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“Can you hear me? I think you need to unmute yourself…”

Well, this isn’t how I imagined the end of the 3rd year of my PhD panning out – but I don’t think anyone really imagined 2020 going quite like this. When we were asked to start working from home in March, I certainly thought that it seemed quite novelty and that we’d probably back in a couple of weeks. Now 14 weeks since the lockdown was imposed in the UK, I thought it was time to check in here. As well as a wee update on my goings on, it would be lovely to hear from other PhD students and ECRs – what have you been up to?

Adjusting to life at home

My work from home set up in my bedroom

I’ve never really been one to work from home. Throughout my undergraduate and my MSci year, I always opted to revise for exams in the library or the department at university. So even just adjusting the mindset was tricky at first – my flat was going to be a place to work now as well as a place to relax. I’d always admired folks at work that opt to take working-from-home days. How did they do it? The fridge and kettle are all too close, to not be a constant distraction. Just out of shot in this photo, about three steps back is my bed, and the temptation to work from the sofa is huge. But after the first few weeks I guess I learned that you do formulate new routines and hobbies. Initially when the weather was OK, I found just taking a 20-30min walk before starting work made a huge difference in the morning. Maybe it’s something that felt familiar like a commute to work.

Online teaching

Inspiring the name for this blog post I think we’ve all had more than our healthy dose of screen time and video conferencing in the last 3 months. When we went into the lockdown here in the UK, there were still a few weeks of teaching left in Semester 2 and so I had my first taste of delivering tutorials online. It was initially very daunting and it can certainly be a draining experience just talking to your webcam with little response. But actually, I think virtual attendance figures were higher than in person attendance for tutorials. And for undergraduate students who were possibly at home and feeling a little lost and out of routine, the normality of a tutorial and the material itself was gratefully received. I think we are likely to be in store for more virtual or hybrid teaching come September, so I hope to take forward what I learned from my experiences in March and April.

Messages of positivity around Edinburgh city centre

I completed my Introduction To Academic Practice course, delivered by the IAD here at the University of Edinburgh and was awarded Associate Fellow HEA in January this year. I definitely felt more confident with teaching this semester which probably helped with online delivery. I’ll be doing a follow up post to talk about this certificate.

Virtual …everything really

As well as teaching, pretty much everything else has also gone online. I attended my first ever EGU as the conference went virtual and opened up for free. It has also been nice to stay connected with the research community by a whole host of webinars. Particularly the PhD Horizons Seminars organised by the University of Edinburgh IAD  and the IAVCEI ECR-Net webinars have provided some interesting insights for future career prospects.

And everything else

Aside from work, it has felt more important than ever to keep busy with hobbies and exercise during my spare time. Some long-term (and often abandoned) embroidery projects have finally got some much needed attention and made good progress. And the empty streets around Edinburgh city centre have been the perfect playground to get out and do some cycling and running.

Cross stitch projects have been a great distraction during the lockdown
The empty streets of Edinburgh have been perfect for getting out and exercising (loc: Camera Obscura, Royal Mile)










It looks like we are a long way from normal service and popping in and out of the office every day. Although the lockdown has been challenging in so many respects, there are certainly some small silver linings to take from 2020 so far. Stay safe and well everyone!

VMSG 2020

Hello and happy new year!

The end of last year was quite a whirlwind! Alongside tutoring on three undergraduate courses during semester one, I also completed a teaching course organised by the Institute for Academic Development (IAD) in order to gain Associate Fellowship. In my own research I’ve been trying to write my first paper (which is a whole other blog post for another time!) and preparing for the VMSG conference in Plymouth in the new year. I took a well earned break over the Christmas period, at home with friends and family, and I hope you were all also able to take some time away from work.

Blue skies making an appearance over the Barbican on Thursday.

This is the third annual VMSG conference I have attended during my PhD and I think it always gets the new year off to a great start. It’s hard to leave not feeling buoyed up and full of inspiration for the year ahead. Plymouth’s winding cobbled lanes and picture-perfect harbour front made for the perfect backdrop for the this years meeting.

I’ve previously found conferences to be a little overwhelming sometimes. Perhaps it just comes with experience, but this was the first conference I’ve really enjoyed and felt like the discussions and interactions I was able to have with fellow scientists were really positive and productive. This was the first talk I’ve delivered at a conference, and with no parallel sessions, my aim was to communicate my message clearly to a very broad audience. My fitbit watch recorded a peak heart rate at 124 bpm which I think means I was particularly nervous, but as we say in the lunch time running group in the Grant Institute – it’s retrospective fun. I really enjoyed being able to talk about my work to this audience.

