The Beatings Will Continue

Associate Dean Stevenson,

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Geological Sciences, researching two methods for inferring the temporal variability of tidally induced tectonic activity on the icy satellites of the outer solar system. I am petitioning for permission to register for an additional semester beyond the elapsed time limit of 6 years between matriculation and graduation which is imposed by the CU graduate school on PhD students. There are several reasons for my tardiness. Some were within my control, and others outside of it.

During my first year at CU (2002-2003), my research and coursework focused on techniques for finding geochemical signatures of life in the oldest terrestrial rocks. This was work for which my undergraduate degree in engineering had not prepared me, and so some of the courses I took were at the undergraduate level (mineralogy, petrology, and geochemistry), and thus did not count toward my PhD coursework requirements, meaning I’ve spent a larger number of semester hours in coursework than would normally have been required.

At the end of my first year (May 2003), I had the opportunity to change my research focus to planetary surfaces, which was both more familiar and interesting, and which meshed better with my prior undergraduate and work experience. Unfortunately this means that my the research and the undergraduate geology coursework I did during my first year ultimately will not contribute significantly to my PhD.

From Nov 2004 to Aug 2005 I took a leave of absence and studied Spanish in Mexico and Guatemala with my then girlfriend, now wife, who began graduate school in Geophysics in Pasadena, CA at Caltech in Sep 2005. Obviously those ten months did not contribute to my PhD, but they were necessary to solidify our relationship, and have led to what I believe will be a fulfilling lifelong partnership. Regardless of the outcome of this petition, I do not regret them in the least.

Shortly after my return to CU in the fall of 2005, my primary research advisor (Robert Pappalardo) was offered a job working at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), also in Pasadena, CA. Upon completing my coursework at CU, I re-located to Pasadena, and continued working on my PhD research from JPL. Unfortunately, the environment there was not particularly stimulating, and my advisor was fully occupied with the largely non-research related duties of his new job, and frequently on travel. In January 2006, I received faculty sponsorship to work at Caltech in the division of Geology and Planetary Science as a visiting student and have found that environment much more conducive to research, with many other students and faculty working on similar topics with whom I can interact on a regular basis, and colloquia related to my field. I have made great progress since moving to Caltech, and have developed a collaboration with Oded Aharonson, one of the planetary science faculty there. He now acts as my de facto research advisor.

I am second author on a paper currently in press in the journal Icarus, which develops the geophysical model underlying my analysis of tectonic features on icy satellites. This model was originally intended to simply be a precursor to my analysis, but became much more comprehensive, including adding the effects of viscous relaxation in the icy portion of the body, and has thus occupied more of my PhD than expected. Additionally, the direction my research has taken has required me to develop computational methods (statistical geometry and network analysis algorithms) which are novel and useful, and have applications in planetary surfaces research beyond my projects, but which none of my research advisors have been equipped to help me with, which has made for slow going. I have a second paper draft ready for submission, and a third in preparation, using the model and my analysis techniques. Together these three publications will represent work sufficient for a PhD. I believe I can have the work completed and written up by the April 17th defense deadline for the spring 2009 semester.

Ignoring my largely unrelated first year, and my Nov 2004 – Aug 2005 leave of absence, I have been working on my current research for a total of 4 years. On average within that timeframe I feel that my progress has been satisfactory, and I hope that you will see fit to allow me a few more months to complete my degree, with the support of my academic advisor, Karl Mueller.

Zane Selvans

By Zane Selvans

A former space explorer, now marooned on a beautiful, dying world.

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