Grad Story #19
Grad Story #19
You are originally from Tallahassee, Florida and did your undergraduate degree at Florida State University. Why did you choose UND for your PhD? And how did you become interested in Antarctica?
I worked at the Antarctic Marine Geology Research Facility (AMGRF) at Florida State University as an undergrad and was immediately attracted to the remote and isolated continent of Antarctica. I chose UND specifically because of my faculty advisor, Dr. Jaakko Putkonen and at UND I am able to follow my two research passions: Geomorphology (the study of earth surface processes) and Antarctica.
Now you are undertaking your PhD. What is your main research interest?
I’m particularly interested in geological surface processes working in Antarctica today and in the past, specifically in areas where there is no snow or ice cover. These types of areas make up approximately 2% of the whole continent and are very unique places.
You joined the small team of researchers from UND that travelled to Antarctica recently for two months. Can you explain what your research question is and the types of data you were collecting?
We want to understand how quickly ice free valleys in the Antarctic interior are evolving. How fast are rocks and soil moving, where are they going and at what time scales do these transport processes work? Almost no information exists about the valleys we were in. We placed several wind meters throughout the valleys, soil traps to catch moving surface soil, collected a ton of rock samples (literally) and took highly precise GPS measurements. We are also analyzing isotopes that accumulate in rock and soil samples over time to understand erosion rates over millions of years.
Antarctic research must be challenging, even during the Austral summer season. You were in a remote area for an extended period, leaving little or no footprint. How do you prepare for such a trip?
The United States Antarctic Program (USAP) was the logistical backbone of our field season. All our extreme cold weather (ECW) clothing, camping gear and transportation was provided by USAP. Our main concern was completing as much field work as possible and not forgetting some small yet significant piece of field equipment amongst all our other gear. The terrain in the valleys is extremely difficult to walk on. No trails or paths, just loose unforgiving rock everywhere and mountain slopes that seem ready to rock avalanche with every step. Very sturdy hiking boots are a must paired with a high level of fitness.
How does the weather/climate affect your day’s work?
We had great weather this year. I couldn’t be happier with it especially since it was warmer than Grand Forks in the winter. You adapt to being outside 24hrs a day for 2 months and given that our team is from North Dakota we had plenty of practice dressing for the cold. Work goes on as usual despite the weather conditions. You learn to love the cold, the wind, and the intense sun that never sets. You’re always tired and you’re always hungry. I like to sleep and I like to eat so it was a perfect fit.
You presented at an international conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina last year. Can you describe what it’s like to present at such a conference among peers and colleagues?
Going to Buenos Aires was a great honor and opportunity thanks to grants by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and ND-EPSCoR. It was important for me to see all the great cross-disciplinary Antarctic science from around the world. It’s a little worrisome at first, preparing to present in front of highly respected scientists and your peer group, but everyone is very supportive. In the end I came away with lots of connections and a new view of Antarctica. I recently received an honor from that conference for best poster presentation in my session and theme.
What other opportunities have you had as a graduate student?
Because of our department I’ve been exposed to geology throughout the country and have become familiar with many industry technologies including LiDAR, a 3D laser mapping tool, seismic imaging techniques, geothermal energy in North Dakota, isotope analysis in our geochemistry lab, along with teaching undergraduate geology labs, and plenty of geology field trips.
Graduate students and faculty often talk about the importance of mentorship or having a collegial relationship with one’s advisor. Has this been your experience also?
Absolutely, the relationship I have with my advisor is probably the most important one I have at UND and I couldn’t be happier. Having a rapport with other graduate students is also very important. They are the ones that show you the ropes and hopefully make life a little easier especially in the beginning.
Can you recall any funny or memorable stories about your time as a grad student at UND?
My first winter in Grand Forks was interesting. I’m from Florida and only had a bicycle for transportation and still do. I learned what North Dakota is all about that winter!
Where do you hope your degree will lead you?
I’d like to continue doing research, teaching and fieldwork at the university level. I’m happiest with what I’m doing right now, so it seems like I should keep on doing it.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Ride a bike or walk to school as much as possible. It gives time for reflection, you get some exercise when you don’t have time to exercise and you get to see Grand Forks in a little more detail.
,” Grad Stories, accessed March 23, 2018, http://gradstories.omeka.net/items/show/20.