My talk featured in session 5 on the theme of Volcanic Hazards & Monitoring. Photo credit: Sally Law

I’m in the process of getting this work written up, so hopefully you will be able to see some of these results very soon. Broadly speaking though, I was presenting my findings from the analysis of a drumbeat episode that occurred at Tungurahua Volcano in Ecuador. Drumbeat seismicity is the name we give to episodes of highly similar, repeating, periodic long-period earthquakes. I’m interested in what volcanic processes generate these curious phenomena and I’m open to discussions with folks about these source mechanisms. So if you have ideas about plug processes in intermediate volcanoes or magma bodies degassing, I’d love to have a chat.

Across all 7 themes in both posters and talks, there was a huge variety of research on show and it was great to see so many students presenting! I particularly enjoyed VMSG Award Winner David Pyle’s talk, using a number of historical references and accounts of volcanic activity.

I’d like to say thank you to both the VMSG and local organising committee for putting together such a great week of science. Congratulations go to all the prize winners, including colleague, friend and room mate for the week, Sally Law, who was awarded the Bob Hunter Prize for Best Student Talk. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone next year in Manchester for VMSG 2021!

A new academic year

As the Edinburgh Festival Fringe comes to a close for another year, the tourists vacate, the air turns cooler and the evenings draw in. Autumn has arrived in Edinburgh and so has Freshers week. Although PhD students don’t tend to follow the academic calendar as undergraduate students might do, there does seem to be a fresh lease of life around campus.

Although the festival was very overwhelming and busy, I saw some great shows and can’t wait to see what is on offer again next year. (Lewis Capaldi at The Princes Street Gardens Summer Sessions, 14 August 2019)

With a new academic year, comes new teaching responsibilities. The majority of PhD students in my office here, take part in tutoring and demonstrating on undergraduate courses, at some point or other. I really enjoy teaching – it is a great confidence booster, it brings some structure to my working week and it’s a neat way to earn some more money.

Getting students to grips with powerful programming languages (Source: Pixabay).

This semester I will be a demonstrator in the computer lab, introducing Python programming to students for the first time. I help out in these practical sessions for both 2nd year Geophysics and 3rd year Geology and Environmental Geoscience students. They get to grips with reading and writing files, graph plotting, statistics and spatial data analysis. I do a lot of programming in Python on a daily basis, but I learnt how to code in an undergraduate course just like this. I really enjoy watching students have the ‘lightbulb’ moment when they manage to answer their own question and figure out the problem.

I will also be tutoring on a 4th year Geophysics course, Natural Hazards & Risk. This is a little different as each week I independently lead a 1hr tutorial covering material from the previous week of lectures. This is an integrated course taught by 6 lecturers, so the tutorials vary from chalkboard mathematics, to Python programming exercises, to seminar style discussion. Last year I was very nervous, standing up and teaching in the first few weeks but I am really looking forward to getting started this year.

Finally, I am also taking a course called Introduction to Academic Practice run by the Institute for Academic Development (IAD). Over this semester through a series of seminars, workshops and teaching observations I am hoping to become an Associate Fellow of AdvanceHE. This is a great, supported way to earn accreditation and I’m really enjoying meeting tutors and demonstrators from other schools across the university. I’ve even got my own homework to do for the first time in years! In the first seminar we were introduced to some reading materials on teaching and educational theory. I particularly enjoyed a series of blog posts – `53 Powerful Ideas All Teachers Should Know About’. You can read the collection here, but an article that rang with me as a student and a tutor, ‘Fear and anxiety are the enemies of learning’.

One of the effects of students perceiving that there is simply too much stuff is that they drop down from a deep approach to a surface approach – settling for memorising so that there is at least some solid ground and some sense of making progress. – Graham Gibbs

I’d love to hear from any other PhD students involved in tutoring and demonstrating, and about your experiences.

27th Annual IUGG Conference

Last week I headed out to Canada, to my first international conference during my PhD. Over 4000 participants gathered in Montreal for the 27th meeting of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG). The union itself is formed of 8 individual associations covering everything from deep Earth seismology to atmospheric sciences, so there was a hugely varied programme of talks and posters available over 10 days.



Myself, Hannah, Gina and Ashley at the view point from Mont Royal on our penultimate evening

As such, a good group of Edinburgh PhD students from all fields of geophysics were in Montreal for the week. Hannah, Gina and (recently handed in!) Ashley, all gave great talks in their sessions. My poster presentation on Saturday was also a really good experience. It’s the first time I’ve been involved in such a specific Volcano Seismology and Acoustics session and it was great to hear so many talks from those really advancing the field. I had some interesting discussions about the use of the quality factor (Q) across different applications in seismology and plenty of ideas for wrapping this work up into something publishable. The IAVCEI meeting began with a day reviewing 100 years of volcanology and concluded with the most recent advances in monitoring and modelling. With over 250 IAVCEI delegates in attendance, the Sunday night social was lots of fun – even bumping into some of my supervisors old students!

