Mount St Helens summit September 2012

3. How I got where I am today (the personal journey)

The personal journey to become a PhD researcher who studies volcanoes is somewhat different to my academic journey, with the take away message being: ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get.’ Here I will detail some of the amazing opportunities that I have taken in the pursuit of my dream to become a volcanologist.

At 5 years old I had already been bitten by the volcano bug, and from then on the flame of this ignited interest has never gone out. For years I would hang charts on my bedroom walls and fill out the details of any eruptions that I heard about on the news. I would keep newspaper articles mounted onto colourful pieces of card in an ever growing ‘volcanoes’ folder. I even collected fossils and rocks from my local area and presented them at Brownies in the hopes of gaining my ‘collectors badge’ – only to be told that my random assortment of rocks wasn’t a real collection (shortly after which I quit Brownies and went in search of a group that would appreciate rocks a bit more!)

My passion began with videos of the May 18th 1980 eruption of Mount St Helens, and in 2010 I finally got to visit this awe-inspiring volcano for the first time. In preparation for this 1 day visit during a family holiday I prepared a geological guide-book for everyone on our trip. This detailed the geological history of the area, the eruption of 1980, subsequent eruptions and the recovery of the land since these. It also included a list of hazards and what to do in an eruption. By this point in my academic journey I had barely left School, and hadn’t yet attended a single geology class! I knew just about everything you could possibly know about the geology of Mount St Helens (without access to academic papers).

A random spark of inspiration struck me in 2012 and i decided to look for internship or volunteering opportunities at volcano observatories around the world. The first place I looked was Mount St Helens, and sure enough there was a tiny section about international volunteers with the Mount St Helens Institute. Keeping in mind that ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ I sent an email enquiring about volunteering opportunities. A skype interview and many hours of paper-work later and I was on my way to spend 3 months volunteering at the Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mount St Helens, USA.

This was a dream come true! To stand in the shadow of Mount St Helens at the age of 20 and present information to visitors from around the world about the eruption that has inspired my entire life…that was pretty epic to say the least. And on top of this, living in the restricted blast zone of the May 18th 1980 eruption, and climbing to the summit of the volcano and peering down into the deep crater with it’s steaming domes and donut-shaped glacier. It’s safe to say that this was a life changing experience for me, and one that continues to inspire me to seek new adventures and opportunities to learn more about volcanoes.

In 2013 this passion for learning and adventure led me to create my own geological field-trip to the volcanic island of Santorini, Greece. I created a brief guide and hazard assessment for the trip which is available at the bottom of this page. My view was that if the experiences that I wanted didn’t already exist for me then I would create my own ways of gaining that experience. In this case my aim was to get up close and personal with the products of explosive eruptions in the hopes of gaining a greater understanding of what these look like and how they form during an eruption.

Since 2013 my academic journey has taken centre stage in allowing me to travel and explore the world of volcanoes in greater detail than I ever thought was possible. But underlying everything has always been, and always will be, a genuine determination to learn and provide accurate, reliable and accessible information to everyone no matter what your background…hence, was born.


Santorini fact

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