Category Archives: Topics

Shadow of the Tomb Raider: a volcano-videogame review

Hello fellow videogame and volcano friends. I wanted to share this with you sooner, but I have been super busy and recovering from passing my PhD viva, doing my corrections and teaching duties…I also have a load of new games.

Anyway, The Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Absolutely loved this game. In part due to  loving the trilogy but also the ethical questions raised in being a coloniser and just taking stuff without understanding it (although Lara did turn it around in the end). Also because of the geohazards presented. Not only was there volcanic eruptions (and related hazards) but also tsunamis and earthquakes.

Like Spyro, Lego, BoW and others, areas of the game were revisited, and walked through the feasibility of the volcanism presented using the following criteria out of 10, 1 being unrealistic and 10 being realistic:

  1. Aesthetics
  2. Accessibility
  3. Viscosity
  4. Death
  5. Overall plausibility

Revisiting this game was tricky in places, as there are certain places you cannot return to because they have either been destroyed or I forgot where they were. So, I did as many as possible post-main storyline, where places were almost free of people/hungry animals wanting to kill Lara, but as this is a Tomb Raider game, the environment still had it out for her. For others, such as the tsunami/earthquake/volcanic eruption/lahar sequences, I did new game plus. So took a little longer than I would have hoped.

Before I go raiding however, I would like to introduce to you a feature I want seen in all future games: the photography mode.

SOTTR (2)

Just by pausing the game, you can choose the photography mode option in the menu and you are given many options to get the perfect screenshot. Not only is there a field of view and depth perception options, there is saturation, contrast, brightness and filter options. I can hide these options with “Y” and then because these images are saved in game, I just used the Xbox’s screenshot function to get the best images. More like this please!

Results of my volcano raiding adventures: logical with a dash of “not possible”.

SOTTR

Because I love maps, almost the first thing I do when I start a new game, is look at the in-game map. When I saw this for a first time, my reaction was “ooohhh yes, when is the eruption?!” Turns out I had to wait a while.

During the prologue portion of the game, Lara and her friend Jonah are exploring in Mexico. The geohazards journey begins when Lara comes across a legend depicting a sequence of “cataclysms” in the form of a tsunami, storm, earthquake and a volcanic eruption.

SOTTR_gif(1)

I like this, as I have an interest in an area of research called “geomythology”. I touched upon in my From Dust review. After existing the tomb and getting into a scuffle with the main antagonist, the first geohazard occurs.

SOTTR_gif(3)

 

I cannot speak from experience, but tsunamis are a terrifying hazard. I think this sequence captures it well. There plenty of opportunities to kill Lara if not timing jumps right or you bump her into something you were not supposed to.

It is possible to survive them, but chances are not very high, mainly due to the force of the water and the many obstacles in the way. I talk more about them in my From Dust review.

Next part of the game, Lara and Jonah travel to Peru, but crash land in the jungle due to a storm that “came out of nowhere”. That was the second foreseen hazard. I shall skip onto a sidequest tomb I explored, I found the geology quite interesting. In this tomb, it was beneath(?) an old location where oil was extracted.

SOTTR_gif(5)

Oh and it also had wolves in it. It reminds me of the Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan. Which is related to methane gas deliberately set on fire since 1971 and is still ongoing. Not oil, but it just reminded me of it. This is certainly beyond my expertise, maybe oil does behave like this? Another location, part of the main quest, has pools which maybe oil or not, which are constantly on fire.

Another sidequest tomb had natural pockets of sulphur dioxide (as Lara remarks “uhh it smells like rotten eggs”), which can be set on fire and cause some explosions. Whilst I question how people managed to construct something to concentrate the gas, it is entirely realistic to have pockets of natural gas, as societies extract them for energy.

SOTTR_gif(4)

Next hazard was the earthquakes, first when I reach a main quest tomb:

SOTTR_gif(6)

I have to hand it to Lara, she somehow knew that it was a foreshock? There were 2 foreshocks, before the larger, final earthquake happened within this sequence:

SOTTR_gif(7)

I think my confusion here is the terminology used, as it conflicts with what the earthquakes were described as in the next area of San Juan’s Mission. In this area, right in the shadow of a volcano , people describe the earthquakes as volcanic tremors. Tectonic earthquakes and volcanic earthquakes are different.

SOTTR_Nov19(13)SOTTR_Nov19(14)

They mainly differ because of their origins: whilst tectonic earthquakes are the result of tensions within the plate tectonics and fault lines, volcanic earthquakes are related to magma movement, the fractures they cause but also strong volcanic explosions. Of course, it can be hard to distinguish between the two without the proper instruments, the perceptions and life experiences people have had.

Approaching near the end of the game and emerging from a tomb, the volcano just is…erupting. With no other earthquakes or signs that its activity was increasing. It was confusing. From the following screenshots, you can see it is a kind of eruption that would not go unnoticed. Or it is maybe because Lara was underground in between the earthquakes and the eruption taking place. I do not know, I feel like something was missing in letting me know that a full on eruption was happening.

