Faculty of Science - Leading creativity and innovation in the sciences

Take 10 with Associate Professor Jan Lindsay

Associate Professor Jan Lindsay from the School of Environment gives us 10 minutes of her time to discuss her research into making society more resilient to volcanic hazards through improving understanding of the processes occurring at and beneath volcanoes.


1.    Describe your research topic to us in 10 words or less.

Volcanic hazard and risk assessment, communication and management.

2.       Now explain it in ‘layman’s’ terms!

My research focusses on making society more resilient to volcanic hazards through improving understanding of the processes occurring at and beneath volcanoes, and developing and testing approaches to improve communication between scientists and stakeholders to ensure efficient uptake of hazard and risk research.

3.       Describe some of your day-to-day research activities.

These days a lot of my research is in collaboration with my postgraduate students, so on a day-to-day level this involves lots of meetings to discuss research ideas, results and manuscript drafts. Luckily this is interspersed with occasional field work at volcanoes!

4.       What do you enjoy most about your research?

Field trips to volcanoes to collect volcanic rock samples and map out the deposits of past eruptions. I love being in the field, but stopped going regularly when my children were young. Now they are teenagers I am foreseeing more frequent field trips in my future!       

5.       Tell us something that has surprised you in the course of your research.

Early in my career I was surprised to discover the extent to which people have trouble reading maps and understanding probabilities. This discovery changed the way I carried out my research. Instead of assuming that I as the scientist know the best format to present my volcanic hazard information, I now always incorporate stakeholder engagement when developing hazard maps or other communication products.  

6.       How have you approached any challenges you’ve faced in your research?

I try and approach challenges calmly, whether they be minor (getting locked out of a laboratory, or discovering a sample mix up) or major (having a paper rejected, or losing key samples!). That doesn’t always work though. In particular it’s hard not to take it personally when a paper gets rejected, or you discover another research team working on the same problem and at the same volcano as you! I do try to be diplomatic and find practical solutions to challenges, this includes consulting with others to see what they think.  

  7.       What questions have emerged as a result?

In the case where challenges relate to unexpected, negative or even boring results, I try and reframe the research question and take a new tack. Challenges always throw up opportunities to learn, about the system we are researching, but also about ourselves!

8.       What kind of impact do you hope your research will have?

I really hope that my research will have impact at the science-policy and science-public interface. I am particularly proud that my team and I work side by side with Emergency Managers in Auckland on risk management aspects of the Auckland Volcanic Field, and I hope to be able to contribute to a growing body of research that provides evidence-based guidelines for effective hazard and risk communication.     

9.       If you collaborate across the faculty or University, who do you work with and how does it benefit your research?

I have a Postdoctoral Fellow, Mary Anne Thompson, who is collaborating with psychologists and computer scientists on an eye-gaze tracking project to gain insight into how people engage with hazard maps. I also collaborate to an extent with staff in the Faculty of Engineering who are working on projects related to natural hazard resilience. Collaborations like this are great as it allows you to view a problem from different angles.

10.   What one piece of advice would you give your younger, less experienced research self?

There will be times when you feel you are spread too thinly to be doing a good job. However, most things can be done very well without being perfect. Recognising this is a challenge for a perfectionist like me! This advice will hopefully serve me well over the next three years as Associate Dean Research for the Faculty; I’m recognising already that it is a very busy role, often requiring actions with short turnaround times!