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Ludmila Adam

Ludmila Adam is a Senior Lecturer in Geophysics at the School of Environment, University of Auckland.

Ludmila Adam sampling rocks

What do you do on an average work day?
What I love about academia is that there is no average day. As a lecturer in the university your days revolve around students, research, teaching and community outreach. I enjoy each and every part of my job. When classes are in session, I spend a significant part of my time in preparing and delivering lectures, but what is fun is that you have the power to always make them better!

I teach undergraduate and graduate classes. During the semester I also advise graduate students (MSc and PhD level) and undergraduate students interested to be involved early in research. Between semesters is when I develop most of my research and perform geoscience outreach. My research involves studying the physical and geophysical properties of rocks in the laboratory to better understand earthquakes, volcanoes and geological sources of energy (geothermal and hydrocarbons). As the name says, geophysics is the field where we use physics to understand the geological processes in our Earth.

My interest in teaching does not stop at tertiary level, as I love to interact and perform outreach with kids at schools. For that we have setup the Seismometers in New Zealand Schools project.

What did you study at school? And after high school?
I attended high school and undergraduate studies in Venezuela. In high school, I focused on sciences, and all our classes were prescribed, which included math, physics, chemistry, biology and earth science (among others). These classes provided me with a strong base when I started my Geophysics studies at University. As an undergraduate I knew I had to get a strong background in math and physics, so those were the classes I took the first year. In the second to fourth year I continued taking some advanced math and physics together with required geophysics and geology classes.

I went to the USA on a graduate scholarship and received an MSc in Geophysics first. I worked in the exploration geophysics industry before and during my graduate studies. I believe industry experience was really important for me to find my career path. Although I liked working in industry, being able to work on – and try to solve! – fundamental science problems (research) is my passion. I therefore continued into a PhD programme in Geophysics. I loved being a graduate student as you get to choose a research project you enjoy, and become an expert in that topic.

With a PhD qualification you can work for a research institute (commercial or government), or in academia. I was lucky enough to find a career path in academia, build a research experimental laboratory and share science with enthusiastic students!

Was your study directly related to what you do now?
Yes and no. I studied Geophysics because I wanted to study earthquakes and volcanoes. However, as Venezuela is a major oil and gas producer most of the jobs for the geophysicists were in that area. So I started my career in the hydrocarbon industry and enjoyed my job. However, once I went to pursue graduate studies I was able to select projects in other areas.

The latest turn was when I moved to New Zealand. Because academia gives you the freedom to study the science you love, we are now investigating the geological processes within White Island volcano, the Alpine Fault and the Taupo Volcanic Zones geothermal fields. Sometimes, you do not know what the future will bring and your interests could come full circle.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?

  • Work towards developing a strong and well-rounded science base (maths, chemistry, physics and biology).
  • In your last years of high school, attend career days offered by universities and institutes. Ask the staff and students at these events which classes you should take to prepare for the careers of your choice.
  • Pursue a career you really enjoy, it will be easier to be successful if you are working on something you are passionate about.
  • Be active at searching for work opportunities strongly related to your career. These can range from paid internships to volunteer jobs. (You could start this in high school!) There is no substitute for work experience in your field early on.

What are some of your career highlights so far?
I get the greatest satisfaction when a student I taught develops to their full potential. For undergraduates it has been seeing them secure their dream job or in some cases seeing them go to postgraduate studies in top universities in New Zealand and abroad.

For postgraduate students, we always celebrate their first-authored scientific journal publication. I also get great satisfaction in sharing the science with colleagues at an international conference for example, as well as presenting our science to the community. Communicating (geo)science to people anywhere between 5 and 90 years old makes my day!

Why do you believe engaging in STEM – whether it’s working in the field, studying it or just educating one’s self around the issues – is important to New Zealand?
STEM surround us every day. It is the backbone to the growth of New Zealand. Even if not everyone continues in a STEM career, having knowledge on these subjects makes people well-rounded contributors in both their community and at work.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?
Currently, women are underrepresented in most STEM careers. For a balanced and collegial success in New Zealand industries and government entities it is important to have gender equality in the all workspaces, including STEM fields.

Ludmila Adam is a Senior Lecturer in Geophysics at the School of Environment, University of Auckland.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM. 
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