A Rockin’ Vacation

I was fortunate to spend almost all of September and the first few days of October (about 3 1/2 weeks in all, plus about 3 days of travel time) in gorgeous South Africa, the country that sometime next year will become my base of operations. One of the best benefits of being a graduate student, if you have the right advisor, is that you can make your own work schedule. I meet with my advisor regularly, about once a week. Aside from those weekly meetings where I give my advisor a quick update and she- well- advises me, I have completely free reign.

I make my own schedule, manage my own time, decide what I am going to do on a certain day, and so on. I like this arrangement- I can work on writing my papers when I feel like thinking, and I can go mindlessly pick crystals when my brain is feeling tired. There is always much to do, but fortunately the tasks are varied. Sure, there are the occasional deadlines- time booked on a mass spectrometer, a meeting with a co-author, a conference, or a committee meeting. But most of the time I am just steadily working on my thesis.

I make my own work hours, too. I try to keep somewhat regular hours- I show up to the office between 9 and 10 am and leave by about 6 or 7 pm. I often work an extra hour or two after dinner, sometimes from home if I am feeling tired. Other grad students work crazy hours, though. I am almost always the first one in the office (there are 5 girls in our office) in the morning. For some reason, the other girls in my office are mostly nocturnal. This seems to be a common trait among graduate students, but it doesn’t matter as long as they do their work.

One of the especially great benefits of being a 5th year graduate student is that I already have much of my data in hand. I am still working in lab at present, but I should have all of my data by this coming January or February. Then, I’ve got about six months to just write. Well, do some modeling and write, but mostly write… and writing- theoretically, at least- can be done from anywhere on the planet.

Since I already have a big chunk of data in hand, I convinced my advisor to let me work on writing for a month from South Africa so that I could visit my fiance. In truth, only worked at about 1/2 or 3/4 speed… I took 10 days of vacation and I didn’t work any nights or weekends. But I did work, and I was able to live in South Africa for nearly a month. As difficult as graduate school can be at times, this is an amazing benefit- if I had a “real job” it would be much more difficult for me to say to my boss, “Hey, how about I work from Africa for a month?” and for my boss to reply, “Sure, that sounds fine. I’ll see you in a month.” Yet, this is pretty much the conversation my advisor and I had.

Anyway, I digress… what I really want to say in this post is that even when I am on vacation I am drawn to geology.

Graduate school is *very* difficult at times. Just before flying to South Africa, I had a very challenging committee meeting where one of my committee members ended up screaming at me (I’ll leave it at that… academics! Ugh!). I was very tempted to run away to South Africa and not finish my PhD. However, I did come back. Recently, I’ve been surprised by many of my graduate student friends saying, “Oh, how was your fieldwork in South Africa? Did you get some good rocks? Your pictures look amazing.”

I was confused about this until I started thumbing through my vacation pictures (which I had posted on facebook, of course) and realized that in a good 1/4 to 1/2 of them my fiance and I are looking at rocks. On our vacation. Now that I think about it, that’s pretty much what we do on all our vacations… sometimes we also look at animals. But basically, we go hiking and look at rocks.

So, I guess I need to finish this PhD in geology so that I can add some solid credentials to my innate love of rocks…

I’ll try to post another Geology Word of the Week(ish) in the near future. In the meantime, here are some rockin’ vacation photos from South Africa. I hope you enjoy!

A rocky beach in Cape Town with a view of Table Mountain. Yes, even at the beach we take pictures of rocks.

A penguin on a rocky beach at Simonstown.

Rocks upon rocks at Simonstown.

Under a rock in the Cederberg Mountains.

Under a different rock in the Cederberg Mountains.

A strangely twisted rock in the Cederberg Mountains.

More Cederberg rocks.

The fiance and some more Cederberg rocks.

A large boulder and a small tree in the Cederberg.

Me, overly excited about cross-bedding in a braided river deposit.

Yet more Cederberg rocks!

Baboons, because as I said we sometimes also look at animals. But don’t worry- there are rocks in the background of this shot! The picture is slightly blurry because the fiance refused to let me go too close to the baboons, which apparently have very sharp teeth.

The Old Man in the Cederberg.


Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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  1. Hi

    I’m glad you had such a good time in Cape town, I live in Somerset west just out side Cape town.

    Since you will be coming to SA, I’ve got an idea for you. We have many coffee table type books with pictures of animals but none with the geology of SA, Most Capetonians are very proud on there mountain but very few could tell you it’s age and how it was formed. Anyway could luck with the rest of your Thesis. :)

  2. When you get here, you should try and join the SITP. Cape Town had one, seems to have died down now, but Joburg, Pretoria and Durban has one every month.
    That’s about the extent of our skeptical activities at the moment though.

