1. My day at the University of Connecticut – feeling refreshed having spent the weekend recuperating in Blacksburg, VA with Brian Romans and friends, I was full of beans as I landed in New England and walked around the beautiful, leafy campus of UConn with my host Julie Fosdick. However, it was the unbelievably friendly, open, chatty faculty who made this one of the most memorable days of the tour; they wanted to talk as much about life as they did about research. I laughed more on this day than on any other day of the tour; this was perfect, setting me up nicely for the final, gruelling week. In fact, it was really the people, including my awesome hosts, who made the whole tour. Without them, the tour would have simply been a bunch of PowerPoint slides, long waits in vomit-beige, provincial US airports, and sole-dining on, in some cases, poor-quality calories.
I’m rubbish at taking photos, but here are some of the most personally memorable images from Leg 2 of my tour. With captions. Enjoy.
All photos taken on an IPhone 6.
Doctors prescribe a trip to Fayetteville as the antidote to New York. I was happy to swallow the pill.
The journey down to NW Arkansas Regional Airport, AR from La Guardia, NY was the first direct flight of my tour. This was much appreciated, given the ‘exertions’ of my time with Matt and Graham in NYC, not to mention the incredibly fraught journey out to La Guardia from downtown Manhattan (turns out that, in the city that never sleeps, subway trains do). The flight down to Arkansas was nice, passing over the northern part of the Appalachians and some striking fluvial geomorphology.
I was met by John Shaw (@johnburnhamshaw), a sedimentologist, stratigrapher, geomorphologist and physical modeller, with a weakness for deltas and distributary channel bifurcations. It was great to finally meet John, having first made his acquaintance on Twitter. Having tweeted the fact I had been made one of the GSA Distinguished Lecturers, John contacted me to see if I’d be willing and able to come and talk at Arkansas. Having never been, but having heard of John’s work, I jumped at the chance. We took a scenic route into the beautifully situated town of Fayetteville, with John providing interesting insights into the surrounding geology and geomorphology and, perhaps as interestingly, a story about the area’s long-standing link with the much-hated, megalithic shopping experience that is Mal-Wart.
He dropped me at The Inn at Carnell Hall, a grand, 1905-built building situated on the edge of campus. Named after the distinguished Miss Ella Howison Carnell, a Professor of English and modern languages and the first female faculty member of the University of Arkansas, the building has a rich and fascinating history, having served as an all-female dorm, a fraternity house and, most recently, as a hotel that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Having settled, John and I met Chris Liner (check out his blog here) and Mac McGilvery, two faculty members at U of A, for dinner, locally brewed beer and conversation. Despite the server’s best efforts to ruin everything by describing the minutiae of every dish (for future reference, and beyond knowing that the food is of good quality and prepared well, I don’t give a fuck about the name or height of the person who cut up my fries), all three were excellent. Oh, and I am now addicted to fried brussel sprouts. Full of food, drink and chat, I headed home to bed.
The morning started with a bang. Hearing I was an avid if somewhat shit runner, and having learned that I aimed to run at each stop of the tour, John had arranged for me and him to go on a trail run with his colleague, Matt Covington. It. Was Awesome. We winded up and down Kessler Mountain, under a dense canopy of tall trees, dodging tortoises and swampy puddles, whilst simultaneously avoiding breaking our legs. We popped-out at ‘Rock City’, an exposure of Carboniferous sandstones, where we did the typical geologist thang of failing to come to any sort of conclusion on a depositional environment.
A quick dash back to the hotel, a shower, and it was straight into the department for breakfast and a series of meetings with staff and students. Like all the department visits on this and the previous tour, it was great fun to learn about all the work being done by people in fields wildly different to mine. Particularly exciting was the way in which MSc and PhD students in particular feel so engaged with their research; they wanted to do it well and they were keen to talk about.
My talk, the final one of the tour (*sniff*) was to again be on normal faulting. The large lecture room was pretty full, and the talk went well despite me getting some neck strain due to the lofty situation of the giant screen. A Q&A followed, before I was presented with some ace swag (see above). A pizza-fuelled ‘meet-and greet’, where I chatted with several more students about their current research and future plans. A splinter group then headed down to a pub on main street, where discussions continued, this time fuelled by beer and, in some cases, whisky. It was around 1730.
