2 January 2011

Geolutions and reflections for 2011

Posted by Jessica Ball

Happy New Year!

I tend not to make traditional resolutions (get fit, eat healthy, etc. etc.) because I know I’ll eventually forget about them, but I do like to make geolutions, or geologically-oriented plans for the new year. I thought I might list a few, as well as a few grad-school-related thoughts I’ve been mulling over in the past few weeks.

This year, I resolve to….

  • Not fly through Chicago for any reason whatsoever if there is a snowflake within 100 miles of O’Hare or Midway. (Possibly also avoid San Francisco International as well; if you read any of my AGU updates, you’ll know that getting to and from the meeting was probably the worst travel experience I have ever had. And there was probably a way to avoid it, of course.)
  • Start taking macro photos with my new phone, especially since you can do it easily with a hand lens. (I don’t have an Iphone, but I figure the trick should work just as well with my new LG. We’ll see!)
  • Start reading the neglected books in my non-fiction collection, especially my as-yet untouched John McPhee compendium. (I know, bad me for not reading Assembling California before I went to AGU!)
  • Enter a writing competition or two. (And hopefully I’ll be competing with some of my fellow geobloggers, hm?)
  • Visit some new places in my adopted home state – and out of it.
  • Go geocaching again (especially where I can complete some Earthcaches).

But seriously, the holidays have given me time to reflect on a number of things geological, especially graduate school. Conversations around this time of year are inevitably about catching up with what people have been doing, and in my case I’m usually saying something along the lines of “yes, I’m still in grad school and expect to be there for another couple of years”. Somehow, this always induces a mild case of panic for me – am I too slow? Am I really achieving what I’m supposed to? Is it bad that I have a few abstracts but no published articles yet? Timing-wise, I know (logically) that I’m not doing too bad. I knew when I switched to a PhD program that I wasn’t going to get done in four years; the scope of my research was too wide, and the field portion was limited by both logistics and timing (aka rainy season in Guatemala). I was able to wrap up a chunk of research and present it at AGU last month, and I’ve been devoting a bit of my break to working on the chapter of my dissertation that deals with it. I have the advantage of being self-funded (for now), with the option of TA-ing again later if I have to, so I’m not panicked about the money side of it, at least.

But I still often feel like I’m behind the game academically. The theoretical side of my research involves modeling, and I am not a programmer, engineer or mathematician, having decided to major in geology and minor in archaeology in college. Had I known that I was going to be embarking on this research, of course, I would have taken more math and maybe some engineering courses as an undergrad. But there was no way to know that I would need them, since I wasn’t even entirely sure that I was going to be headed for grad school back then. And it’s difficult to suddenly acquire a whole bunch of skills unrelated to your major, especially when you’re starting graduate school without having taken many classes in your primary area of study (in my case, volcanology). Sometimes I get really discouraged, because I feel like I’m expected to have a background that I’m still working on building. My committee did approve my dissertation proposal, so (I hope) they must have felt I could handle the work it involved, but there are days when I question whether I’m really equal to the task.

It’s hard to be emotionally distanced from something that you put so much effort into, but I think that will have to be one of my main goals for this year. I’ll just have to keep plugging away, plan my time as well as I can, take whatever classes I can fit in (fluid dynamics and maybe some more thermodynamics this semester, hooray), and try not to get too discouraged over it. And maybe throw in a field trip or two to keep from going stir-crazy. Montserrat looks nice this time of year…