Blog Posts

Fannie and John Hertz Foundation blog interview

Moonquakes and Earthquakes: From Apollo 11 to Today



Seismo-gram is a Seismological Society of America blog for early-career scientists

How do I find a good mentor in academia”  by Seth Stein  October 3, 2018

Because science is a very personal process, scientific careers are shaped significantly by
early-career interactions with mentors. Decades later, most scientists easily recall lessons they learned,
both about science and about how to do science. Typically, the most crucial interaction was with their
graduate advisor or advisors.

As a result, a key aspect of graduate study is finding an advisor or advisors whom you would work well
with. Because everyone is different, there is no best match or way to find an advisor. My advice is to
seek someone to work with, not for. Someone who sees themselves as an advisor, not a supervisor.
Someone who sees you as a young scientist to help nurture, not as cheap labor for their projects.

In considering a possible advisor you might look at several things. Are you interested in what the
advisor is doing? Would he or she be interested in advising you on a topic that interests you? How do
current students feel about their advisor? Are they doing science that they want to or that they were told
to? Are their talents, ideas and interests respected? Are they given credit for what they do? Are they
publishing papers, giving talks at meetings and otherwise participating in the scientific community? If
the possible advisor is senior enough, what have his or her former students done?

Naturally, identifying a potential advisor and then agreeing to work together are just the first steps.
Making the relationship work involves effort on both sides.



On the Job is an AGU blog for students, early-career and established professionals.

You and Your Advisor” by Seth Stein January 3, 2017

Graduate school is very different from undergraduate school. Undergraduate school focuses on course work, whereas graduate school is primarily about research. Graduate school is a complicated, messy, and mysterious process that turns bright and motivated undergraduates into young professional scientists. Although it’s hard to describe, it works surprisingly well for most students.

Success in grad school depends on your energy, enthusiasm, and willingness to go well beyond minimum requirements.  Advisors, departments, and luck are also important. Students spend lots of time discussing these other factors, especially the relationship with their advisor.  This post’s goal is to offer a perspective from the other side—an advisor’s view.  Although it’s based on personal experience and observations, most advisors would probably agree with most points. Continue reading…


A first geophysics job with project Apollo”  by Seth Stein  July 22, 2019

In 1972, after my freshman year at MIT, Prof. Nafi Toksoz was kind enough to hire me to work in his research group that used data from seismometers the Apollo astronauts installed on the moon. I learned a lot from these excellent scientists, and (hopefully) helped them a little. It was exciting to have even a very minor part in a group investigating the moon’s structure and evolution. I figure I was at the bottom of the roughly 400,000 people involved in the Apollo program. This started my science career – I coauthored papers about detecting meteoroid impacts on the moon and about the moon’s internal structure. It also helped my newly forming outdoor interest – the money I made paid for my first backpack, tent, sleeping bag, snowshoes, ice axe, etc. and one of the then-new HP-35 scientific calculators, which cost $400 ($2500 in today’s dollars)! Continue reading...


Navigating the publication processby Seth Stein May 19, 2017

Finishing a successful research project feels great. You have neat results and want to share them. However, young scientists often discover that the next stage, publishing the results, can be tougher and take more emotional energy than the research itself.

This isn’t surprising. Research involves trying to figure out something about nature that—to paraphrase Einstein—is “subtle but not malicious.” Publishing, however, involves editors and reviewers who have views about how nature works. Hence getting new results or ideas published can sometimes be difficult.

I’m often asked for publication-related advice, in part because I’ve edited AGU’s Journal of Geophysical Research and books for the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, and the Geological Society of London. In such discussions, other colleagues and I often draw analogies from what seems like an unlikely source—sea stories.  The publication process is like a voyage; after leaving port, it may go smoothly or be difficult. Continue reading…


Shifting your career path in a changing scientific climate” by Seth Stein March 31, 2017

In December 1972, when the last Apollo mission, Apollo 17, landed on the moon, I was an undergraduate working in a research group that used data from seismometers the astronauts installed and left behind. It was exciting to have even a very minor part in a group investigating the moon’s structure and evolution.  However, we knew the Apollo program would soon be ending.

President John Kennedy started the program in 1961.  By 1972, at least 400,000 people had been involved, and $23 billion (about $135 billion in today’s dollars) had been spent.  President Richard Nixon saw no reason to continue the effort, given political and budgetary considerations. I would have liked Apollo to continue, but recognized the counterarguments. For example, each Apollo mission cost about the same as the entire annual National Science Foundation budget.

Within a few years, our group dispersed. The professor leading the group became a leader in exploration geophysics. My supervisor went on to a distinguished career in nuclear explosion monitoring. The graduate students started successful careers in the oil industry. I went to grad school and studied the earth’s normal modes and the evolution of the Indian Ocean. Continue reading…


Teaching Assistantships: An opportunity, not a chore” by Seth Stein February 14, 2017

For three hundred years, physicists debated whether light was a wave or a particle, before agreeing that it was both. Perhaps similarly, graduate students have long debated whether working as a teaching assistant was a chore or an opportunity.

Certainly, TAing sometimes feels like a chore, especially in introductory/distribution courses, flippantly called “rocks for jocks” or “moons for goons,” where some students are unmotivated and soak up lots of your time and emotional energy. Arguing over grades and dealing with cheating is frustrating. Even so, we think on the whole, TAing is an opportunity that can do you good. Continue reading…