Louisa Brotherson

PhD Student, Earthquake Seismology and Rock Deformation, University of Liverpool

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Be open-minded about where your career will take you. So much of STEM is multi-disciplinary now.

What do you do?

I study earthquakes using high pressure lab experiments and computer modelling at Liverpool's Rock Deformation Laboratory. Earthquakes are caused when stress builds up and is suddenly released at a faults. While we generally understand how they're caused, there's still great uncertainty about the earthquake source - the small patch on which earthquakes nucleate (starts). 

I aim to understand more about earthquake source properties such as the amount of sudden stress release (stress drop), speed that the earthquake continues at (rupture velocity) and more! Source properties control the magnitude and frequency of earthquakes so key to understand.

Why did you choose this field?

At school I enjoyed maths and science but my favourite subject was geography - I loved learning about how earth systems work and how we as people interact with them. In particular I enjoyed learning about natural hazards - my family are from the Caribbean where hurricanes, volcanoes and other hazards are prevalent. So I wanted a greater understanding! I decided to study Geophysics which uses physics concepts (magnetism, gravity, waves etc.) to study earth.
Earthquakes cause massive devastation and so much is left to learn about them, I want to reduce uncertainty in ground motion prediction which is used as a measure of vulnerability when looking at seismic hazard.

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

Obtaining a full PhD scholarship straight after my undergraduate degree, no MSc but with an MSci and extra research experience under my belt. I received a DAAD RISE (Research Internship in Science and Engineering) Germany scholarship during my third year of undergraduate study (during which I was in Canada for my year abroad) where I spent 3 months on a paid research project investigating seismic waves produced during underground tunnelling. With this extra research experience, my problem solving and programming skills improved, I did very well in my final-year dissertation project (I achieved 76%) and I was able to get a fully-funded PhD which is extremely competitive and uncommon for MSci students to obtain.

Why do you love working in STEM?

No two days are the same! One day I'll be working in the lab, the next I'm writing code, the next I'm travelling to a conference to talk about my work. I wake up looking forward to advancing my knowledge of my subject and communicating my science to my peers, research group and beyond. I'm passionate about planet earth and the fact that I can get paid for understanding our complex planet is even better.

Best advice for next generation?

Be open-minded about where your career will take you. When I thought about university, I was sure I was going to be an engineer. But when I went to the university open days and did a couple of engineering summer schools (free via the Sutton Trust) I realised it really wasn't for me. Take a look at departments that you may not think about straight away - so much of STEM is multi-disciplinary now, on my journey I've studied physics, chemistry, computing, maths, biology, geography and more! Keep an open mind, it's okay to have a broad range of interests as you may be able to come back to them later on.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

"You can be what you can't see, you just have to be the first" - Dr. Marcia Wilson, University of East London

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