Critiquing the eruption itself, there are some good elements and some missing opportunities. Good thing: the eruptive column. It dominates the sky, it does appear to drift in the direction of behind the volcano, making that part of the sky dark. The lava fountaining is also realistic, but I do wonder if certain hazard processes are missing here. The shape of the volcano is similar to Mt. Mayon in the Philippines. This video has shows the features I think are missing. Namely a little bit more lava spatter but also pyroclastic density currents (PDCs). But, perhaps they could have occurred behind the volcano where we cannot see? PDCs can travel down a defined river valley path but also blanket the flanks of volcanoes.

SOTTR_gif(8)

One thing I neither fully agree with or disagree with is the depiction of ashfall. What is different compared to games reviewed so far (apart from Pokémon Emerald), is that ash actively represented. What I do question is all the little specks of embers. Volcanic ash is not as incandescent as what is shown here. On the same note, Lara and all others in the area, should have been wearing eye and breathing protection. Volcanic ash are tiny particles of rock and if inhaled, can cause serious respiratory problems and an irritant to your eyes. Nonetheless, it is the most realistic in what has been reviewed to date.

After fighting a bunch of people and losing the artefact to the antagonist of the game, something unexpected happened. Interestingly, this earthquake (and there was a distant sound of an explosion) happened first:

SOTTR_gif(9)

And then this:

SOTTR_gif(10)

A lahar! Lahars are volcanic mudflows: slurry mixtures of volcanic material, debris and water (or ice). Generally was surprised that this was put into the game but the rest of the sequence…I had questions. First is that this begins in a street. Has this place been built on an old river channel? If so, that is serious neglect of land-use planning. If not…I do not know, volcanologists should have mapped this area and produced a hazard map. The lahar does seem like the right consistency, then again, lahars have different categories depending on the ratio of water and sediment content. You may also see a volcanic bomb just before the camera pans around. I cannot tell what the distance from the volcano to Lara’s position is, but generally speaking, volcanic bombs do not travel beyond 5km from a volcanic centre – mainly because they are too heavy to travel any further.

Second issue I had are the huge gaps that appear in the ground? I honestly cannot explain if and how it is connected to the volcanic eruption and the lahar. Maybe loads of sinkholes just happened coincidentally?

SOTTR_Nov19(21)

SOTTR_gif(11)

Actually, this was the biggest issue I had with the lahar sequence. I cannot understand it at all.

SOTTR_GCaiman Gif (2)

Last issue was how the sequence ended. There just happened to be a coastal area nearby, some debris flowed out with the lahar and then it just…ends? It was quite a substantial lahar, I think it would carry on pouring into the coastal area for a lot longer than it did.

That was the last of hazards in the main game. But, there are two DLC (downloadable content) called “The Forge” and “The Grand Caiman”, where volcanism returns. The Forge started it off when you first arrive in an area where you fight off some wolves:

SOTTR_The Forge (1)

After a bit of navigating the environment, Lara reaches the main puzzle area:

SOTTR_The Forge to Gif (1)SOTTR_The Forge (4)

Exploding sulphur dioxide pockets also feature, which are used to turn the central tower. I am intrigued how a wood, metal and brick could endure the lava and extreme heat for so long, however the base of the tower seems to be constructed into the local rock. I am also uncertain how far below ground we are, but is it possible to reach a cave system that has a lava lake area? I do not think we have real life examples to help us with that answer.

The second DLC was more interesting. We have a volcano in eruption, but the ashfall is more realistic. Moreover, Lara reacts to the ash but putting her hand over her mouth and coughing. In fact, it causes damage to her.

SOTTR_GCaiman Gif (1)

She is seriously under prepared in exploring in these areas.

SOTTR_The Grand Caiman (8)SOTTR_The Grand Caiman (5)

However, further into the DLC quest tomb we hit familiar territory:

And with that, let us have the verdict on The Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s representation of volcanism (and other hazards).

  1. Aesthetics
    • 9 – It is unmistakably a beautiful game in an environment made to be as believable as possible. Texture on the lava appears accurate with the darkened patches related to cooling.
  2. Accessibility
    • 8 – If the invisible boundaries are not there, then falling into the lava is possible. The tsunami and lahar sequences put you right into the action, so highly accessible on purpose. The earthquakes and volcanic eruption are mainly for driving the story forward and are background imagery.
  3. Viscosity
    • 6 – This was hard to determine, but as per usual in videogames, it appears too runny.
  4. Death
    • 9 – If you know your Tomb Raider games, then the death sequences are sometimes too graphic. In all sequences apart from the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can you be killed by the hazards. However, and I apologise that I did not record a clip to show, if you fall in lava, you simply just disappear. Lahar was a bit more realistic by sinking into it.
  5. Overall plausibility
    • 8 – The game’s environment was made to be believable, so the hazards tried to be too. Whilst I have some issues with the earthquake and lahar sequences, overall, it does a pretty good job in my opinion.

