Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Supervisor profile – Professor Mike Kendall

DSC00481Professor Mike Kendall

Professor in Earth Sciences

School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol

PhD (1992) “Contributions to the theory and modelling of seismic waves in anisotropic inhomogeneous media”

Supervisor: Prof. C.J. Thomson

1) The Twitter challenge: Describe your PhD in 140 characters (if you can remember it)

Developed theory and numerical methods to track seismic waves through subduction zones, testing the signature of different geodynamic models.


2) What was the best part of your PhD?

The sense of ownership of my project/research – and the thrill of publishing. I felt a bit disillusioned with undergraduate studies and went on to a job with Chevron. After a short spell in the oil-patch I was ready to return to Uni. I started a research based Masters but quickly realised that I like research and changed to a PhD programme. A fringe benefit of my PhD was the social life – I made many good friends that I am still in close contact with.


3) If you had to start your PhD again now, what would you do differently?

In addition to modelling, I would look at some real seismic data. Access to global datasets is much easier now and tools to look at seismic data are well developed. Increased computing power would also mean that I could do a lot more – test more models, etc.

4) Why did you decide to stay in academia?

Research is addictive – once you experience the buzz you get from solving a difficult problem or presenting your work at a scientific conference it is difficult to stop. I also really like the environment – you meet some truly brilliant and interesting people.  I feel very fortunate to be paid to work on the scientific problems that peak my curiosity. I also really enjoy teaching.


5) What’s the biggest challenge about supervising PhD students?

Getting the best out of a student. They arrive with diverse backgrounds and varying skills. A key challenge is to figure out what they are good at and what they enjoy, and then to encourage them to exploit their strengths and develop new skills. It is very difficult to predict how a PhD project will develop – sometime the ones that seem ‘in the bag’ can be the most challenging projects. I always try to start with a small starter idea or task, before letting students branch off in their own directions.


6) And what’s the most rewarding aspect?

Supervising PhD students is the best part of my job. It is in incredibly rewarding to see a student develop over 3-4 years and turn into an independent researcher. I never cease to be amazed at how quickly students learn and very quickly the interaction becomes a research collaboration, rather than a student-teacher relationship. Students have a great sense of naïve optimism that leads to some very rewarding and unexpected results.

7) What’s been your most exciting travel perk in your career to date?

Tough one. I have been very lucky in doing fieldwork in places as diverse as the Canadian Arctic, the Seychelles and Ethiopia. Ethiopia is a particularly special place – spectacular scenery, wonderful people, great data.

Erte Ale lava lake by day - 3

Elspeth is currently undertaking a PhD in Geology at the University of Bristol. Her research focuses on understanding the mechanisms of ground deformation seen at a number of Kenyan Rift volcanoes. Elspeth tweets as @eamrobertson.