairly close to the first-order response we consider appropriate for Earth. With numerical models we can simply add complexity on top of complexity on top of complexity, which makes it fairly difficult to constrain exactly what’s happening. Additionally, numerical models may produce exciting figures and results that seem to mimic what we interpret from our observations. In the end they simply numerically solve some equations. In analogue models on the other hand you actually see nature at work!

To conclude: analogue modelling is definitely worth the pain and effort (see João’s story). Unfortunately, research positions are limited, because it simply isn’t as sexy as numerical modelling. There are limited facilities worldwide, whereas for numerically modelling every university can provide you with a computer. So: get into it before the state of funding for analogue modelling becomes as comforting as the Dry Valleys of Antarctica!

Yours truly,

The Sassy Scientist

PS: This post was written after sitting through a disappointing analogue modelling session at EGU