There you have it, very long overdue. I hope it was enjoyable! I will not be reviewing for a while now, but hopefully will be back reviewing next year. There are plenty of volcano-videogame reviews if you have not already seen them:

Happy gaming 🙂

Space and time (for diversity)

This week’s blog post for my Black History Month mini-series is from Divya M. Persaud, a PhD student in Mars imaging. She is providing her American perspective in diversity in space science. Do remember to hop on over to her blog site and Twitter: @Divya_M_P

*

As a child first learning about science, it bothered me endlessly that there was an infinite void we could never touch. But something about planets, being so similar to Earth—in being material, in being colorful and spherical and relatively close—absolutely enchanted me as much as they were terrifying. For me, the discomfort with the scale of the Universe now often gives way to this sense that space belongs to absolutely no one—and thus knowledge of it belongs to all of us.

I started using the hashtag “#spaceWOC” in 2014 with colleague and friend Katy Wimberly (https://mkrodriguezwimberly.github.io/) as a way to celebrate being a woman of color in the space sciences. I find this celebration important; I have worked alongside a total of three women of color researchers in space science and exploration in the past eight years (not including a very small handful of interns), and have studied under no women of color geology professors. I am often the “diverse” face of an entire department or even institute, in both geology and space science, a reality that places certain responsibilities and burdens—unspoken (and unpaid) champion of diversity; silent and compliant witness of blatant racism, ableism, and misogyny, which is common in the physical sciences—on me, including when I was underage during my first two years in the field. The network of “spaceWOC” and women of color geologists I now have exists almost entirely via social media.

In both the earth and space sciences, we often talk about a “leaky pipeline” contributing to a lack of diversity in the field. But when our conferences, fieldwork, and classrooms are extremely inaccessible (physically, racially, financially), including due to directed harassment that we often feel that we cannot effectively report while maintaining safety, this isn’t a process of “leaking,” purely “unconscious bias,” or even a lack of diversity. The paucity of women of color (et al.) in any academic field lies in active exclusion of certain people from accessing knowledge about the world to which we belong. We actively eliminate the critical, creative perspectives of many—including Indigenous knowledges, analytical methods developed by disabled people, etc. However, importantly, beyond the framework of what labor minorities bring to the field, we also reify broader societal structures in places of learning, where we might expect (and certainly proudly claim) to think beyond discrimination. These claims in particular—even the most earnest—are often empty promises as those of us who remain slowly watch our friends leave our fields due to burn-out, heartbreak, and self-preservation. The question often becomes: is this worth it?

I—we—can have as much historical materialist analysis about why this is the state of academe as we’d like, but what can I do immediately to distribute this knowledge? In what way can I decolonize geology and space science—in our labs, out in the field, and in our practice—and serve my belief that space belongs to everyone? Critically, how can we study something so immense, the infinite rendering of our will and imagination, the ultimate test of human violence and power as well as hope and innovation, without most of us feeling incensed to deliver all of this knowledge to the entire population of this Earth? To, at the very least, interrogate academic hierarchy? And how can what we study color the ways we understand, e.g., the recruitment of international students (like myself) at British institutions of higher education relative to the dearth of British BAME Ph.D. candidates in the sciences?

Sagan discussed how knowledge only augments wonder; the fights I’ve had to stay in this field have similarly only increased my wonder, because there’s something all the more imperative about pursuing this knowledge when you have to consistently demand to study it. In 2018, I’m still telling myself it’s worth it. I have found incredible community on both sides of the Atlantic, in planetary science, astrophysics, geology, and ecology; I have my champions in my friends, family, and myself. But because I find it worth it, I’m making it my job not to make others feel like staying in space science and geology is worth it, but making these fields worth it. This work won’t finish with me, and that’s something with which I must contend. But I can try my hardest.

As we look in the face of something so mysterious and beyond human scale, something entrenched in probably millions of imaginations, remember that we have no claim to space, and that we belong to it. Our imaginations beget reality and we are able to investigate and admire this little solar system that is everyone’s to understand—and make it better.

*

If you missed the first part of this mini-series, it was me talking about my viewpoints on diversity in UK earth science:  Curating the ‘Minorities in STEM’ account: Part 4.

Curating the ‘Minorities in STEM’ account: Part 4

Hello! So…it has been a while. Since Part 3, I finished my time as a visitor PhD at Aarhus University in Denmark and now that paper has been submitted for review (and is now available as a preprint…AND we have comments!), PhD work has been going well, just re-working on all my chapters and I am now a Teaching Fellow in Physical Geography at Newcastle University!

So back to the task at hand, Part 4 is based on a thread I did for the Minorities in STEM Twitter account back in April, and I am delighted to have guest bloggers throughout the month providing their perspectives on the diversity (or there lack of) in Earth Sciences to last the month…enjoy!

