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Podcast: 5 minutes with India Uppal

11 April 2023

In this episode of 5 Minutes With, Marissa Lo (Assistant Editor) chats to India Uppal, a PhD student at the University of Liverpool.

India Uppal, PhD student at the University of Liverpool (image credit: India Uppal).

Episode Transcript

[00:10] Marissa Lo: Hello, and welcome to 5 Minutes With, a podcast by Geoscientist magazine. My name is Marissa Lo, and today I’m joined by India Uppal, a PhD student from the University of Liverpool. Thanks so much for joining us, India. Can you tell us about your PhD research?

[00:26] India Uppal: So, my project is about investigating geothermal heat flow in Antarctica using magnetic data. So, geothermal heat flow is the transport of heat from Earth’s interior to the surface, which impacts basal temperatures of ice sheets and how they flow and deform. This is important because Antarctica’s ice sheets are one of the world’s largest potential drivers of sea level change. We can also use these estimates to help understand geological and tectonic settings. However, these kilometer-thick ice sheets make calculating geothermal heat flow difficult, and therefore, we rely on indirect measurements, such as magnetic field measurements. So, when merging different magnetic surveys into one continent-scale data set, which is needed for Antarctica’s geothermal heat flow calculations, errors occur due to Earth’s magnetic field varying both spatially and over time. So, for example, if we have a survey measured in 1970, it will be different to a survey measured in 2010, which will then also be different to a satellite measurement from 2020. So I’m currently working on a method to merge all the different data sets, which will hopefully minimise the effects of temporal and spatial variations in Earth’s magnetic field. And another part of my PhD research that’s important to me is that I’ll make my data and code openly accessible.

[01:55] Marissa Lo: Amazing, that sounds really interesting. So what is a typical day for you?

[02:00] India Uppal: Every day tends to be different, but it’s usually a combination of three main things: researching, teaching, and learning something new. As part of my teaching, I usually assist in undergraduate modules across Earth science. My research tends to involve a lot of Python coding. I am currently using a synthetic data set to test my models, which I will then apply to real Antarctic data. When I tend to get stuck or hit a wall with my research, I then usually try and do something new, such as learn a new skill or topic that might help with my research later on. So recently, I’ve been attempting to learn C to help me gain further insight into coding.

[02:44] Marissa Lo: So when you say synthetic data set, what does that mean? Where does that come from?

[02:48] India Uppal: So I’ve essentially created my own, sort of, fake survey, where I’ve created my own sources. So first I started off with just, like, one point source, magnetic source, and then I apply my method to that, and then slowly, I make it more and more complicated, adding more fake magnetic sources into this, so that way I know what the sources are and what it should look like. And I can compare that to what my model then predicts, because obviously, when I will eventually apply it to real data, I won’t actually know what the sources are meant to look like. So this is just a way to make sure my models are robust before applying it to real data.

[03:31] Marissa Lo: So what’s your favourite part of your PhD?

[03:34] India Uppal: Probably the variety of things I get up to. Each day is different, and I’m constantly learning new things. I have the opportunity to work with scientists from around the world who I enjoy listening to because they’re so passionate about their research, and it then inspires me to look at my own research through different lenses. I feel very privileged to be able to spend my days researching things that interest me.

[04:01] Marissa Lo: Finally, what advice would you give to someone hoping to get involved in your research area?

[04:06] India Uppal: Well, I actually almost didn’t apply for this PhD because I didn’t think I was smart enough. I was getting rejected. I didn’t see many people that looked like me in geophysics, but if I’d listened to those doubts, I wouldn’t be sat here today talking to you, doing this podcast. So, my advice would be: take every opportunity that you can. You never know where it might lead you. And remember that failure is a normal part of life, these are often the times we learn the most. So, if you are out there trying to apply for PhDs and you keep getting rejected, ask for feedback and keep trying.

[04:44] Marissa Lo: Thanks so much, India, and best of luck with your PhD project in the next few years.

[04:49] India Uppal: Great. Thank you so much for having me.

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