Friday, April 26, 2013


It's Mayfest.  Mayfest is the day when the undergrads at SU celebrate the end of the school year (next Tuesday is the last day of classes). It involves cordoning off some of the streets near campus, a big concert in the Carrier Dome, and of course, libations.

As a grad student, I'm not celebrating Mayfest. Been there, done that (we called it end-of-year Beer Gardens where I did my undergrad and it was Bermuda-Shorts-Day (or BSD) where I did my MSc).  Plus, I don't have the time for it right now. With classes wrapping up I'm swamped with assignments and exams. I'm going on a field trip this weekend (studying the Wilson Cycle in New England) and next weekend I leave for ten days in Canada to attend and present at geoConvention and visit my family.

So I've spent this sunny Friday afternoon in an empty classroom working on my dissertation proposal (or at least the proposal for the first chapter).  I've already done preliminary work on this chapter as part of an Independent Study last term, and earlier this month I put together a (winning) poster on that work for a local student symposium.  So I've spent a lot of time looking at existing maps of my study area in the last few months.

Recently, I've been struggling to write up the literature review, and tie in what I'm learning about the overall East Africa Rift System with the data I'm looking at in Lake Malawi. Trying to come up with questions to answer that are meaningful (a.k.a. hypothesis testing) is hard.  So today I decided to try to make my own sketch on the whiteboard.  I use whiteboards like Dumbledore uses pensieves.

And in the process of reproducing the fault map I've been staring at for months (that I've even re-traced in Illustrator), I discovered something I'd missed before.  Something important to understanding the evolution of  "my" accommodation zone.

This is really cool to me, and at the end of a long, hard semester of classes, I'm really excited to have a new perspective on the work I'll be doing over the next few months. I feel much better prepared to finish writing my proposal now too.

In other words, to really understand geology, you need to make your own schematic sketches. They can be on whiteboards, on napkins, on envelopes (although you may want to save the back-of-the-envelope for any math you need to do).  It doesn't matter where you do them, but sketching things out is a great way to understand geological relationships!!!

My whiteboard sketch.  The big black "boxy" things are border faults on two oppositely-facing half-grabens. The green dashed lines represent three segments of the accommodation zone between the two half-grabens (they are accommodation zones within the overall accommodation zone marked by the blue dashed line). I'm studying the accommodation zone in the middle-left.  What I've missed up until this afternoon is that there is probably a close relationship between it and the fault that bounds the mini-accommodation zone below and to the right.


  1. I stole a whiteboard for my office to help students the other day. I still have it, but will eventually need to return it :(

  2. Madelyn BlankenshipJune 20, 2013 at 2:48 AM

    At first glance, I though the sketch was a shape of a female, awkward. Anyway, undergrad student are always envious that they can have summer breaks, unlike grad student that have trimester on their schedule. Also writing their master dissertation topic all the time, and trying to figure out what would be a good addition to it. Hope that you’re doing well on grad school. It may be hard, but you can always find some fun on it.