    Are you going to be in the Cape the whole time? From what little I know of the geology of the country, just about everywhere has something interesting.

  3. Great pictures and post, but I can’t not use this opportunity to promote the original and etymologically correct term “free rein” over the once erroneous “free reign”. ;)

  4. I have a year and a half left in my PhD and just got into a heated ‘debate’ with someone in my research group at my last meeting. My supervisor and the head of the group were not there to back me up. Since then all I’ve wanted to do was walk into the highlands and keep walking. I’m pushing through, but hearing that you’ve bounced back is giving me hope! I’m just planning that walk for when I’m done…something to look forward to. Then I’ll decide if I can handle the academic world.


  5. @ Bjornar: Thanks! You are an etymological thorn in my side. My high school English teacher approves!

    @cr1t and Mandarb- wonderful that there are some South African skeptics. Last year I went to a wedding in Somerset West- what a beautiful place! I would love to join/rejuvenate a SITP in Cape Town. Barring any thesis disasters, I should be moving to Cape Town next April- we’ve bought a little apartment (sorry, flat- I must remember to translate to South African) in Pinelands.

    My fiance is originally from Joburg, though, and he’s often up there to visit his family and for work.

    Are there many South African skeptics? I’m glad to hear there’s a community! Also, Rebecca has promised to visit me once I move to Cape Town… she’s traveling so much that she probably has enough frequent flier miles already :-). So prepare your livers… Rebecca knows how to throw an excellent SITP.

  6. @ErinPatMac…

    Stick with it! Even if you leave academia, people will still have to call you doctor…

    I’ve had a rough, rollercoaster road in grad school. I’m on my third advisor (I left one, and one left me… well, left for a different university) and have had my share of difficult committee meetings. But I’ve jumped through all the hoops now except graduation. They can’t kick me out now! :-)

    My official graduation plan is to become a bum for several months while I get married and go through immigration. I’m sure after two or three months of this I’ll be wanting to work again… I haven’t decided if I want to postdoc or work in industry for a few years. Either option is a good one, I think.

    Academics have tunnel vision. Here at MIT, they look down upon you if you don’t take a prestigious postdoc at CalTech or Cambridge or some such place. But there are many, many other things you can do with your PhD than stay in academia. With a PhD in geology anyway… I suppose other fields are more specialized. And you can always take a postdoc somewhere less-prestigious… you’ll probably enjoy it much more anyway!

  7. @Evelyn:

    I’ve not bothered to register to comment on Skepchick posts before, but as another Capetonian how could I not reply to this one?

    Nice obligatory picture of Table Mountain you’ve got there. I live in Table View, so it’s an image with which I am very familiar. Always nice to see it in unexpected places.

    Pinelands is a fairly nice place to stay, but then again I have to say that because my brother and his fiance stay there too. :-)

    You won’t be able to have any SITPs there though, as it’s a dry suburb.

    Last I heard the Cape Town SITP was fairly quiet. A quick look at the Facebook page doesn’t show too much activity. My brother went to one of the first ones, and I was supposed to go along with him but didn’t have the time. Official Skepchick representation would probably help a lot to kickstart things.

  8. Paul M: Another Capetonian! Excellent!

    We love Pinelands… though you are right, it is a dry suburb. But there are plenty of other excellent suburbs in which to have SITP.

    I just joined the Cape Town facebook group. We should definitely try to revive Cape Town SITP. Once I move to Cape Town, I’d be happy to lend a hand anytime.

    Also, perhaps my fiance and I could lead a Skeptical Geology Tour of the Cape Town area sometime. So many beautiful rocks!

  9. @Evelyn:
    A geology tour sounds pretty good. Even though I’m a bit of a science fan my (entirely amateur) knowledge is mostly biological. Geology, not so much. I’m always willing to learn more, and any excuse to go out and about hiking is welcome.

  10. I had a conversation with my fiance that went something like this:

    Me: Guess what! There’s a Skeptics in the Pub in Cape Town!

    Fiance: Oh no! Not those nerdy people again.

    [Aside: I brought the fiance to The Amaz!ng Meeting 7, and he was a little overwhelmed by the nerdiness].

    Me: But you’re also a nerd, verloofde.

    Fiance: Good point.

    Me: And there’s beer.

    Fiance: Another good point. Okay, I will drive you to these skeptical meet-ups.

    [Another aside: Until I learn to drive stick shift in Cape Town traffic… should be interesting…]

    He’s also agreed to run a geology tour sometime. He goes hiking pretty much every weekend anyway, so we can just do one of our normal hikes but add in some talks about the rocks.

    Looking forward to it… unfortunately, I have a few more months of labwork ahead of me before I can contemplate moving…

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