Alumni Spotlight: Magali Barba-Sevilla

I participated in my first SCEC internship through the UseIT program the summer following my freshman year as a geophysics major at the University of California Berkeley (Cal). The first time I considered pursuing a PhD was after my UseIT internship, at my first SCEC Annual Meeting. I noticed that the people presenting their research at the meeting either had a PhD, were working towards a PhD, or were students that wanted to pursue a PhD in the future. If I wanted a career in earthquake science research, I would have to get a PhD.

I struggled academically during my undergraduate studies at Cal. Although my low GPA made me doubt my ability to survive a PhD program, my experience as a SCEC intern gave me the confidence I needed to believe I could succeed as a researcher. Knowing that my undergraduate GPA would automatically disqualify me from most competitive PhD programs, I decided to apply to a new masters program in geology at the California State Polytechnic University Pomona (CPP).

Attending CPP not only allowed me to reset my GPA, it also exposed me to my current field of research, InSAR. Early in my masters, I reached out to Dr. Margaret Glasscoe, a NASA JPL-Caltech geophysicist and former SCEC intern, about research opportunities. That interaction eventually lead to a NASA DEVELOP summer internship at JPL where I used InSAR data to find triggered fault slip from the 2010 El Mayor Cucapah earthquake. During my summer at JPL, I met Dr. Gilles Peltzer, a UCLA professor and JPL researcher. After discussing my summer research experience, Dr. Peltzer offered me the opportunity to conduct InSAR research under his guidance for my masters thesis. Completing my masters thesis lead to my decision to pursue a PhD in Geophysics with a focus on InSAR. Dr. Glasscoe connected me with my current PhD advisor, Dr. Kristy Tiampo, at the University of Colorado, Boulder (UCB). Now as a 4th year geophysics PhD student, I collaborate with JPL for my dissertation on InSAR applications for earthquake science research.

The most impactful part of the UseIT experience was launching my academic and professional network. It was through the UseIT summer fieldtrip that I visited the Caltech Seismo Lab and met Dr. Maren Boese, a postdoc at the time, and learned about her work on the Earthquake Early Warning System. Before we left campus, I sneaked away to introduce myself and ask her about summer research opportunities. That interaction lead me to secure a SCEC SURE internship with Dr. Boese on earthquake early warning research the following summer!

My advice to UseIT interns is to network, network, network. Master your elevator pitch and use it every chance you have. Don't be afraid to ask about opportunities. At the SCEC Annual Meeting, check out the posters and talk to the researchers. Earthquake science is incredibly interdisciplinary. Even if your ultimate career goal has nothing to do with earthquake science, research internships in earthquake science can teach you valuable skills that you can apply to any field.