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Dr. Davide Donati
What got you interested in Earth Sciences?
This is an interesting question. I think it started when I still was a teenager, while watching a play on TV. It was about the events that led to the occurrence of the Vajont Slide, one of the most (in)famous man-made tragedies in Italian history, and probably well beyond that. Perhaps it was the ability of the actor, or maybe because of the location (the “theatre” was right on the deposit of the landslide), it really hit me in the stomach. I wanted to know more, to understand how it happened, and why. Little did I knew, back then, that this play triggered a series of events that brought me first to study Earth Sciences in the University of Bologna (in Italy), and then to this side of the world to study landslides at SFU
Why did you choose SFU EASC?
First, I should thank one of my former professors in Italy – she really pushed me in the right direction. My first time at SFU I was a visiting graduate student in 2011. I arrived here through the GeoNatHaz program (a Canada-EU collaboration), and on that occasion I met the professor that would later became my Senior Supervisor, Prof. Doug Stead. A few years later when I decided to start my PhD, I had no doubt as to what to do, and where. I knew already that the focus of Doug’s research group included landslides, and their investigation with a set of tool and instruments that in this field I would not hesitate to call “cutting-edge”: laser scanners, UAVs, infrared and hyperspectral cameras. And also a lot of software for numerical modelling, which allowed me to study landslides by trying to “reproduce” them using high-end PCs. Getting my hands “dirty” using all these things has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I consider myself extremely lucky for having had this opportunity.
What is your research?
I just finished my PhD, spending the past 4 years trying to better understand what happens in a slope before and after it starts to move. I study exactly this - landslides and, more generally, unstable slopes. More precisely, what controls them: how they move, where (and why there!), and what are the factors that can cause a seemingly stable mountain side to suddenly (or slowly) turn into a landslide.
What are your plans after SFU EASC?
This is a tough one! Well, I am hoping to stay in academia. I would like to go ahead with my research projects and perhaps become a professor someday. I like the idea of following my inspirations (as much as possible), and dedicate the time I want to the topic and subject I choose (my guess? Landslides!).
What advice would you offer grad students?
I can think of three things – I apologize for the length!
First of all, during everyone’s research project, times will arrive in which one feels like you're in front of a high wall. Maybe an analysis that does not work as expected, a model that really does not seem to cooperate, software that crashes - or even some results that are really difficult to interpret. No worries. We’ve all been there. Those times will arrive, and will pass. And if staring at your computer screen or notes does not help, just go for a walk. Grab a coffee. Say hello to a friend or a colleague. Take a shower. And keep a notebook at hand: answers and ideas will arrive in the moment you take a step back.
Second: stay organized. Keep your files (whether they are on a computer or on “paper”) in good order. Try to follow a scheme, and try to stick to it. Keep notes of what you are doing, how, and why, and whether that procedure works or not. Often times you will require to go “back in time” and check on some work that you finished months earlier, or use a technique that you know it worked for you in the past. Trust me. You want to know where to find all this stuff. And you want to find it now. Even better, one minute ago.
Finally, talk to people. Hang out with the other students in the research office and department (I did until I could, then one gets old, becomes dad, you know how it goes…). It will really improve your life quality, and take off some of the stress and steam that you may accumulate along the way. Plus, it does help with your research (see advice 1). In conclusion, enjoy your life as a graduate student, and think that you are really doing this for (and not by) yourself.