Very sorry for the lack of posts! Been busy with editing the PhD thesis and also my teaching! I’ve also been trying in between everything to get a podcast up and running called “What on Earth?!” which will be covering all things in the earths sciences with the key aim of increasing the representation of how diverse the research and the researchers are!
Give the twitter account a follow to keep up to date with progress! (which is lacking at the moment sorry!): @WhatonEarthPod
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 🙂
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 ❤
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!)
So using inspiration from Geoff…I’m going to attempt to give a general overview of how historical volcanology works.
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.
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.
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.
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!
So to end this post I have compiled a little checklist I have gained during my PhD doing a historical volcanology project:
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;
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;
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.
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!
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.
I apologise for the lack of posts…been busy writing away!
I have completed drafts on chapters 4 and 5, and currently working away on chapter 6. Chapter 4 I reconstructed the 1812, 1902 and 1979 eruptions of La Soufrière using archive sources and interviews. Chapter 5 was the impacts of the eruptions on the agricultural industry. Chapter 6 I am focusing on the evolving social risk and geoculture across the 168 years.
Chapter 6 is a bit of a challenge, but I have a lot of fascinating stuff to share once it all comes together!
In other news:
I have applied for a Visting Researcher position but I won’t say anything more!
I will be attending the IRDR 7th Annual Conference in July
I’ll also be attending a ‘Building Resilience to Geohazards in the Face of Uncertainty’ hosted by the Geological Society in September
That’s all for now! I’ll be using my new mantra to get through the next few months:
Upon returning from US fieldwork, I only had a number of weeks to create a conference poster and be on my way to the airport. I was preparing for the Cities on Volcanoes 9 (CoV9) international conference in Puerto Varas, Chile.
I did not know what to expect from the country or the conference. Luckily, both exceeded my expectations. I learned a lot from those who viewed my poster to the talks and other posters, met/made many new contacts and friends, as well as seeing some familiar faces.
CoV is an international conference occurring every 2 years hosted at an alternative city in the vicnity of a volcano(es). The aim is to bring together volcanologists, disaster managers and other researchers concerned with volcanic impacts on society, through the promotion of inter/multi-disciplinary research and establishing colloboration between physical and social scientists, as well as stakeholders like town planners. The particular theme for this year was “Understanding volcanoes and society: the key for risk mitigation”. CoV is part of the IAVCEI (International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior), which represents all volcanologist throughout the world.
I am not entirely sure how many delegates there was, but it certainly had to be over 500. There was such a rich representation of research across the world, in poster and oral form. There was a lot of them so it was impossible to sit in all talks and speak to everyone about their poster. My priority is to stick the talks and posters that are relevant to my project as well as my research interests, then if I have the time to see/read others, then I will.
Talks/posters I focused on related to agricultural impacts of volcanic eruptions, risk perceptions, historical reconstructions of volcanic eruptions, lahars, PDCs, risk and politics.
The conference itself had opportunities to visit some volcanoes (Chaitén, Calbuco, Osorno and the Laguna del Maule Volcanic Complex) before, during and after the conference. Unfortunately I could not afford any of them but luckily the ones during the conference were included, to visit either Calbuco or Osorno. I chose Calbuco, as it erupted last year. As this was a recent eruption that was on the ‘door step’ of Puerto Varas, it was talked about a lot at the conference. Wired has a nice summary of the activity.
We went to an area that was impacted by lahars, but a year on the rivers/streams have been cleared and artifically transformed, mainly by moving the bigger boulders on the banks. There was a primary school in this area…right under Calbuco to be exact. We walked up the river to a destroyed fish farm. The building was still standing, but was far beyond being operational again with the giant boulders that the lahar carried down. Walking up a little bit more we came to the waterfall in which the lahar came down, it was impressive to see if not slightly unnerving that a vast amount of water filled with volcanic material flowing down the river with such severity. The most interesting part was that we went back to the school and got first hand experiences from a number of individuals from the surrounding villages. The main things that I took away from their experiences were:
As farmers, their main priority was to secure their livelihoods. They accepted the risks and did everything they could to save their livestock;
For many, this eruption was the first they experienced, so a lot of things were learnt as the eruption of occurring;
They were fully aware of their needs, but the government did not and tried to impose what they thought they needed and ignoring what the villages really needed. This frustrated the communities and in the end they had little assistance from the government;
Throughout the event and afterwards, they built and maintained community resilience, social cohesion and social networks, key aspects of withstanding hazardous impacts.
Overall, I am so glad I went. I met some great people, learned a lot and have had valuable feedback from those who came to look at my work on the historical impacts of La Soufrière on the agricultural industry. Most importantly, it gave me confidence and belief in my work and that I could be a valuable member of the social volcanology community.
I am looking forward to the next one in 2018, when it returns to Naples! Hopefully I will be a stage to give a talk.
I was in the USA for 2 weeks September-October on a hunt for more archival sources related to the historic eruptions of La Soufrière. I had never been to America before so I got distracted by all the ‘bigness’ of pretty much everything compared to where I grew up and lived in the UK.
