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Dr Jessica ball

Research Geologist, California Volcano Observatory, US Geological Survey 


And - Geoblogger

Don't accept that people have always done something a certain way, or the status quo is good enough, or there's no room for change.

What do you do?

I use computer models to study how water circulates in volcanoes and how it affects their stability - in particular, related to volcanic landslides and mudflows. These studies feed into hazard assessments, and another part of my job is figuring out useful ways of communicating volcanic hazard information with stakeholders around volcanoes - the people, emergency responders, and land managers that might have to deal with an eruption. I develop maps, communication products, and social media content for the USGS Volcano Science Centre to help do this.

Why did you choose this field?

"When I saw hot lava for the first time on a field trip, I was hooked for life."

I've been a bit of a rockhound since I was a little girl, but I really got interested in volcanoes and I carried that interest through to college. I was one of the few folks who arrived there knowing exactly what they wanted to major in, and I made sure that I incorporated as much volcanology as possible into my studies.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I wish that I had been confident that I would finish my PhD and get the job I'd been dreaming of. There can be a lot of self-doubt in graduate school, and there were many times along the way when I wondered what I was trying to accomplish and why it mattered. Knowing that I would accomplish what I'd set out to do, and that people would respect my work and welcome me as a colleague, would have helped me along the way.

Why do you love working in STEM?

"It's a challenge that I enjoy because it will ultimately make someone's life better."

I love figuring out ways to make STEM topics accessible to people who might not love them the way I do, but could benefit from being aware of the information. Especially if you're talking about volcanic hazards - knowing that what you're communicating might protect a life someday makes it worth all the effort!

Best advice for the next generation

Make your STEM experience what you want it to be. Don't accept that people have always done something a certain way, or that the status quo is good enough, or that there's no room for change in a STEM field. The heart of science is re-examining old conclusions to see if they can be improved or if they should be discarded.


Don't be afraid to be at the forefront of change in STEM so that it better reflects the people who do it. And be flexible along the way - things might not happen the way you first expect them to, and you might not end up in the job that you expect, but that absolutely does not mean you haven't accomplished something important. "The heart of science is re-examining old conclusions."

Fun fact

I once melted the soles of my shoes on a recently-cooled lava flow because I was too excited about the molten lava flowing nearby.