*

I will start by sharing this article about who has PhDs in Geology in the US…spoiler: it’s not very diverse in terms of ethnicity. When I read this article, I wanted to see if there are any similar stats for the UK. I found that there is, but it is not broken down into earth science let alone geology, which in my opinion presents a few problems. First problem is the data itself. There are a lot of countries that are classified as “Asian”. Same goes for generally grouping people by the continents. Each country is different, with different cultures, what qualifications/careers seen as “valuable”. Despite that, it does paint a not-very-diverse picture for UK universities: in 2015-2016, only 29 % of BME students were doing a full time first degree and the same group are less likely to achieve a 1st or 2:1.

It reminds me of the report that came out at the beginning of April about equality amongst UK universities: the University of Hull ranked first (woo!) and the Russell Group was not surprisingly at the bottom. Equality and diversity go hand in hand, sure you say you’re doing loads of outreach to encourage people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get interested in STEM but that doesn’t necessarily translate into them going to your university. There are so many factors.

I’m not saying I know all the reasons nor have solutions, but culture plays a big role BUT so does representation and visibility of how diverse STEM is. It goes beyond gender, when I mean diversity I mean ethnicity, sexuality, disabilities even your route into your career too. Just look how successful Black Panther was. I personally loved Shuri because she was literally a STEM princess! Now imagine how awesome it would be that other movies put the spotlight on other BAME STEM careers. It would be so awesome!

Back to the point: I have not found any solid data to see the ethnic diversity in UK earth science, particularly geology where I fall under. I’m serious when I say this: I can count on my hand who I know. If there are any more, PLEASE let me know!

The earth sciences are big on science communication and public engagement. I’m big on it and only wish I had more money and time to do more! Men and women in this field love to do it. Buuut ehhh…while having an increasing number of women in the field is great…there is a big lag in the other forms of diversity I talked about: ethnicity, sexuality, disabilities, career path and economic background. If we are serious in encouraging kids to take up STEM as careers, we need to be truly serious about the VISIBILITY of the representations.

We all have role models growing up right? TV shows/documentaries/movies that made you go: “I want to be like them one day” well…how about increase the visibility of the “other”? We’re everywhere! You just have to look! We’re all STEM nerds here, let us inspire!

The earth sciences in the UK are diverse in terms of men and women. In terms of other genders: nope. Sexuality? Yeah it’s getting there. Economic background, yes it’s on track. Ethnicity? Errrrmmmm….

This is where I’d love to see statistics on BAME earth science professionals here in the UK. Are we just that few? Or is there an issue of visibility here? Even in terms of retaining us in this field: is it like the women academic “leaky pipe” but worse for ethnic minorities? Diversity in all its forms only serves as good for science and the public. Of course, I am not saying that white people need to move out of the way, but instead, we need to stand shoulder to shoulder. If there are few of us minorities in earth science…then maybe ALL of us from all stages of STEM careers need to check ourselves, others, their institutions and truly come together to address the issue. Champion those who are doing awesome, help/mentor those who need help. And make all our diverse lives VISIBLE.

Maybe it’s my naivety and optimism. Maybe I’m just sick and tired of hearing the same stuff about “diversity” and it just sweeps ethnicity under the rug and nothing serious gets done about it. I’m an impatient person, so for me, actions speak louder than words. BE THE CHANGE! Following on from this, is nothing being done because we’re all just waiting for someone else to get the ball rolling? Can’t be bothered? Too much red tape? Do us minority folk really got to pull ALL the weight here? I have chronic fatigue folks, most days I’m too tired.

I will end this post by stating that, talking about addressing these issues is one thing, but actually taking action to improve the lack of UK earth science ethnic diversity is another thing. It’s a cultural, equality and educational issue that everyone needs to tackle.

Jazmin

Crowdfunding an earth science podcast

Hi! So I am setting up an earth science, science communication-themed podcast called “What on Earth?!” with my friend Nuzhat Tabassum, a fellow geology PhD student at Bristol.

Despite how visibly prevalent Earth Science is and the impacts it can have on communities, it is one of the least accessible science. The school curriculum has very little exposure to geological studies and even among students that choose to study Earth Sciences at a degree level, the student population is not representative. Earth Science is just underrated!

So to address this, we will be creating a podcast that covers current earth science news and, invite earth scientists to discuss their work and their science topic. This cannot be done without your help!

Donations will cover equipment, recording and editing software and launching a website with our own domain.

Crowdfunding page: click here

What on Earth?! Podcast Twitter account: click here

Jazmin

Curating the ‘Minorities in STEM’ account: Part 3

As well as discussing mental health in academia, I did a thread on support networks, to help make academia more bearable.

*

Building up a support network whilst being in academia makes the work more bearable. Not only can it help de-stress, but also help with workload, maybe even lead to research collaborations! This is interesting to see how organic theses networks can be, because in disaster research (and others) there is thing called “resilience”, and a social network is one measurement of disaster resilience. When disaster strikes, individuals, households, communities, even a whole country can gain help to recover with their network.Having such a social network in academia should not be any different. When things get tough, call upon your friends and family to help things get better! And it is a two way thing, if your friend is in a rough patch…help them!