Celina Suarez and I then met here husband Andy Lamb and their duck-obsessed daughter Ella, and we headed to the rather questionably positioned, but incredibly characterful Cafe Rue Orleans, a Cajun restaurant that came highly recommended by some of the students. An awesome meal was capped by beignets, which quite frankly should come with a health warning (imagine a oil-soaked doughnut, drowning in icing sugar). Andy and Celina told me all about their collective exploits travelling around and living in various parts of the world, whereas Ella told me her duck-house plans. It was a great evening, and the perfect end to a long, tiring, but inspiring day.
Up early(ish)the next morning, I packed, called home, and then met Mac for breakfast. Over remarkably restrained American breakfasts, we chatted about everything, including our joint love of paper-based, 2D seismic-stratigraphy exercises, and the stunning geology defining the state of Arkansas. Mac then kindly took me to the airport, where I currently find myself trapped, in a horrendous lightening storm, writing this final(ish) blog post.
Given the weather, it’s likely I’ll spend the rest of my natural life here in Arkansas. However, if there is a slim chance I’ll be leaving sometime soon, I’d like to say a huge ‘thanks!’ to John Shaw, my host here at U of A. Thanks also to Chris, Matt, Mac, Celina, Andy and Ella, for your company and laughs; I look forward to returning in the not-too-distant future!
From the calm, leafy greenness of the UConn campus in Connecticut, to the hyper-urban, downright lunacy of New York, my GSA lecture tour crunched through the gears and switched it up.
The GSA travel agent saw fit to fly me from Hartford, CT to to New York, NY via Washington DC. Although it was nice to glimpse the ‘swamp’ and the White House(!) through a cloud-heavy sky, it was clear, having briefly peeped at the in-flight magazine, that it wasn’t the direct route. In hindsight, I maybe should have checked a map of the US when my itinerary was sent to me late last year. As it was, I arrived nice and early in downtown Manhattan, having navigated the labyrinthine but amazingly functional, New York public transportation system.
My first job was to head down to 16th and Broadway to meet Graham Ganssle (@grahamganssle), do’er and thinker extraordinaire. I cannot even begin to classify what Graham does; I can only say that I befriended him via Matt Hall (@kwinkunks), an old friend who did his PhD a few years ahead of me at Manchester University. I had kinda, sorta met Graham a couple of times when I ‘appeared’ on Undersampled Radio, the science(?)-based podcast he hosts with Matt; I least managed to recognise him when he walked into my café. Having remarked on how tall I was in real life, we chatted and drank fancy coffees, before heading out to drop off my case at the apartment he was staying in. Beer and lunch beckoned, so we repaired to a small bar to wait for Matt’s delayed arrival from Halifax via Montreal. It was great to see Matt again, having not seen him, face-to-face, for around 15 years. However, weirdly enough, it didn’t feel like that long, having been in fairly regular contact with him in the last few years via the Twittersphere. We drank, ate, and chatted, before heading back to our AirBnB to check-in and to make something vaguely resembling a plan. To be honest, the rest of the evening went by in a bit of a blur. I vaguely remember a dark, wood panelled bar, a pasta dish served in a half-wheel of Parmesan (see here), meeting an awesome geek called Ethan (@eprosenthal), and then a podcast. Yes, full of booze, cheese and carbs, we did an Undersampled Radio podcast. What on? I don’t recall, but you when it’s been edited down I’ll tweet it out.
The morning after the night before was *cough*, rather ‘slow’ *cough*, so we tried to kick-start things by taking on epic bagels and juice. Remembering I was not in town to simply drink, talk and eat, I had to hustle to get uptown to Columbia University to get the shuttle-bus out to Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to give my GSA talk. The second half of the bus-ride out to the leafy campus was ace, crossing the mighty Hudson River, and climbing up and along the impressive escarpment formed by the Palisades Sill.
