Understanding eruption dynamics: insights from volcanic seismicity in Ecuador
This PhD was hosted in the School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh.
I liked the idea of being in a cohort of students from across a range of disciplines as well as your own research group.
What was your research about?
My research was focussed on small earthquakes generated at two neighbouring, but very different, volcanoes in central Ecuador. I looked at how these earthquakes occurred before, during and after eruptions to try to understand how the eruption was evolving. I developed a streamlines workflow to analyse quantify earthquakes, even with very limited geophysical monitoring. These methods could be applied to a single station and even a single component. I could then compare the types of seismicity observed at Tungurahua volcano (incredibly active, significant eruptive phase from 1999-2016) to Cayambe volcano (restless but no major eruptions in over 200 years).
I also was particularly interested in long-period earthquakes which rapidly repeat in a quick periodic phenomenon known as ‘drumbeat’ earthquakes. I used a Bayesian statistical approach to hindcast eruption times and interpret these sequences of earthquakes.
What made you apply to the E3 DTP?
I was really drawn to the structure of a DTP programme. I liked the idea of being in a cohort of students from across a range of disciplines as well as your own research group. The DTP also offered lots of opportunities beyond the PhD, such as internships and wider transferable skills training.
What did you find challenging in your PhD?
My PhD was not at all what I had expected! Prior to coming to Edinburgh, my only research experience really was from my Masters research thesis. Studying for over 4 years is a very different experience to a Masters project that lasts only a few months.
It was a challenging time, but it was a hugely rewarding process. I feel like by being able to publish some of my work, I’ve been able to make my small contribution to science. I’ve had some amazing opportunities to travel and conduct fieldwork in Ecuador. I think the thing that I was most surprised by, was the clarity towards the end of the writing process. You’ve been working on your subject for 3 or 4 years and it’s very satisfying to compile that into a document which represents your best knowledge and research.
Looking back, what would you have done differently?
I wish I’d taken more advantage of opportunities such as the Professional Internship Placement (PIP) Scheme. I started to reach out to institutions in the US about potential projects in February 2020. For obvious reasons, these projects never came to fruition and as time went on, it became more important to concentrate on writing and finishing the thesis. I remember thinking I couldn’t possibly do an internship in my first or second year as I just didn’t know enough to be useful to a company as an intern. Whereas, that’s actually the perfect time to do an internship as the end of the PhD process is just so much busier.
You’ve been working on your subject for 3 or 4 years and it’s very satisfying to compile that into a document which represents your best knowledge and research.
Which aspects of your PhD did you enjoy the most?
As well as my research I really enjoyed teaching. There are lots of opportunities to both demonstrate in large labs as well as independently leading tutorials, across undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the school. Teaching is a great way to build your confidence, and interpersonal skills. It also helps sometimes to cement the basics of your own science by returning to think about things you learnt as an undergraduate student yourself.
In 2020, I took my teaching one step further as I gained Associate Fellowship of AdvanceHE. This was my first experience of reading education literature and learning pedagogical theory, but it was really accessible, through a course offered by the Institute for Academic Development (IAD). It’s set me in a great position to apply for Fellowship in the next few years.
- I published two of my three research chapters – something I never thought possible when I came to Edinburgh!
- I attended conferences all over the world, from St Andrews to Montreal.
- I did two field trips to Ecuador to work with project partners at Instituto Geofísico Escuela Politécnica Nacional. In January 2018 I spent time at the Tungurahua Volcano Observatory conducting routine monitoring and field work in Tungurahua province. In August 2018 I also travelled to the Galápagos as part of a teaching project to develop online and virtual fieldwork materials.
- I was a tutor and demonstrator for undergraduate courses from 1st to 5th year. When I finally graduated with my PhD, I graduated in the same ceremony as some students who I’d taught for 4 years all the way through their degrees!
Which skills did you gain during your PhD?
Doing a PhD is the best way to gain all the skills you need to be a well-rounded scientist. From a technical aspect, my project is mostly computational so and I am certainly better at programming now, than when I started my PhD. I’ve really refined my writing skills, both from writing the thesis but also from preparing conference talks and posters. I am much more confident as a presenter, and I am now able to deliver a talk in front of a room of people. That’s certainly something I was not able to do very well before coming to Edinburgh.
But ultimately, doing a PhD is a test of project management. Whether you want to stay in academia or not, this is a hugely transferable skill. By completing a PhD you have demonstrated that you are able to steer a research project for 4 years, work with collaborators, generate tangible outputs at given deadlines, manage a budget and focus your efforts into different sub-projects at appropriate times.
Doing a PhD is the best way to gain all the skills you need to be a well-rounded scientist.
What have you done which would not have been possible out with the DTP?
As a DTP student I had a research and travel grant which allowed me two field visits to Ecuador. These were crucial to spend time with project partners working actively on geophysical monitoring and hazard management in Ecuador.
It also meant there were very few financial barriers to doing any training that I felt I needed to complete my PhD. In the first two years of my I completed residential courses in Advanced Scripting and Computing Techniques at the University of Manchester and Machine Learning in Seismology with LMU Munich. Both of these were hugely important to developing the workflow I eventually implemented in my research, but would have been completely inaccessible without DTP funding.
How has your PhD helped you to decide on a career path?
I was fairly new to volcano seismology when I started my PhD but the last four years has confirmed to me, that this is exactly what I want to be doing. Getting to do fieldwork and study these volcanoes really is the coolest job in the world! I know for sure now that I want to stay in the world of geophysical hazard monitoring and research. I also discovered how much I enjoy teaching and I think that eventually I would like to be in a teaching role.
I took a small break from academia after finishing my PhD. I worked in a temporary post in Student Administration within the University for around 8 months. In April 2022 I started as a postoc here in the School of Geosciences. I’m still working with volcanic earthquakes, but I’m now part of a much larger project team, looking to understand caldera dynamics at Sierra Negra volcano, Galápagos.