These support networks can take on so many forms: going for a coffee, doing some sports together, a night out clubbing or going to the pub (and doing a pub quiz…or karaoke?!), doing literally any kind of fund activity you can do together! You build up a friendship and a strong bond 🙂 As a side: pets are great too!

The diversity of the group(s) and what you do is up to you. An additional group that could be beneficial to anyone is finding people who share a similar culture to you. That way, if you have moved to a place that does not have your cultural community, you make your own! My support groups include fellow PhDs and postdocs here in Aarhus, Denmark and back at Hull.

As well as offline, online support networks is great for connecting people around the world. These have become just as important to me, particularly in the volcanology community where generally we can be found everywhere…because volcanoes are everywhere! Most of my online interactions are through Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes we video call/Skype too! Conversations can be helping make sense of our writing we are stuck on, but most of time, it is just to hangout!

Being friendly, helping each other, championing each other, promoting, praising etc. based on creating a positive and strong team/research community, could be the starting point to making academia seem less “hostile” and the competitiveness less intimidating to an early career researcher. If everyone felt acknowledged and appreciated, not only does that improve everyone’s moods and attitudes to their work, but their institutions too. This in turn, improves productivity! Which could make REF, TEF, student satisfaction etc. better!

I believe that building up support networks, helping each other out, not only makes academia more bearable but improves productivity. Which brings me to pointing out some troubles in academia when it comes to pushing people out. If you are strongly opinionated (like me) or have views that differ from everyone else, they are either looked upon as inspirational, or as a threat. Even if your viewpoint is valid, it will not matter, because you have hurt someone’s ego. Ego can be a terrible thing. It becomes the case of “your wrong, I’m right”. Which should not be the STEM environment, we are all learning about the world together, not everything has to have a right or wrong answer. But trust me, that will not stop some trying to rain on your parade.

Throw in the competitiveness of academia, and all the intense stuff of academia I mentioned in my previous post, you could be pushed out. It sucks. That is why having both online and offline multiple support networks are great as a social network and in turn, your form of resilience. Or you know…maybe the person(s) you are working with are just total ********* and I have said that to many of my friends who have been having a hard time with their co-workers. Why y’all gotta be mean? We are all here to do science, LET US DO SCIENCE IN A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT.

But haters gonna hate, surround yourself with positive, loving and engaging colleagues, friends and family outside of academia and be there for one another offline and/or online. It has helped me get through rough patches without a doubt.

It may take a while for the “hostile” and toxic environment of academia to change, but building up your support network, do loads of fun stuff where you can, and things may just get better for us and our successive STEM generations 🙂

Jazmin

Curating the ‘Minorities in STEM’ account: Part 2

Last week I summarised about my journey into volcanology and the influences of my heritage and disability had on that journey. Another thread I talked about was mental health in academia.

*

I suffer from stress and anxiety. And in academia, it has been talked about a lot recently, but it is not a new thing. It has always been there. From what I have gathered from colleagues and reading about it, it is due to a few things: 1) lack of job security; 2) limited support management; and 3) a high workload. In addition, particularly for early career researchers such as myself, it is uncertainty. I feel like although being super into historical and social volcanology, I have set myself up for failure because nowhere really wants to let me fully embrace everything I have learned. I want to stay in academia so I can continue researching and engaging, but it is an uncertain place. This is because my topic is super-niche. But of course, I do have expertise in other areas, mainly disaster risk/resilience/vulnerability. I could technically research any hazard I wanted, but my first love is volcanoes and the people that live around them.

Getting to research volcanoes for a living is not guaranteed when you get a PhD in it. This makes me uncertain in staying in academia. It makes me anxious because I have worked so hard to get here. This in turn stressed me the hell out. These cascading effects, on top of just the stress of the job, it is intense. You can reach boiling point and “burnout” real quick.

Of course, mine is only of one experience. Other people have children and way more responsibilities than me. So I can only imagine the added stress and anxieties that brings, when working in an uncertain, intense environment like academia.

I myself, being part of a big Caribbean family, I am attached to them. So I want to stay in the UK, and at least near one family member (for my undergrad I was near my mum, for my masters and PhD I was near/lived with my dad). I also need Caribbean culture nearby too, which has been an interesting experience being in Denmark. The main diverse group here is African, not Caribbean. I have done my best to combat this cultural-loneliness by cooking some Caribbean home comforts and just keeping up with calling my family.

Which brings me to another mental health issue in academia: loneliness. A PhD is a lonely process, despite being surrounded by other people. In the UK it is well known that every from young adults to the elderly suffer from it, it is an endemic situation. I am an introvert and most days do prefer my own company, but I am in a relationship with someone I would love to settle down with. But you know…the whole uncertainty in academia thing. As a British volcanologist, this may require me finding relevant work outside of the UK. This has placed me in a really rubbish situation: what do I sacrifice? My relationship or my career aspirations? This then, makes me more stressed and anxious. Because I do not want to sacrifice either one.

