For those who don't know, I grew up in a small town just outside of Chicago, Illinois. When I graduated high school, I left for college in Colorado and planned never to return to the Midwest for any lengthy period of time. It was flat, humid, and offered me few outdoors activities. For someone who can't stand cities, the mountains were calling my name. Needless to say, when I learned I would be spending my summer in the "lovely" state of Indiana (No offense to those from Indiana), I was a bit apprehensive. My project sounded interesting, conversations with my mentor seemed promising, but most of my thoughts seemed to be, "Indiana, Really?".
Now that I sit here typing my last blog post of the summer, my thoughts have changed to something along the lines of, "Indiana. Really." Simply put, my return to the Midwest has been fantastic. It has been hot and humid, it has been largely flat, and mountains have not erupted out of the cornfields. Despite the absence of many of the things that I love, my internship this summer has been fulfilling in a number of ways. I came into the summer with a number of goals, and I think it's probably a good exercise to go through each of them and evaluate how things have gone. So without further ado, I'll get started.
1. To Contribute to Cutting-Edge Scientific Research
I definitely came into my IRIS internship wanting to contribute to real scientific research. Not some made-up or old data set. I wanted real data and real problems with real implications. Part of the reason I even decided to apply to the IRIS internship in the first place was the prestige it held and the opportunity to present my research at AGU. Having been working on my project now for ten weeks, I can definitely say I experienced ups and downs in this category. At times, I felt like my work was tedious or way above my knowledge level and that I couldn't meaningfully contribute without the help of my mentor. At others, I felt like I was an active part of a huge project to understand a relatively understudied area of the United States. I learned what it means to contribute to cutting edge scientific research and that it isn't all rainbows and unicorns. There are ups, there are downs, and there are definitely a lot of people to help you along the way. My final product, the tomography model, is extremely first-order and almost certainly wrong in many aspects. But it's a starting point for months more of research. My mentor would have had to produce an identical model if he were to do all the research himself. It wasn't my "fault" that the model is simple, it's just a simple model. That's what it is supposed to be, nothing more, and certainly nothing less. I've contributed ten weeks of research, analyzed over a year of data, and worked out a number of kinks in moving forward with the tomography model. That's certainly contributing looking back at it.
2. To Get a Sense of Whether I Want to Attend Graduate School
If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up four years ago, I would've said a high school English teacher. Now, I'd say a University Professor with a PhD in something Geophysics related. Funny how things change. I came into the summer with a thousand questions about graduate school, what all it involved, and whether or not it was something I wanted to pursue. Starting with orientation week, I've been surrounded by people with answers to my questions, and I haven't been shy about asking away. I've also experienced what it might feel like to be a graduate student to an extent. At least at my internship here, we were basically treated like graduate students despite being significantly younger and less experienced. Coming out of this summer, I can almost certainly say I will attend graduate school and pursue a PhD. I can now fully understand and respect how it takes five to six years to earn a PhD. What I'm still not sure, is what kind of research I'd like to continue with in the future. I tasted earth structure research this summer, and am not sure if that's entirely for me. As you may have gleaned from a previous blog post, my interests intersect with the social and political side of things a bit too strongly to be fully dedicated to earth structure research at this point. Thankfully, I have two more years of my undergrad to figure out exactly what kind of research I want to study in the future. I'm also looking forward to the opportunity to explore SO much research at AGU.
Goal: Achieved, Mostly.
3. To Improve My Technical Skills
After taking a data analysis class last semester and starting to become familiar with tools such as MatLab, I was excited for the opportunity to continue developing my computer skills this summer. Throughout this summer, I have indeed developed my computer skills, but not the ones I thought I would be using. I didn't open Matlab, SAC, or any other common seismology program. Almost all of my work was done in a terminal window, X-windows, Antelope, or Fortran. Thus, I feel quite proficient at using a terminal window now, which is a great skill to have. I've learned lots of nifty little tips and tricks for whizzing around multiple computers and manipulating data. As I mentioned before, all of my tomography work was done in Fortran, something which I'd never seen before. I can't say I could program in Fortran, but I learned a lot about debugging code, and learning how to find errors in large programs. It was a bit frustrating at times feeling so overwhelmed, but that's probably the best way to learn something. I also used a bit of GMT, and might use a bit more for my AGU poster. Wouldn't quite say proficient at that yet, but getting there. Definitely comfortable. The biggest takeaway for my summer on the computer side of things is definitely terminal and command line proficiency.
4. To Build Connections Within the Seismology Community
Another one of my goals for the summer was to start to make connections within the Seismology community. An IRIS internship provided me with a great jump start into meeting people and making contacts for potential future work, grad school, etc. So I've made an effort to make sure I got an opportunity to interact with different professors and grad students in both Bloomington and Purdue's departments. It was definitely a bonus to be working on a huge project with lots of collaborators, as there were lots of opportunities to interact with those that weren't directly involved with my project. However, the biggest opportunity to make connections will be in December at AGU. With 22,000 earth scientists in one location, there's got to be someone working on something that sounds interesting to me! I'll also get to share my research with those interested, which should be a unique experience. I actually quite enjoy public speaking/presenting, so I'm eagerly awaiting my presentation rather than nervously awaiting it.
Goal: Achievement in Progress.
Looking back, I was able to achieve most of my goals, and have a lot of fun while doing it. I'd say that makes for a successful summer. I'm looking forward to returning to school with some solid research under my belt. I'm confident that what I've learned this summer will help me as I continue my education. I'm thankful for the IRIS staff and my mentor for helping make this experience a positive one. If there are any students reading this blog that are interested in applying for the IRIS internship program, I'd highly recommend it. I had a fantastic summer. This about wraps up my blogs, I hope you've enjoyed reading them as much as I've enjoyed writing them. It's fun to look back and see how the summer has developed since orientation week. A lot has happened in ten short weeks! Thanks for reading!
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