It’s the beginning of the end. In other words, it’s the first day of my last week in Seattle. I’m actually feeling really optimistic about this coming week. I tend to feel overwhelmed when a project of this size comes to a close, but I’m surprisingly calm. It may have something to do with the fact that my project won’t be over after I leave, but I think a large part of it comes from how supportive everyone has been. It’s been a relief to work with people who know how difficult and intimidating research can be, especially as an undergrad.
Although I’m happy with my research here at UW, there are a lot of other things going on in my head. I want to finish this summer strong because I am pretty worried about the semester to come. I will be a senior, which means I will have to make some major life decisions. After my internship last summer I was unsure about whether I wanted to attend grad school and after this summer, I’m still unsure. I have been going to school my whole life, and it has always been my priority. I can’t count how many times my grandma has asked me how I can still be going to school. Pursuing a PhD is a major commitment. Everyone I talk to agrees, it has to be something you know you want because there will be times when your commitment is tested. Five to seven years of research isn’t something you do just because you don’t know what else to do. I respect and admire people who have PhDs, but I still don’t know if I can be one of them.
Another cause of my stress is the upcoming AGU conference. It is the good kind of stress that is both exciting and scary. I can usually feel when something is going to be a big event in my life and AGU is one of them. At the very least, it will help me decide what I want to do after I graduate. It will also be great to reunite with all the people I’ve met this summer.
Last week was a big relief after having the AGU abstract weigh on my shoulders all summer. Although I would have liked more time with the data before the abstract was due, I’m happy with what I submitted. I have also been assured by AGU veterans that because the abstracts are due so much earlier than the conference itself, people will not be surprised if the presentations have a slightly different subject. I will be finished with the bulk of my project this summer, but I will get to keep working after I head home. Right now the duration of data ranges from 2-3 weeks , depending on which site it’s from. There will be another service run in October that will give me enough data to determine the orientation of the majority of the sensors. My advisor and I have also been discussing other possible analyses I could do with the data over the next semester.
Being a part of iMUSH and getting to be one of the first people to look at this data has been really exciting. I received a password that allows me to access the data through the IRIS-DMC (Data Management Center) and I will admit that it makes me feel pretty fancy. Although I have access to the data through the DMC, it is more convenient to download the data from the local server. After I get the data, I get to play around with it in my code. The most fulfilling part of this has been confirming some of the expectations we had about the data. There were a few things that my advisor noticed when he was working with the data that I was also able to confirm with my code. Without more data my code isn’t very statistically significant, but it has been able to confirm the expected orientations in general.
In slightly unrelated news, I have decided to declare geophysics as a second major. I have no idea why I never thought to research it before, but I’m happy I finally did. I have my slightly stubborn personality and the increasing popularity of geophysics to thank. I wanted to sign up for this really interesting class, but was unable to add it because I’m not a senior geophysics major. After a brief time of feeling defeated, I decided to do a little research. I found that I’ve already taken a vast majority of the required classes and two of my upper division physics courses will transfer. The next two semesters may be a little busy, but I think the pros will outweigh the cons.
It has been a great summer and although I still have some time left, I can feel things wrapping up. My advisor has also noticed my time is coming to a close. In honor of this, he has decided that I should present my project to the grad students in the building. I’m not as bad at public speaking as I once was, but it still makes me nervous. My biggest issue is the fact that there is no feedback in the middle of a presentation. I tutored for several years so I’m comfortable explaining things, I’m just not comfortable when I’m the only one allowed to talk. I prefer knowing when someone has no idea what I’m saying so I can adapt what I’m saying, and presentations make that really hard. Yet I know how important it is to be able to present your research well, so I’m going to get over my nerves and take it as a learning experience.
When looking over my previous posts, I realized how little I actually talked about my fieldwork. I’ve decided to give it a little more attention.
In general the crew would wake up, eat breakfast, and head to the hangar where all of the equipment was stored. Each crew (2-3 people) would pack up their SUV with enough equipment for one and a half stations. After we loaded up and got to the site, the real work began. The first thing that needed to be done was to plan where the equipment would go. We had to find a place for the sensor, the action packer, and the solar panel mount. We had to make sure all the wires would reach, the solar panel would get enough sun, the sensor would have good drainage, and other similar details. Once the plan was decided, it was time to dig and lug. 1-2 people would dig the hole for the seismometer while the other person would begin hauling stuff from the car. Once the hole was ready, a quick drying cement pier was poured for the seismometer to rest on. While waiting for the concrete to dry, we would set up the solar panel and the action packer. The action packer contains all of the electrical equipment that powers and communicates with the sensor. Finally, the sensor gets placed and buried, the action packer gets covered with heavy logs, and pictures are taken. Sprinkled between these steps are unwanted nuisances such as bruises, bug bites, flat tires, missing equipment, lost keys, etc.
We installed the majority of the seismometers those first three weeks, but we couldn’t install the last seven until mid-July because of permitting issues. I was on one of the teams that finished up the installs during the service run. A service run consists of driving to the site, switching memory disks, and checking to make sure everything is working. For the service run I was working out of Trout Lake with an employee from CVO, Cascades Volcano Observatory. There is no cell service so email was the only way to communicate with other service teams. We would check in with the other groups at night to make sure everyone made it back alright. One night I decided to check in with the following short story.