Having a life outside of academia is important. I have friends within academia I can just go out and do something as simple as going to a restaurant (and not talk about work). My friends, my family and partner outside of academia is also important too. It helps de-stress. Often, we experience guilt by not focusing on the work if you are having the time to relax and de-stress from work. It is the pressure of the job, wanting to do good work – be it research, admin, teaching, science communication etc. The workload, lack of support, strict deadlines, funding pressures and so many more…make us feel guilty if it is not done on time or not to a high standard.

A lot of these factors I have talked about, plus a “hostile” environment, measurements of performance such as the REF and TEF, sexual harassment not being taken seriously, lack of permanent positions, the gender pay gap and so many other factors, push people away from academia. I want to do research because I feel I am good at it. But then again, I look around and think other people are better. Yep, I am referring to “imposter syndrome” – it is like the peak tier of intellectual guilt. You feel like a fraud, it saps your confidence and self-esteem. Before Denmark, I shared an office with 3 other women. All different ages, from different countries/towns in the UK, and way different projects. But we still feel like one was “doing better” than the other.

That is why building up a support network – within your research team, department/institution, with people at other places, friends and family outside of academia, offline and online, is so important. It helps make the work more bearable.

I summary, personal responsibilities and academia pressures can make mental health issues hard to cope with. But, do not be afraid to talk to someone, be it in an informal and/or formal capacity. You are not alone ❤

Jazmin

Curating the ‘Minorities in STEM’ account: Part 1.

Hello! This past week I have been curating the Minorities in STEM Twitter account, and I shared a few threads with followers. Monday, I introduced myself and a bit about my PhD work; Tuesday was how my Caribbean heritage and physical disability influenced me to becoming a volcanologist; Wednesday was diversity in earth science and Thursday and Friday was about mental health and support networks in academia.

I will be putting these threads into blog posts, so to make it easy for people to find. So first thread I will share is my journey into volcanology.

*

The journey starts with me being diagnosed with a chronic physical disability called Systemic Onset Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis at the age of 2. I struggled to walk, had inflamed joints and terrible fevers. From 2 to 18, I spent a lot time taking medication and in hospital because I was so sick.

But I became interested in geography (particularly natural hazards at secondary school) and the sciences. My family would take me to places to keep my curiosity going outside of school. For the sciences, particularly biology, I was interested in it because I wanted to understand my disability. I was well known in my clinic to be the one asking questions. My former paediatric physiotherapist said they loved/feared it! And I say fear because they didn’t want to disappoint me by not answering my questions!

Being in constant pain has made me equal parts stubborn and determined. Going on geography field trips (and later volcanology ones) were and are a struggle. But if you love something, you put yourself through the pain and bare the consequences later.

As well as all this, my disability was treated with “tough love” in my Caribbean family (which I am sure it is not just limited to our culture) – it was all, yes we love you, we know you’re in pain but get on with it, you still got your brain now use it. Reflecting back on it, I suppose it was a way in investing in me: my disability may have hurt my body, but it made my mind sharp, and my family knew this! With Caribbean families, it is all about hard work, appreciating what you got and being full of love – since my mind was sharp, I had to put it to work!

By the time I got to go to Coventry University to study Geography and Natural Hazards, my disability was under control, and my family were proud for me for just going to university. During my course I learned that when my disaster management lecturer told us “it’s not a hazard without the people”, it was so true. So because I had become such a nerd for natural hazards, I studied both: the hazard and the people they impacted.

Near the end of my 4 year course, I knew I wanted to keep studying natural hazards but I had limited options. BUT then I saw some Masters programs for volcanology. I asked my family for some advice and then all the sudden they started telling me about this volcano called La Soufrière on the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines erupting in 1979! I loved hearing the stories of Jamaica, so imagine when I heard about St. Vincent’s volcano! I was captivated, I wanted to know more about this volcano. So, I did a Masters for the sole purpose to learn about this volcano that had impacted my family and my ancestors. I was determined to do it for my MSc dissertation, so I created a project with the lessons from my undergrad and family in mind: it’s not a hazard without the people.

Independent fieldwork on St. Vincent doing a volcanic risk perception study was the best month of my life: I stayed with a family friend, I met family I’ve never even knew about, I met so many other amazing people, the weather, mountains, the volcano…everything about the trip was just pure magic. And of course…I got to do some science!

The dissertation I wrote was noted by the examiner in being “a novel piece of work, in which Jazmin drove herself”. And that determination/stubbornness, born from my disability and the encouragement of my Caribbean family made it possible. BUT I was not done! I needed to continue researching La Soufrière, so I applied for PhD projects. None I applied for allowed me to look at St. Vincent specially, and I got rejected. But then, my best friend talked me into applying for one more: the one I am doing now!