Presenting in the session Advances in Volcano Seismology
7am roof top yoga organised in the conference schedule

In a first for me, the conference also hosted a yoga session at 7am on the penultimate day. In the 7th floor conference room that opened out onto the roof of the venue, 12 delegates started their morning totally re-energised with the sunshine pouring in. This is definitely something I hope more conferences can include in the schedule.

The city of Montreal was a beautiful place to explore in between talk sessions. As well as trying the local favourite, poutine, the conference venue was based in the middle of Chinatown so we had plenty of good food. The Canadian F1 Grand Prix circuit is also in the city and the track is open to the public throughout the year – so of course I had to go for a run around it!

The Canadian F1 Grand Prix track

It was a brilliant opportunity to present my work at such a large conference. Plenty of interesting discussions were had and I’m looking forward to drawing some conclusions in this most recent piece of work on Tungurahua.

I’d like to thank the IUGG for awarding a Student Grant to cover my registration costs – having one less expense to worry about in the lead up to the conference really made preparation so much easier.

A downloadable copy of my poster from this meeting is available here.




PGR Conference

Surgeons Hall Museums, Edinburgh – 13 and 14 May 2019

The PGR Conference is an internal event hosted each year in the School of GeoSciences. It gives 1st year students a chance to deliver a talk for the first time, and students in the 2nd year of their PhD, like me, are tasked with a research poster. With the School of GeoSciences being so broad, it’s a fine art pitching the content of your research topic to be accessible to everyone – from human geographers, to ecologists to computational geophysicists.

I was presenting some recent work on the quality (Q) factor – one particular quantitative way we might describe an earthquake. It was great to have discussions with people from outside the field, particularly those in climate modelling, who have great experience with time-series analysis and might be able to lend a hand with some of my own questions. I’ll be presenting this work in a specific volcano seismology session at a conference this summer in Canada so it was great to get a test run presenting with fellow researchers in the department.

The invited keynote speaker this year, Anson Mackay, proved that 3 talks is better than 1. In a whistle-stop tour covering his own research in Holocene carbon dynamics, the importance of pre-print opportunities for early career researchers and some the challenges that LGBTQ+ scientists face – it’s fair to say the audience questions were varied.

On the Tuesday evening, the GradSchool hosted a ceilidh to celebrate the end of the conference. After an unprecedented 48hr heatwave, the temperature in Teviot Debating Hall sky rocketed from Gay Gordons all the way through to Strip the Willow.

A huge thanks go to the PGR team for organising another enormously successful conference.

‘Hello world!’

Hello and welcome! My name is Sophie and I’m here to talk about all things solid Earth geophysics. I’ll be writing about exciting discoveries in my research, geology based pieces that make the news and some insights into the day to day life of being a PhD researcher.

To introduce myself a little,  I’m currently in the second year of my PhD at the University of Edinburgh. I’m trying to understand how the tiny earthquakes generated by active volcanoes, can give us more insight into eruptive processes. In particular I have spent the last 18 months working on Tungurahua Volcano in Ecuador. Tungurahua began to show signs of activity in 1999 and through cycles of Vulcanian and Strombolian eruptions, activity continued through until mid 2017. Although the volcano sits relatively quietly now, there is still vast amounts that can be learnt from these 18 years of activity. The volcano is closely monitored by the Instituto Geofísico in Quito, Ecuador – and you can read a little more about their work here ( The popular tourist town, of Baños sits just to the north of Tungurahua. Its population of over 10,000 people, as well as many more farming communities throughout the Tungurahua province are particularly exposed and vulnerable to volcanic hazards. I hope that my research can contribute to ongoing studies of this volcano and many other analogous systems around the world.

Aside from seismology and volcanology I have a broad interest in most things solid Earth geology and geophysics. At undergraduate level I presented a passive seismic analysis of the New Zealand tectonic system as part of my dissertation, and during my masters I studied magnetic anomaly mapping in the Lesser Antilles subduction zone.

During term time, I am a tutor and demonstrator for undergraduate Earth Science students, here at the University of Edinburgh. I tutor an Introductory Geophysics course for 2nd year students, covering principles of global seismology, electromagnetism and gravity. I am also a demonstrator in a weekly Python computer lab for Geochemists – Python is my programming language of choice for day to day work (pun intended in the welcome to this post), but I have dabbled a little with C++ and MATLAB, and I’m always keen to learn new computing skills.

I have a number of conferences and workshops coming up across the summer, both in Edinburgh and overseas, and I’ll be sure to add content as they happen. I’m most active over on twitter (@sophie_butcher_), so drop me a message and I’ll be sure to follow back. Thanks for having a read and keep your eyes peeled for more volcano content soon!





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