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SMU'S Support During My Ph.D. Has Made All the Difference

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Earning your doctorate is no small undertaking. In fact, many potential Ph.D. students hesitate to commit to a program because of a fear that they might not be able to finish their degree. Louis Quinones had the same hesitations before he began his doctoral program — but he eventually changed his mind.

Louis was raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Geophysics at Southern Methodist University. We sat down with Louis to learn why he chose to earn his Ph.D. and what made him choose SMU over other programs. Here's what he had to say. 

Download our new digital resource to learn more about our a Ph.D. in an Earth  Science:"Discovering Your Planet: A Complete Guide to Earning a Ph.D. in an  Earth Science"!

Tell me a little about yourself. 

I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Geophysics from Texas A&M University. I first became interested in the field of Geophysics following a series of documentaries focusing on the fields of plate tectonics and the inner workings of the Earth’s core and mantle. 

However, it wasn’t until my Junior year at Texas A&M University that I truly began to understand that I wished to study seismology in particular. This desire to study seismology was largely due to an internship experience I participated in at Southern Methodist University with the aid of the Incorporated Research Institutes of Seismology (IRIS) under Dr. Heather DeShon.

Did you encounter any hesitations, obstacles or fears about pursuing a Ph.D. in the field of Earth Science?

The largest amount of hesitation I had about pursuing a Ph.D. was due to my belief that I wasn’t capable enough to complete the work required of a Ph.D. program. Prior to my internship experience, my knowledge about academic research was very limited and so I held a lot of fear that I might lack the type of abilities that are necessary to complete a Ph.D.

Why did you choose the Earth Science Ph.D. program at SMU?

I chose to pursue my Ph.D. in Earth Science at SMU due to my past experiences working with Dr. Heather DeShon, along with the other students and faculty in the department. One of my main research interests was the field of induced (human-associated) seismicity occurring in North Texas, which was being researched here at SMU. 

Additionally, the Earth Science department at SMU had numerous Geophysics faculty members studying a wide breadth of topics, which would allow me to have a multitude of learning and research opportunities. Lastly, the atmosphere and general work environment I experienced during my internship were very positive and I felt this was a good department to pursue my Ph.D.

Now that you’ve experienced the program, what’s your favorite part about it?

My favorite part of the department would have to be the open sense of cooperation and exchange of ideas between the students and faculty. Often you hear stories of competitive or secretive faculty or research groups within university departments, which leads to a sense of isolation where aid is not easily given or received. This has absolutely not been the case during my time at SMU — cooperation and camaraderie have been emphasized since my first day here.

Tell me about some of the research you’ve done over the course of your years of study. What has been your favorite research project so far?

My research has focused on the induced seismicity occurring within the North Texas area, and more specifically the main causes of this seismicity. During my time here my main research activities have focused on managing and analyzing the SMU earthquake catalog, developing a series of codes to examine the active faults and stress field in North Texas, and now modeling the diffusion of pore pressure and poroelastic stress in the region. 

My favorite research project so far has been developing the series of codes for generating focal mechanisms of an earthquake sequence. Those codes are now being used for other people’s research projects! It made me feel like I had made a true contribution to my field of study.

What are your career dreams or plans?

In the future I would like to work with a government organization (either city, state, or national) monitoring and studying earthquake hazards in order to help people remain informed and protected. I feel like the SMU department has helped prepare me for this possible career path by allowing me many opportunities to observe and take part in the daily workflow of monitoring and maintaining a seismic network. 

Additionally, my research at SMU is further tied to understanding the causes and mechanisms of intraplate seismicity, which may prove helpful in assessing earthquake hazards and risks in the future should I work within one of these government organizations.

Why do you think Earth Sciences is an important and valuable field to study?

The study of Earth Science is valuable due to the sheer breadth of topics encompassed by its various fields of study and the extent to which humans interact with them on a daily basis. Almost all human activities are in some way related to the Earth itself whether it be through construction, agriculture, travel, waste disposal, pollution, or just everyday life. 

Humans are part of the greater ecological system active across the planet, and thus it’s important for people to know and understand the planet we live on and how we affect and interact with it. Whether it be the environmental effects of human activities or the hazards and risks associated with natural events, humans need to understand the systems associated with these topics which is what the field of Earth Sciences sets out to do.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

To any prospective doctoral student, I would like to say that no one should ever feel scared about asking for help from another person. There will be times when things get hard, a topic just doesn’t seem to make sense, you don’t think you’re making any progress, or the project just doesn’t seem to be coming together. These feelings and obstacles are normal and what we all have been through at one point or another. So don’t be afraid to seek help from others around you whether it is faculty members or other students. You’ll find a helping hand there because we’re all going through this journey together and you shouldn’t ever feel like you have to face these challenges alone.

Get Started on Your Ph.D. Journey Today

If you are considering your Ph.D. in an Earth Science, we invite you to explore our comprehensive resource or request more information about your program of interest. Or, if you are ready to be welcomed by a supportive community that thrives on inter-department collaboration, contact the department of Earth Sciences at SMU today. We would love to speak with you about working with you to earn your Ph.D. and look forward to hearing from you soon! 

Learn more about earning a Ph.D. in Geophysics or Geology when you explore our resource — Discovering Your Planet: A Complete Guide to Earning a Ph.D. in an Earth Science. Explore the Guide

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