Following on from my Masters dissertation, I asked the simple question that opened up a whole new other world: “what did this look like in the past?” So I have ended up looking at three eruptions of the volcano: 1812, 1902 and 1979. I think the biggest thing I have learnt during my PhD about St. Vincent are the two groups of people that came before colonialism: the Kalinago (“Yellow Caribs”) and the Garifuna (“Black Caribs”). From this, I reached out to American, Canadian and Australian academics about “territorial acknowledgement” – where you state that where you do your research, and the land you occupy on, was not originally your own. Their voices are almost entirely silent from the narrative, and that really gets my goat. So, with my stubbornness, I have made sure I found as much evidence of possible of what happened to them during the eruptions.

What’s all this talk to do with me being a British-Caribbean early career researcher? Well…I’ve learnt that I am in fact, a descendant of the “Caribs” but unfortunately, I do not know which group. But, my PhD has become super personal and I am in too deep now!

In summary: my chronic physical disability made me stubborn/determined, my Caribbean family encouraged me to pursue my love of science. I carved out my path as a social and historical volcanologist with the combo of both with a splash of creativity.

Jazmin

 

Doing historical volcanology

So every year I say I should do more blogging…we will see how that goes. But in the mean time, I asked Twitter for some ideas of what to write and got this suggestion from my friend and fellow PhD volcanologist Geoff Lerner (he is doing some awesome stuff out in New Zealand, do check out his Twitter!)

twitter

So using inspiration from Geoff…I’m going to attempt to give a general overview of how historical volcanology works.

dog and book gif

To begin: how did we come to know about the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius, and the destruction of Pomepii and Herculeum? The observations of Pliny the Younger. He was a man who lived in the distant past who observed a volcanic eruption. We also have countless volcanology studies about the eruption (and others that happened since). We also have unearthed archaeological sites and artefacts. Thanks to all this evidence, we now know that this eruption happened and its impacts on the surrounding society.

pomepii
…and I guess we have the movie now?

A historian is a person who researches past events that relate to humans through narratives. Volcanologist one way or the other look at past volcanic eruptions…so you could say we are “Earth” historians.

history
Look I just googled “history gif” and I do not know why it is of an animated iceskater okay?

Volcanology in itself is diverse and researchers come from all different backgrounds: geology, petrology, geophysics, engineering, geochemistry  – I labelled here a number of “physical” science disciplines. In volcanology we are increasingly seeing the inclusion of the “social” sciences when exploring the impacts of volcanism on an exposed population.

Historians use tangible (sites, objects, instruments, remains) and intangible (memories, narratives, indigenous knowledge) artefacts. So a historical volcanologist uses tangible and/or intangible artefacts to understand past volcanic events from the human perspective. For me, I have mainly used intangible artefacts, with written records in archives and interviewing people remembering an eruption. Archaeologists are particularly good at using tangible artefacts, with plenty of research out there of looking at deep past volcanic events and their impacts on early human civiliations.

indiana

If a volcanologist looks at past volcanic events, combining the understanding of how people responded to the event within the historical and social context, with the scientific understanding of volcanism, it provides a richness and numerous perspectives of the story of an eruption that may not have been captured if doing a single disciplinary approach. Looking at the past, we can see how much the volcano and the society that live around it, have changed or not. Further social volcanology studies for a given volcano would benefit from the historical perspective in this way. Furthermore, a “traditional” physical volcanology study would complement a historical volcanology study and vice versa. One or the other could find things the other had not found before, which could lead to a fuller picture of what happened!

lightbulb

So to end this post I have compiled a little checklist I have gained during my PhD doing a historical volcanology project:

checklist

  1. Whatever “physical” science approach to volcanology you use, think outside of the box of how it would be beneficial to the society who has to live with the particular volcanic region you are researching;

imagination

2. This is important for every volcanologist – do your research on your volcano: its past activity, current activity, what signs and hazards it is known to produce and any probablitic scenarios of any potential future impact on society;

3. And now we take it up a notch: do your homework on your volcano in the context of the society who had to live with it. Here I mean the social and cultural significance of the volcano, what they knew and do not know about it, and perhaps most importantly (if using intangible artefacts): what language was used to describe what they saw and felt about the volcano? In times of activity would be a priority, but if you have the time (and money) look at quiet periods too;

word

4. And now, if you are looking at a historical eruption and you want to see what is in the archives* ask yourself: has the language to describe any volcanic phenomena associated with the volcano, similar or different to the present? You will need to be very aware that in the past, especially before the modern notions of “volcanology” as a science, people were very descriptive when observing volcanic activity (think “curtains of fire”, “it grew dark during the day”, “we heard rumblings” and so on);

*Using archives first requires identifying a collection: in most places this is available online, others it requires contacting the specific department and arranging a visit to see what is there. If a collection may prove useful, be prepared to go down some rabbit holes and not come back up for a while…it takes perseverance to find what you are looking for.