I was met at the campus by the indefatigable, still-British, Nick Christie-Blick (@christieblick). With a range of research interests as broad as mine, Nick is one of my geo-heros. Over lunch we had an animated chat about how science, in our case Earth Science, should focus on tackling exciting, complicated problems, and not exclusively on specific geographical regions or method development. We also discussed politics. Nick then took me to my lecture, which was to focus on the growth of normal faults (this talk, on the second leg of this tour, has proven to be especially popular). I must admit to being slightly nervous; Lamont-Doherty has some folks who know their shit about continental extension and normal faulting…plus for reasons that will always remain a mystery to me, Graham and Matt had made the long trip up town and off the island of Manhattan to watch me talk. To make matters far, far worse, they then sat in the front row. I think the talk went well, with even some geochemists/petrologists (I’m looking at you, fellow GSA Distinguished Lecturer Terry Plank…) nodding approvingly as I rambled on about kinematic models for normal faults. The Q&A was long and ‘robust’, and I was eventually allowed to leave to visit some of the faculty.
First up was Roger Buck (yes everyone, I met Roger Buck…), who took Matt, Graham and I on a tour of the campus, showing us the original Tharp and Heezen map of the seafloor, and telling us captivating stories about the birth and growth of Lamont-Doherty. We then chatted briefly to Roger and several students about their research on continental extension. The upshot of this; there’s some seriously A-Grade work being done at Lamont on the processes and products of continental extension. What was particularly inspiring was thinking about how our work on relatively small, segmented, upper crustal fault systems work in the context of larger-scale variations in crustal rheology, temperature, etc, etc.
My mind was fizzing as I went to meet Donna Shillington and her student Natalie Accardo, who are doing some awesome work on Lake Malawi. Part of a major, multi-disciplinary study called SEGMeNT, they are using an array of geological and geophysical datasets to understand the geometry and kinematics of the lake-bounding normal fault system. We swapped numbers and will keep in touch.
It was time to leave, so Matt, Graham and I trekked back downtown before going out for a run. From our apartment on West 14th Street, we headed out west to the Hudson, before running south towards Battery Park where we got a nice view of the Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island, Staten Island, Jersey City, and the Verazano-Narrows Bridge. Selfies done, we headed back north to the apartment before meeting Ethan and his soon-to-be wife Mandy for dinner at a cool little Spanish restaurant. Fun chat, tapas, and many beers made for a great evening that I didn’t want to end. End it did, however, and Matt and I said our goodbyes to Graham, who was returning back to New Orleans on a very early flight. We also said goodbye to Ethan and Mandy, before heading back to our apartment for more beers (well, we couldn’t leave them all alone, cold and scared in the AirBnB fridge….), a little more science chat, and eventually bed.
So, here I am blogging from Union Square, New York, NY. It’s funny how life turns out. I had the most amazing time here in New York; in fact, during the run, as I chatted with Graham and Matt about absolutely everything, it struck me how ridiculously lucky I am to have experienced the entire tour. Here in The Big Apple, it was great to finally meet Nick, who was a great host and with whom I share a scientific kinship. I also had a ball spending time with Graham, Matt and Ethan; being around independent, passionate, clever, driven, energy-filled people is intoxicating. After all, it’s New York, baby…!
Best college logo of the tour so far? Probably. Much fun in New England with a pack of Huskies…
A rather fraught journey from Roanoke to Hartford, involving a delayed departure and a Usain Bolt-esque sprint though Charlotte airport, only involving a heavy roller-case and lots of sweating and swearing, deposited me in Connecticut, New England. Despite being the son of West Indian immigrants I guess, in some way, this is my US spiritual home.
I was met by my host Julie Fosdick, an all-round basin analysis ninja, specialising in the application of geo-thermochronology to understanding mountain building and related sediment erosion and dispersal. Having only known her because of her excellent, prize-winning(!) work on the Magallanes foreland basin (Chile and Argentina), I first met Julie at a pre-AAPG party in Calgary last year; I’d evidently not put here off, thus she was receptive to my offer to visit when I contacted her about my GSA tour. We drove to her house in the Glastonbury woods, where I met her husband Ken, a professor at Yale specialising in climate economics. We took a stroll through the woods to a pub (yes, an almost real, British-style pub!) for dinner and deep, deep politic chat, before heading to bed.
