22 December 2012

5 years already?!

Posted by Jessica Ball


It certainly doesn’t seem like I’ve spent a significant chunk of my life blogging, but the calendar doesn’t lie: it’s been 5  years since my first post on Magma Cum Laude. When I first started, I never really imagined that this would become such a big part of my professional identity as a geoscientist, but I can’t say that I would have changed the path I’ve taken – because it’s led me to some really interesting places! Since I began this blog with the intent to write about becoming a grad student in volcanology, I’ve had the opportunity to write about everything from eruption triggering to fossiling in Western New York to numerical modeling to how many jelly beans it would take to equal the mass of a lava dome. Seriously, everything.

Blogging has introduced me to so many fantastic people that I probably would never have met (in and outside of my field), and it’s opened doors professionally as well. I’m still surprised whenever someone at a conference recognizes me from my blog, and it’s incredibly flattering to know that people appreciate my writing. (Make no mistake, it’s good for me too – there’s nothing like having your writing out there for critique every time you publish a post to make you hone your skills constantly!)

But this blog was originally meant to chronicle my grad school career, and looking back on my posts, it’s definitely been a pretty awesome ride.

There’s that time when I decided that UB wouldn’t be so bad as a grad school after all, even if at the time I considered Buffalo a dreary industrial city. (Visually, it can be, but I’ve grown to love it since.)

I took my last vacation-vacation to Costa Rica, where I encountered my first Central American volcanoes.

I visited the Niagara Gorge (one my current favorite hiking spots) for the first time.

I started talking about the science of eruption forecasting (and why volcanologists don’t predict things). In light of the mess surrounding the L’Aquila earthquake and trials, this is more relevant than ever!

I finally got started on my field work at the Santiaguito lava dome complex in Guatemala – and believe me, it wasn’t an auspicious start. But I kept going back for more!

I received a National Science Foundation Research Fellowship – which is still one my proudest moments, and wouldn’t have been possible without all the writing practice I was getting here – and got launched on the trajectory to a PhD.

I discovered that volcanoes and archaeology and amazing food mix incredibly well in Italy. (Seriously, I may pull an “Under the Tuscan Sun” and buy a villa and retire there. Because cured meat and mozzarella di bufala and gelato are my weaknesses, and I’m pretty sure that’s mostly what I consumed on that trip. Yum.)

I partnered with the International Volcano Monitoring Fund to help the folks at the Santiaguito Volcano Observatory (who were incredibly helpful and patient with me during my field work) to get some basic equipment for monitoring the domes at Santa Maria. (They can still use help, so if you’re looking for a geology-related charity to donate to this holiday season, please consider the IVM-Fund!)

I made my first trip to Los Alamos to learn how to become a modeler. It was a nice, quiet jaunt, but subsequent trips included quite a bit more…excitement. (This year, the excitement was of the astronomical rather than the natural hazard variety, thank goodness.)

I got my first look at a Caribbean volcano on the Island of Montserrat, my advisor’s old stomping grounds and a fantastic geologic laboratory.

The blog moved from a self-published format to the AGU Blogosphere, and I joined a great group of extremely talented geobloggers in one of the first Earth science blogging networks sponsored by a professional society. It’s a choice I’ve been incredibly happy with, especially since it’s opened up a number of opportunities for me within AGU, and has got me noticed in larger circles as well. Thanks for inviting us, AGU!

I attended my first AGU Fall Meeting (talk about science overload!) This year, I even made a foray into running a little bit of the show myself…

UB started work on their new facility for experimental volcanism (and we’ve been blowing things up ever since…)

I went back to my alma mater (the College of William & Mary – yes, both of them) for their 50th Anniversary Celebration. And gave a speech in which I’m pretty sure I mentioned that I used to be afraid of my advisor and had a problem with eating my vegetables… (Speeches definitely get more interesting after you’ve had a bit of wine.)

Dr. Kiki of Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour interviewed me and I became semi-internet-famous! For a little while. You know how it goes. But I really like the Magma, P.I. nickname that someone on Twitter came up with for me. Next set of business cards I get, that’s totally going on there.

I discovered the joys of numerical modeling.

…and because numerical modeling has begun to consume my life (and I’d like to graduate at some point), I started talking about my nerdy habit of taking photos of benchmarks, and discovered that this is actually a legitimate hobby.

There was a lot more, but you don’t need a complete recap of my blogging career. To finish off, I decided to check up on what the anniversary ‘material’ is for the 5-year mark, and discovered that the traditional 5-year anniversary gift is, for some reason, wood. As one might guess, wood and volcanoes don’t combine very well. So instead, here’s one of my favorite photos: a little bitty ohia tree popping through a lava flow on Kilauea.

To everyone who’s been along for the ride, thanks so much – and I hope you’ll keep coming back for more geoblogging!