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NAME: Revathy Parameswaran
CURRENT TITLE: PhD Candidate (Thesis in progress!)
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Seismic source modeling; static stress computation; Himalayan seismicity
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 4+ years as a PhD scholar at the Centre for Earth Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India
EDUCATION: MSc in Physics (Cochin University of Science and Technology, India); BSc in Physics (Zamorin’s Guruvayurappan College, University of Calicut, India)
What’s your job like? Why did you decide to pursue an offbeat, unconventional and unique career such as this?
I am exactly where I want to be. As a kid, I was fascinated by planetary sciences, especially planetary interiors. With each grade of advanced training in physics, my interests became more focused, and I realized I wanted to explore my home planet first. Seismology seemed like the perfect tool for that, and I decided to delve right into it. Quite frankly, besides my passion for the subject, a prime factor that drove me toward earth science is my desire to explore. My job is the perfect marriage between computational seismology and earthquake-related fieldwork.
I look at earthquake sources by inverting the seismic waveforms recorded by stations installed globally. I come up with source parameters that can explain the observed deformation. These parameters must agree with the regional seismotectonic setting. In my opinion, this aspect is crucial in understanding plate motion and plate dynamics. I have worked on some of the most interesting earthquakes that have occurred along the Indian-Eurasia collision zone. This includes the 2012 Indian Ocean twin events, 2013 Balochistan earthquake in Pakistan, 2013 Khash earthquake in Iran, 2015 Nepal earthquakes, and most recently, the 2016 Imphal earthquake in Northeast India. Besides studying the source parameters, I work on the static stress changes caused in the neighboring regions and thereby evaluate their proclivity to further failure.
My work also involves quite a bit of fieldwork, which I thoroughly enjoy! The only downside is that the fieldwork follows devastating earthquakes and from a humanitarian standpoint, it is sad. However, as a researcher, I look forward to analyzing the site from a technical perspective and that is indeed very rewarding.
What’s a typical day like?
As a computational seismologist, most of my day is spent working with the code I use for seismic source inversion and static stress computation. Each day is a revelation on how the smallest of change in crustal properties and earthquake parameters can alter seismic behavior and response! Interestingly enough, today was such a day! To add to this, I also work as a Teaching Assistant for my research supervisor. Although handling a class of ~100 undergraduates can be trying, scientific interactions with them are a definite plus! There are days that involve reading journal articles and structuring the literature for your own papers. Surprisingly enough, these are the days that exhaust me thoroughly!
Fieldwork, informal seminar sessions and making illustrations to demonstrate proposed concepts – in that order. Although I spend most of my days working on my computer, there is nothing I enjoy more than the occasional fieldwork. It gives me a vivid picture of how earthquakes and earth processes manifest on the surface. This becomes even more interesting when we take the undergraduates out for their course fieldwork.
Each time we broach a new study area, which may or may not be directly related to the work we do, we hold informal discussions amongst our colleagues and some undergraduates who are interested. Given the wide range of expertise in the group, the discussions become very lively and exhaustive. Whether or not the brainstorming provides explicit input to my work, they deliver a wide range of perspectives on a given topic.
Setting up campaign mode GPS station in a multipath-free zone in the Andaman Islands, India. Photo source: Revathy Parameswaran
Now, this might sound a bit out-of-the-ordinary, but I love making figures for journal articles. Being an artist on the side, I believe that pictures can tell you things that may not be conveyed through words. This can especially be true for science. Whenever I read a paper, I always look at the figures first and then go to the text. I invest quality time in making graphical-plots, maps, and illustrations required for my paper, and this gives me pure joy!
I work with Fortran and MATLAB codes for the computations I do. One of the biggest challenges I face is how sensitive these models are to every parameter change. One is required to make intelligent choices for every input parameter such that each hold reliable physical meaning. This can be cumbersome because a huge part of the crustal Earth is still unmapped. Also, the data I collect from global sources need to be carefully studied and later formatted to the specifications of the code I use. This can take a lot of patience and experience.
What’s your advice to students?
I am pretty sure quite a few here have said this before me, yet I’ll say it again – do exactly what you want to do! First, make sure where your real interest lies, and then pursue it like a madman! Not all your goals might be at close range. But, if you see yourself doing something in the big picture, make sure that your present academic and personal choices eventually lead to that idea. You’ll get there! As a PhD student, I am myself working towards that big-picture image of me!