I woke early the next morning for a short run. I didn’t feel like it and I didn’t have much time, but the sun was shining and I’d foolishly committed to running at every tour stop. Running without a large roller-case was very nice. A quick breakfast, and Julie and I headed into University of Connecticut’s stunning campus. Set amongst rolling green hills, the architecture felt distinctly British, with the clear blue skies and sunshine adding to the ambience. So began a whirlwind morning of meetings with faculty, including Andrew Bush, Michael Hren, and Lisa Park Boush (the program head and all-round cat-herder; see also @LisaBoush). We laughed and discussed too many things to mention, with Andrew showing and allowing me to photograph some of his cool dino-bits…which sounds weird now I read it back to myself. I also finally met Anjali Fernandes (@climbing_ripple), a sedimentologist-stratigrapher and Twitter connection; turns out people on Twitter can be super-cool in real life!
Running behind schedule (full disclosure: I likely talked to much), I had a pizza-lunch with some of the grad students, before diving back into my schedule with a meeting with Patrick Getty. Finally it was time for my seminar, which today was to be on normal fault geometry and kinematics. A mixed group of undergrads, grad students and faculty patiently watched me leap around the room whilst impersonating normal faults, before firing in numerous testing questions. In fact, some of them halted my performance with in-talk questions, which I always think is a good sign and, to be honest, much more interactive and fun.
Staggering from the lecture room, I completed the afternoon with meetings with Jean Crespi, Robert Thorson (a geoscientist and author, who queried me on the use of the word “evolution” to describe the growth of normal faults…), Tim Byrne (who regaled me with tails of Taiwanese fieldwork – spoiler: it can be frustrating, emotional, but ultimately quite awesome) and an undegrad student Connor Mitchel (who will be undertaking his semester abroad placement in London). It was then time for a short walk across campus to the village(?)/town(?) of Storrs, where Julie, Anjali, Tim, Lisa and I had a few drinks and food, and a lot of laughs at the
world- UConn-famous Geno’s Grille. Julie then kindly drove me back to my airport hotel in preparation for my horribly early (0535) flight to NYC (via Washington DC!) this morning…
I’d like to finish by saying a huge ‘thanks!’ to Julie; she was an A-Grade host and I look forward to spending time with her in the future. Not only did she allow me to stay at her beautiful home, but she also arranged an action-packed schedule. Absolutely everyone I met at UConn was great fun and very welcoming, and I left with the feeling this would be a great place to work! Thanks you Huskies and see y’all soon!
A busy day of something vaguely resembling science was followed by a day of relaxation, fun and new friends in Blackburg, VA.
As I warned you in my last post, drinking a combination of caipirinhas and 8.2% IPAs is a short way to a long hangover. So did my day begin in an overcast, rainy Blacksburg and, having abandoned my plan for a run, I made my way into downtown to find Idego, a coffeehouse tip provided by Brian Romans. Some coffee, a croissant and a blog post later, and I was still feeling crappy, so having met Brian and his wife Hannah for a short walk around the farmers’ market (FYI London, these were real farmers from the surrounding area, selling stuff they’d actually grown), Brian and I repaired to BB Cup for a spicy Korean lunch. It was exactly what my hangover needed. The rain continue to pour and we were somewhat trapped in the restaurant, but all was not lost as we took the time to shoot-the-shit. A key outcome of this exchange was that, in academia, it was more important to be nice and polite than to be smart and aggressive.
Brian and I the did a bit of shopping ahead of a party to celebrate him achieving tenure and Cody Mason (@cosynomad), one of his grad students, passing his PhD. We bought beer and cake, which personally all I thought was needed, before buying some salad stuff. Booooooh. The rain continued to beat down, but we braved a very short walk around Pandapas Pond in the Jefferson National Forest, before taking a mini roadtrip around bango country.
Returning to Brian’s house, the party began. Good company, good food and good booze made for a awesome evening; I honestly can’t remember laughing so hard, so much. Cody’s cosmogenic nuclide-inspired congratulation cake was a huge hit with young and old and it was a shame when the evening came to an end. However, in the interest of my liver and other bodily functions, it was probably for the best.
I’d just like to close out by saying a huge “thanks” to my host Brian Romans. It’s always nice to meet and spend time with people who, in the past, you have only seen fleetingly across the conference room, or you only know via (signed) journal reviews. Contrary to popular advice, meet your heroes.