I had two aims:
Obtain copies of the diaries of the American Barrister Hugh Keane from the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, VA and;
Obtain field notebook copies of the American Geologist Dr Edmund Hovey from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
I have to say, I was very impressed with what I found.
My first stop was the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond. I was well aware of the rich history the city and the state itself so I was expecting great things.
Hugh Keane was a barrister in St Vincent in the early 1800s, but his family had been on the island since the late 1700s. His diary entries were in most part short (and small) but he does write on the 30th April about the beginings of the 1812 eruption.
Although this is what I came for I did run into a few issues. One is the handwriting, in which I need to take a paleography course at The National Archives in London for (online thankfully). Another was I actually took most of the pages at a wrong angle (oops) making it harder to transcribe. Another is the language and abbreivations he uses. And a big one is that he doesn’t give a day-to-day running commentary on the eruption. Either Hugh was too busy to watch it (he was a barrister during the slavery era) or he got bored of it. Hopefully his entries will provide helpful insights in what the volcanic processes and hazards were, if not to gain an idea what the responses were.
In any case, I got what I went for so I was happy with that. For Edmund Hovey’s collection I did not know what to expect. All I knew was that he was ordered by the American Museum of Natural History to investigate the eruptions of Pelée and Soufrière.
Dr Edmund Hovey was a geologist and at the time, assistant curator in the palaeontology section of the museum.
Once I got to the room where the collection was held (after getting briefly lost in the museum naturally), the curator assisting my search showed me the list of what they had. It looked exciting. A small cool collection was artifacts that Edmund brought back from Martinique:
I got more excited when I opened up the field notebooks:
Anyone who has done a geoscience based degree or course, knows how important a field notebook is. I was quite impressed with the level of detail Edmund went into, like a true geologist: time, date, location, and detailed descriptions of the geology and any hazardous phenomena. If this was part of an assignment today he would get high marks on descriptions but not so much on sketches. At the beginning of each notebook he would also note down the adminstrative hierarchy (Governor, adminstrator, executive council etc.) and if he was accompanied by anyone. The most surprising find for me (and the most critical) was that he interviewed and gathered statements of those who observed volcanic activity. Reading these statements, another very important aspect became apparent, he was including more voices than the ‘white elite’ men. He spoke to black men and women whose voice I had so far not been able to read (granted he called them negroes and negresses but I guess that was the language at the time).
My most favourite statement, that I will share with you all, was from a surviour of a pyroclastic density current that flowed down the eastern flank of the volcano over the Orange Hill Estate House. People survived in a rum cellar, whilst a number died in the corridor leading to the cellar and the estate manager, his wife and nephew died on the verandah.
Statement of Taylor in one of Edmund’s field notebooks (AMNH: Box 3, Item 31)
Photograph of the Orange Hill Estate house (YM: TA123)
Cellar where survivors were found (YM: TA125)
“A cook told me that trash in front of cellar and some of the houses were set on fire by the hot stones. Taylor(who is a very intelligent black man) and the others said that the “cloud rolled down from the Soufriere along the ravines, struck the sea, burst into flames foof, foof, foof, and at once turned back toward the sugar factory striking the building with great force and forcing shut the heavy doors and the heavy wooden shutters of the window openings. Heat was very oppressive. Air suffocating. Smelled of sulphur (rotten eggs, one said). For four or five minutes it seemed as if everyone would die from suffocation and cries for water were heard on all sides. Then the air cleared a bit, though the rain of dust and stones continued”.
From all information gathered from my trip, I can understand the volcanic hazards better: what, where, when and their impacts. They will also help inform impacts on the agricultural and society, where possible.
I like to thank the Royal Geographical Society for funding.
It is now the 1st May, which means I have one month left here on St Vincent. I am starting to get a bit restless and want to come home to see my family and friends. But I can hold on for a little longer!
Reflecting back on my time here so far, I would say it has been character building, as well as a confidence booster. Some people say being in a different country for a while has a positive effect on people. I suppose I can agree with them.
Coming out here by myself as an independent PhD student has suited me fine, as I do prefer my own company. I have been away from distractions to really crack on with the data I aimed to collect here.
Doing a dissertation/thesis, whether undergrad, Masters or PhD, is really a lonely affair. Of course you have your supervisors and friends, but they are busy people are they not? Every project is different and the guidance from the supervisors vary, but for me, it has worked just fine. Although a part of me wishes at least one of my supervisors had the chance to come out here to experience this island for themselves!
The data collection here has been the utmost importance and confess, I have not had much time to rest. I would say on a weekend I have relaxed but, just yesterday I conducted more interviews. But, I did get to see a new part of the island. I went to the Mesopotamia Valley, a village called Belmont which lies on the ridges of an extinct volcano! It was an amazing view, beats the view of a Private School’s sports grounds back home.
The remainder of my time here will be getting the rest of my interviews done, then beginning to make scripts and code them.
Oh and it will be my birthday near the end of the month…so I have definitely decided to not work then and head over to the Grenadine island of Bequia. Can squeeze in a bit of holiday before this is all over.