Structural Geology Professor, Atle Rotevatn on A Day in the GeoLife Series

Dr. Atle Rotevatn, Structural and Reservoir Geology Professor. Photo copyright: Thomas Berg Kristensen

NAME: Atle Rotevatn

CURRENT TITLE: Professor of structural and reservoir geology at the Department of Earth Science at the University of Bergen in Norway.

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Geometry and growth of sedimentary basins, normal faults, deformation bands, fractures, sedimentary basins and structural controls on fluid flow. I have a broad appetite for anything structural, and I am driven by my own curiosity and interests at any time.

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 10+

EDUCATION:  I have 10 years of postdoctoral experience and was educated at the Universities of Oslo (MSc, 2004) and Bergen (PhD, 2007). During and after my PhD, I worked for about 4 years in the oil and gas industry as an exploration geologist, whilst continuing my research on my own time. I fulfilled my ambition to become a full-time academic in 2010, when I returned to the same university where I got my PhD, initially as an associate professor, and since 2013, as a full professor.

WEBSITE:  http://www.uib.no/en/persons/Atle.Rotevatn

What’s your job like?

My job is the best job in the world as far as I am concerned. As a professor, I can pursue my research interests pretty much as I damn well please, which is a huge privilege. I divide my time between research, teaching, and student supervision – all of which I love and the three nicely blend into one another. Presently, I am away from Bergen on a sabbatical stay at the University of Otago, New Zealand – another huge privilege!

What’s a typical day like?

There is no typical day really. Some days I will be in the field, some days I teach and meet with students to discuss their research projects and provide supervision, and some days I write papers. Some days I spend in meetings and doing administration, which I find a little bit dull, but it is also a necessary part of the job. But here is an example of what a semi-typical day can be like when I am at the office. I get in, try not to check my emails in the morning as it will just eat into my day – instead, I’ll drink coffee and check the news before meeting with a student or two to discuss their work. Then I will prepare for lecture and rush off to the auditorium. Back in the office after teaching, I try to do some writing on one of my ongoing papers, only to be interrupted by some more students coming in for supervision or just general banter (which is a most welcome interruption). If I need to isolate myself for a little bit to get some serious writing done, I may hide at the library for a few hours, but I try to be available for the students as much as I can. Inevitably, there will probably also be some half-written funding proposal flying around at the 11th hour, so doing some panicked editing of that before sending it off for comments from colleagues here and abroad will be necessary. Finally, before I call it a day I might be meeting with colleagues or students to plan upcoming fieldwork. At the end of the day, I will rush off to pick up kids in school and kindergarten. Emails get done here and there, and often late in the evening. I am not very good at going to bed. All in all, most days are great – there are of course moments of frustration, but all things considered, I have a wonderful job and look forward to going to work every day!

What’s fun?

My students are in many ways my closest colleagues and co-workers since they are so closely integrated with my research. I find that the student supervision and the interaction with the students probably is the best, most fun and rewarding part of the job. I love teaching. I would not want to have a research-only job. Fieldwork really is super fun and planning it is pretty fun too. I very much enjoy outreach work, but do not spend as much time on it as I would like. And finally, I also love writing papers 😀

What’s challenging?

It is challenging to deliver excellent training, mentoring, and teaching to the students. There are so many drivers (funding wise, etc.) to be excellent in research, but fewer incentives to be an excellent teacher. This sometimes drives academics to focus disproportionately on research at the expense of teaching and supervision. I want to be a great teacher and supervisor, and finding the time to be inventive and creative in teaching is sometimes challenging.

And like most academics, managing time is sometimes challenging, as there are many different tasks and responsibilities – mainly teaching, supervision, research, outreach, and admin. Outreach is what suffers, and for the future, I want to spend more of my time on this.

What’s your advice to students?

Apply yourself, and be pro-active and upfront about your ambitions and interests. If you have found a field that you want to do research into, go knock on the doors, write emails, and talk to all the relevant professors, co-students and people who you think can help in any way! Just talk to everyone you can think of that could make your ambitions become realised! Few things excite me more than having students show up at my door with a cool or crazy idea, or simply with a clear ambition to do something fun, or with interesting questions.

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