rabbit hole
Actual representation of what it is like doing archival work

5. Be respectful of the words written/spoken, objects etc. of those who are no longer here. As a volcanologist, and as a scientist, you can interpret what was observed with rigour but never dismiss other people’s own interpretations when they were within the moment, observing a phenomena they may have never witnessed before. Like all disasters, volcanic eruptions induce stress and anxiety (usually temporarily, but sometimes longer), occurring in their own social and cultural context that is different from your own;

6. Be extra mindful when researching volcanoes in countries that were colonised/occupied. I say this because written records that have survived are usually of one dominant “voice” and many others have either been manipulated or silenced. For my investigations into the 1812 and 1902-1903 eruptions of La Soufrière, I found that the voices of women, children, African slaves, freed persons of colour and indentured servants were almost entirely absent or manipulated (the experiences of myself, my family and POC friends allowed me to have a trained eye to stereotypical/racist language and behaviour). I tried to correct this by doing my interviews for the 1979 eruption by including men and women of varying ages and ethnicities – remember: each voice who provided a narrative is valid as many people experienced these violent events with their own education, experiences and perceptions;

7. Seek out local historians, they may know information that you could not find. I have been in contact with a local Vincentian historian who has been super helpful in pinpointing locations that no longer exist on maps today – then of course give credit where credit is due;

8. Lastly, give back! I have used documents from multiple archives in 3 different countries, all have had a dedicated curator/librarian to help me find what I needed and are super keen to help in anyway possible. As a way of saying thanks and to provide knowledge for any future researcher, give a copy of your finished work to the archive you used. For public dissimination, certainly put the country whose volcano you are researching first – you may be as creative and collaborative as you like!

Historical volcanology has been a new and exciting avenue to me, I have learned a lot about the volcano, the country, its people and myself. I know people say “leave the past in the past” but how else would we know how to better ourselves as a people and know how far we have come in living on this dynamic planet?

To embrace the future…why not start with the past!

Jazmin

Why I am new to territorial acknowledge?

I've only come across territorial acknowledge via Twitter recently. I feel guilty that it was only recently and not at the start of the academic journey. Although that guilt can easily be replaced with: why haven't I seen it talked about in this country? I mean…I have a few opinions as to why, but I will leave the politics of colonialism/post-colonialism to others.

I found a few sites on how terrirotial acknowledgement is approached by them (links at the end) and found that they were based on respect and building positive bridges based on the land they are living on. Although the UK won't be able to exactly do this, what if our research is in a country/region that did belong to indigneous groups before European contact? I would see it as a strength that we are trying to build bridges that we face up to our country's past, acknowledge that there were negative consequences and that we need to develop new healthier relationships.

Here is my acknowledgement example:

"This thesis has been conducted on the Caribbean Island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, that once belonged to the Kalinago, who call the island Youloumain, and the Garifuna, who call the island Yurumei. They originally inhabited the coastal areas of the island however, due to British colonialisation they were forced inland and north near the volcano La Soufrière, in which unfortunately the original name given by the Kalinago and Garifuna has been lost. This has ever since placed the descendants of the two groups at higher risk of La Soufrière’s explosive eruptions. At the end of the Second Carib War in 1797, many Garifuna were exiled to Roatán, an island of Honduras. Exiled descendants now live in Belize, and continue to fight to return to their homeland. It is without a doubt, that the influence of colonialisation and creolisation has caused the indigenous knowledge of the island and the hazards that it is exposed to, to be omitted from written historical records, which do not reflect the enduring sovereignty of the Kalinago and Garifuna people. The island still belongs to them, but is no longer predominately occupied by them. The author has endeavoured to represent the groups’ voice in the narrative of this thesis."

  • Kalinago – displaced the Arawak in the Lesser Antilles, migrating from Venezuela (called "Yellow/Red Caribs"
  • Garifuna – runaway African slaves (supposedly Spanish) who intermarried with the Kalinago (called "Black Caribs")

I think it will go before or after my main acknowledgements. I suppose I am making the effort to do this is because I know my family and ancestors are from previously colonised countries (St. Vincent, Jamaica, Cuba, Cameroon and possibly India) and one thing my grandfather always tells me is: "We are Carib, our blood is Carib" but unfortunately, I do not know if I am Kalinago or Garifuna.

The acknowledgement humanises and lets people know you understand the past, present and future of the communities that were in certain areas before others came along. We should not feel ashamed in doing it and we certainly should not keep pushing some groups of people out. We should acknowledge the territories in which we live and/or work upon.

Jazmin

Territorial acknowledgement links

Etna putting on a show

Because of the whole faff of the Oscars (honestly, why it was headline news I’ll never know), some may have missed something awesome: Mt Etna in Sicily started producing Strombolian activity at a new scoria cone at the Southeast crater last night.

Here is a link to a very stable live video feed of the ongoing eruption, the featured photo is a screenshot of tonight’s activity. Enjoy!

Jazmin