Melissa A. Scruggs

PhD Student in Volcanology, UCSB


Don't ever let anybody tell you you're not good enough, not smart enough, or that you can't do something.

What do you do?

I try to figure out what happens inside of a magma chamber to trigger volcanic eruptions. To do this, I look at the chemistry of erupted lavas (and their minerals) and combine that data with thermodynamic computer models. This can help scientists better understand what processes occur inside of a magma chamber (because we don't have a way to directly measure or see inside of one).

Why did you choose this field?

In undergrad, I wanted to be an Environmental Lawyer, so I majored in EnvSci on the pre-law track. One of the classes required for the EnvSci major was a cross-disciplinary course called "Archaeology of Ancient Disasters" that really emphasized how natural hazards have shaped humanity throughout the ages - something I had never considered before.

One day, the professor showed us a video clip of a volcanologist in a silver suit, next to a lava lake. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen, so I raised my hand and asked "How do I get to do that?" The professor told me that I would have to go to school and get a PhD in volcanology - so I switched my major to geology, and now I'm pursuing my PhD in volcanology. I have yet to stand next to a lava lake, but I plan on doing it one day!

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

If you had told 17-year-old me that I would be working on a science PhD at a UC, she would have laughed.
Although I always did well in school, I made some very unwise choices as a teenager. I got pregnant at 16, and dropped out of high school to work full time (I was a cake decorator at a grocery store). It has been a long, hard road to get to where I am today, but I wouldn't change any bit of it for the world.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love working in STEM because there's always something new and fascinating to learn!
Although research can be difficult and frustrating at times, there are those moments when you discover something new - those are the best moments, and the ones I look forward to every day.

Best advice for next generation?

Don't ever let anybody tell you you're not good enough, not smart enough, or that you can't do something. There are incredible challenges in this world, for sure. Meet them head-on with a fearless attitude, and you'll be surprised how far you can go.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

"So fill your heart with what's important, and be done with all the rest." - La Dispute, The Last Lost Continent

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