Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dear Ph.D.s and Post-docs: Beware

So far I brought to their destination ten Ph.D. students. Which was their path in real life ?
One has a reasonable research carrier. Another one is trying to get into one in Saudi Arabia. Two made their step into the real life of an Engineer. Two founded a company. Two are doing a post-doc, and we will se where they will go. Other two, passed through post-docs, and still have to find their own way.
If I have to judge by my statistics, I can draw some (Bayesian) conclusions:

  • Just a few Ph.D.s can enter a research/academic carrier (between ten and twenty per cent).
  • For someone, maybe, doing a Ph.D.  was a waste of time. (But their opinion would be important)
  • Some rolled up their sleeves and are trying to make their best to get their dream (of a having an interesting job) to come true. (They can fail and need support by their former advisors, academic policies, nations' wide consciousness of the importance of their role).
  • More than four post-docs years are useless (they serve the PI, but not the postdoc). Post-docs, after a couple of years, have to come-back to reality and make plans.
  • Someone is probably lost.
I always ask myself how much responsibility I have in the worst cases, and, frankly, I do not have an answer.  I will try to do better in future.
However the problem, as highlighted by this Nature commentary,  seems to be universal, at least in many of the developed countries. Academic positions are shrinking, and, at the same time, Ph.D. students are increasing in number. And, with them, post-docs. Now, we start to see the development of these long term post-docs carriers, without hope, and I ask myself with opposite moods: is this the best we can offer to them, and, why the hell, they do not face reality (that they will not have, in most of the cases, one position) ?
On the other side, I constantly prey for the western governments increasing their investments in research and innovation, as the real, long term, solution for exiting societal and economical crises. So far they did not, and, instead, many do the contrary. Cause and effect of the decline.

Said that, I will still continue to (moderately) enrol Ph.D. students. Ph.D. time can be great. You can see the world, meet outstanding people. Be on the edge. Hope for a better future, and that it is in your hands (and certainly it is too).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Downscaling of climate projections and sources of uncertainties

This is (actually the second) seminar of the series of CLIMAWARE's.  The report of the first one will follow soon. The topic is: Observations and modelling of precipitation and the hydrological cycle: uncertainties and downscaling and is all about the local impacts of Climate Change.

These slides come to highlight the work of Jost von Hardenberg (GS), Elisa Palazzi (GS), Silvia Terzago and others in downscaling the projection of GCMs in order to obtain very local statistics of climate suitable to be applied, for instance, at the scale of river Adige or its main tributaries. One interesting strategy they follow is to use WRF,  i.e. a weather forecast models, to obtain such projections. We think to use their expertise to drive our hydrologic simulations in the project.

Friday, June 5, 2015

A few topics for a challenging Master thesis

It is quite a long time that I am thinking to assign some master thesis around GEOtop 3.0.

A Master Thesis could be done even on the "simple" Richards equation. In this case the idea would be implementing the nested-Newton Casulli-Zanolli's method (on unstructured grids).
Time ago I assigned a little grant on this topic, but unfortunately, the work was not completed/ The material produced, in any case, is here. (I have also some other material, in FORTRAN, anyway).  In this case, the idea would be to use Java and develop further what already made by Francesco Serafin in his thesis. 
My outstanding colleague Michael Dumbser already promised to help me to complete the precedent work, and, at that point the main work would be to translate the procedural concepts into a object-oriented framework. In any case, who does it, would place one of the first stones of GEOtop 3.0.

Just thinking loudly, once started the Richards' work (which constitutes, however,  well defined and challenging enterprise) one could think how to implement coherently different flavours of the equation, for using bimodal or other water retention curves; for extending Richards analysis to integrate also the groundwater 3D equation, or studying the coupling with the evaporation/transpiration sink.  All alternatives that are interesting either from the numerical and the physical point of view.

The original problem I had in mind when I started this post, was the more ambitious one connected with the numerics and the physics of soil freezing (see Matteo Dall'Amico Ph.D. Thesis).  Our reference paper in the topic is the 2011 Dall'Amico et al. In the thesis and in the paper we wrote the equations in  3D but solved them in 1D with a not so particularly elegant method, which the nested-Newton algorithm could surpass by far. 

Working on the cryospheric side of Richards equation open a series of opportunity and especially the collaboration with  Stephan Gruber (with Carleton we have an exchange agreement, and the candidate could also stay for a few months there). 

Actually all these topics suggest that a very basic trial could be made to envision a scheme and an infrastructure that can accomodate all of these Richards variants by minimising code rewriting. But this would be probably a theme that could be completely developed in a Ph.D. In fact all these topics' task can clearly produce journal papers, if completed, and certainly open the road to some Ph.D. carrier.

Someone can think that everything is too much challenging, and actually, it is. However, all the topics are pretty mature in my mind, and the path to the solution is pretty well designed.