Week 1 of Leg 2 comes to a end with a visit to the college with the hands-down best logo, Virginia Tech. Oh, and some dude by the name of Brian Romans, a.k.a. @clasticdetritus, calls this place home…
This news just in: getting to Blacksburg, VA, the home of Virginia Tech, from Eugene, OR, ain’t easy. At. All. A 16 hour journey, involving transfers at Seattle and Atlanta, deposited me in Roanoke, VA, home to the airport serving the college town of Blacksburg. Compounded by 3.5 hour layovers on both stops, the only plus side to this journey was that I managed to finish reviewing two papers that were waaaaaay overdue, as well as catch-up on emails and Skype home. “Are you having fun Daddy?”, asked Hazel (4) on my transfer in Seattle. “No. No I’m not”, came my reply.
Landing in Roanoke around 2300 I was met at the airport by Brian Romans, who was playing host for my time at VT. I have known Brian, a sedimentologist-stratigrapher-oceanographer, for a few years, partly by (excellent) reputation, partly by reciprocal paper review, and partly by social media presence. In that order. When time allows, he writes the excellent ‘Clastic Detritus‘ blog and Tweets from the handle @clasticdetritus. We briefly caught up on the drive back to my hotel, where I promptly crashed ahead of my busy day at VT.
Now, I’d mentioned to Brian that a slightly late start would be appreciated given my long day and late bedtime. He came up with this:
Catheter fitted, the day kicked-off with breakfast at Gillie’s, a vegetarian cafe on the edge of campus and Blacksburg institution. We were met by several of Brian’s colleagues, including Rick Law (and his wife Clare), Ben Gill, and John Hole. Perhaps unsurprisingly for the US, the breakfasts were huge and, filled to the brim, we walked across the picturesque, sun-drenched campus to the Department of Geosciences. The morning whizzed by in a blaze of laughter-filled meetings that, only very occasionally, strayed into anything resembling science. Esteban and I talked about the perils of lecture tours, the challenges of getting from Manhattan to Lamont Doherty, and the fluid inclusion/petrologcial record of mantle processes and melt migration, whereas Rick and I focused on issues related to open access publishing and journal impact factors (we both serve on the Geological Society of London Publications Committee). I then headed to meet Ben, a geochemist and sedimentologist (“the periodic table is my playground”). We discussed issues related to tenure (a process that is still a little alien to me given that we don’t have this process in the UK) and the ethics of selecting and approaching referees. My view: it’s OK and, in fact, probably wise to approach referees before hand to ensure they are willing to provide a reference. Also, choose people who are, on paper and by reputation at least, ‘better’ than you, such that their opinion carries weight with the committee, be it for tenure or promotion applications.
1100 came so I took a piss and grabbed an iced mocha before taking a short tour around campus with Brian. He told me about the origin of the word ‘Hokie‘ (spoiler: it’s a made-up word and not, as some may presume, another name for a turkey) and explained to me about the US land grant universities system, as well as showing my some of the famous ‘Hokie Stone‘. I even got a quick glimpse at the Museum of Geosciences , which sated my craving for theropods and fossil plants.
I then met Bod Bodnar and his students in the VT Fluids Research Lab before heading for another laughter-filled lunch meeting with some of the department grad students. Over lunch not only did I learn about the exciting research being undertaken by these students (ranging from tectonics to paleobiology, and seismology to hydrology), but I also got an insight into their fears about the current state of the US. Sometimes the latter issues are more important that science.
Immediately after lunch I spent some time with Michelle, a vertebrate paleontologist working on a range of paleobiology problems, and John, a seismologist currently working on crustal deformation in the western US. I then moved down to the Sedimentary Systems Research Group to spend some time with Brian and Sebastian, a PhD student working on deep-marine deposits in Chile as part of the super-cool, super-productive, Chile Slope Systems project. We looked at some recently collected drone data and scratched our collective heads over some complex structural-stratigraphic relationships exposed in on the absolutely stunning outcrops characterising this visually spectacular region.
It was then time for my talk, which today was on 3D seismic reflection imaging of sedimentary basin structure and stratigraphy. I was a bit rusty and tired, but the talk went well enough, or at least well enough that Brian, Esteban, Ben, Rick and Clare took me out for food and drinks. Related to this last point, a word of warning; caipirinha/IPA-fuelled hangovers are not to fucked with.