"7/15: The story of two young travelers passing through Trout Lake
It was mid July and the heat was unforgiving. It was even harder to bear when that overloaded SUV decided to fight back. The odds were against them when she blew a tire on that old dusty road. This wasn't the first hardship they encountered, but it came at the worst time. They couldn't chance being stranded since their comrades were hours away. The only option was to see if that old four wheeler could be put back together. The help they needed was back in town at an old service station, so the two travelers turned tail and ran. Once that old hunk of junk was fixed up, they decided to give it one more go. Although their hopes were high, their original plan was abandoned. They decided to head to the longest and most arduous site, to deploy one of the few remaining seismometers. The two weren't out of the woods yet. They went on a few unexpected detours and were devoured by godless horse flies. After their long day was done, they headed back to that little town shadowed by the mountain. They grabbed a fulfilling meal and drank a nice strong brew... They were victorious."
Did I realize how ridiculous it was as I was writing? Yes, but I enjoyed every minute of it.
Whether you love or hate research, most people agree that it is challenging. It is part of what brings researchers together. Knowing that other people are struggling and working as hard as you, helps build a strong community. This summer has been full of challenges. My first day seemed like an insurmountable challenge. So did the prospect of digging holes and carrying hundreds of pounds of equipment 15 days straight. Realizing weekends didn’t exist in fieldwork was a bit of a shock, but I was so busy that I barely noticed. I was not one of the strongest people during fieldwork, but I worked just as hard. I think my biggest success was the respect I earned from the PIs. They trusted my work, respected my opinion, and came to me for my TETRIS skills when loading the SUVs. Fieldwork was an amazing experience because I got to know brilliant, well respected PIs in a setting that allowed us to be ourselves. That is one of the reasons why I love geophysics, people will accept you for who you are as long as you do the same for them. There were challenges during fieldwork, but I never felt like I failed because everyone was in it together.
Outside of fieldwork, I’ve found that time management has been the hardest part. There is this immense subject that thousands of people have been working on for years, and I have a summer to learn about it. In my case, I have even less time to work on the research because I spent four weeks in the field. There is no part of me that regrets those four weeks, but it makes my short time in Seattle seem like I’m climbing up a mountain that doesn’t have a summit. I began my internship two weeks after the other IRIS interns and then I spent my first three weeks in the field. After one short week in Seattle, I was back in the field for another week collecting the data I will be analyzing. It felt like no time at all, but five weeks, half of my internship, flew by right before my eyes. It has been a struggle to keep my head down and work without having deadlines loom in my mind. I have always found that stress prevents you from thinking clearly, but it is in my nature to stress about deadlines that I don’t feel prepared for. Although I spoke with my PI everyday during fieldwork, there was not a lot of time to discuss the research I was going to do. It was unreasonable to expect there to be productive research talks after 10-12 hour days in the field. Although the reasons I feel unprepared are justified, I can’t write them down on my AGU abstract. Whether I feel like I’m ready to or not, I’m going to have to write about my research this summer. It is absolutely terrifying.
Another challenge that I am hoping to overcome this week, is wrapping my head around one of the aspects of my research. I will determine the orientation of the seismometers in Matlab, using a structure that was created by my PI Ken Creager. In programming, a structure is an array that organizes data into fields. The structure I am working with, a coral structure, contains information about the seismogram from a specific seismic station. I am still learning about the fields a coral structure contains, and about all of the possible ways to manipulate it. As I have come to expect with programming, the majority of my time has been spent testing and retesting little pieces of code. I am hoping to bring all of the pieces together in the coming week.
Whether you come out of a challenge feeling like a failure or a success depends on how you perceive challenges. This summer, I have chosen to see them as opportunities. So when I start to get overwhelmed, I just think "Challenge shmallenge."
It seems that almost everyone has heard of Mt. St. Helens. When I mention my project to people I get a mixture of responses. From my mother: “Is that the one that had that big explosion? You better be careful Gina.” From locals around the volcano: “You’re watching that one? You should be checking out Rainier, that’s the one getting ready to blow.” When I talk to geophysicists: “So you’re working on iMUSH, then? What part of the project?” iMUSH stands for Imaging Magma Under St. Helens and it has three components. There is an active source component that involves drilling boreholes and setting off explosions within the crust. Another component is a magnetotelluric survey. The last part of the project is the one that I am involved in. It is the passive part of the experiment in which 70 broadband seismometers will be deployed on and around Mt. St. Helens and will stay in place for two years. This part of the experiment will allow imaging at a much greater depth than the short period sensors. A very large component of my summer will be spent doing fieldwork. My first two and a half weeks were spent installing the seismometers. I will also go on service runs to make sure that everything is running smoothly at the sites and to retrieve the flash disks storing the data. We completed the first service run this week in order to prepare for the active source experiment. I will also be utilizing the data we just obtained in order to check the orientation of the sensors. The sensors should be oriented towards true north, but there is error involved in placing them. It is important to check this orientation and then correct for it when analyzing the data.
It's the 5th day of the IRIS intern orientation. It somehow feels much longer and much shorter than that at the same time.