Geek of the Week: Bradley Wilson, Senior, Geophysics

Some students think they have a good idea where they will end up in the long run, but for most students, life is a journey figured out on the way. Senior Bradley Wilson definitely identifies with the latter, and has had an interesting route from considering a liberal arts school to ending up playing with data on MATLAB.

This week, Bradley told the Oredigger about his journey, why he is currently in love with tensors, and how many more years of school are in his future.

[Oredigger:] Why did you chose Mines?
[Wilson:] I actually had a pretty unique path here. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do throughout high school, and I thought I wanted to teach at some level, so I was flip-flopping between English and Spanish and all these non-science things. And then I took physics and loved physics, so I decided I wanted to be a physics teacher. So I toured both liberal arts and technical schools, actually only ended up applying to two schools, a liberal arts school out in North Carolina and Mines. I really decided I wanted to do science, and the more and more I was around science I realized that if I was going to do something like that, that Mines was going to be the better place to do that.

Did you apply to Mines as Physics then? And what led you to Geophysics eventually?
Yeah, so sort of. So I applied initially as Physics and then I came and did Discover Mines for accepted students, and I think I toured Physics and Geology and maybe Mechanical Engineering or something. And then I saw Geophysics and had no idea what Geophysics was, so I was all, “Well, it has physics in it, so I might as well go to that one as well.” So I went to the tour and started learning what Geophysics is beause you don’t really learn what Geophysics is in high school, and I was really confused because it was Geophysical Engineering and I kept asking these Engineering questions when really, it’s really much more Geophysics the science. And so I realized that I really like being outside; I really liked the earth. So I said, “Oh, okay I’m going to switch my major to Geophysics,” not really even knowing what Geophysics was. So really I switched my major before I actually came here and then I kind of learned more and more what Geophysics was as I progressed through the classes.

What has been your favorite class? Favorite professor? Most difficult class?
Does Field Camp count as a class? I really enjoyed Field Camp. If I had to choose an academic class, I’d say EPICS II with Terry [Young]. It’s kind of our intro to data analysis, and someone like myself who really loves working with data and really likes those kinds of problems, that class was really fun. And obviously everyone loves Terry. He’s been a huge part of the department. I also have really enjoyed working with Yaoguo Li in CGEM—the Center for Gravity, Electrical, and Magnetic Studies—one on one on a research basis.
My most difficult class was probably Dynamic Fields. It’s kind of the first class that you get in our curriculum that slams you in the face with a lot of complex math. It was really difficult, but I really appreciated it being difficult by the end of the class because it definitely well-prepared me for other classes. I think I appreciated it much more by the end than I did in the beginning or middle.

What are your future plans?
This summer has been kind of interesting in terms of deciding my future. I came into the summer thinking I was going to get my PhD, but during the summer I had my mid-life college crisis. I had a new job of the week—I’d call my parents every week and say, “Oh, this week I want to do this and this week I’m going to do this.” And now, having had the summer and being back in school, I can say that I am going to go back and still go get my PhD. So I’m applying right now to programs and my plan is to go straight from undergrad directly into a PhD program that will most likely be bannered under some form of Geophysics, although my interests sort of lie on the intersection between a couple disciplines so it’ll be Geophysics research whether it’s in a Geophysics or Physics or Civil Engineering or something program. So that’s the plan right now, and after that, I don’t really know. We’ll see if I want to continue with the academic route and the postdocs and that sort of stuff, or if I want to start my own company or do some sort of consulting in industry or something like that.
The next six years are taken care of [laughs].

What do you for fun?
I have a couple things…I do a lot of mountain biking and hiking and backpacking. I’ve also just gotten into rock climbing. And in the winter, I love to ski. And obviously, just the normal college stuff like hanging out with friends. Just doing stuff around Golden.
Outside of my official school, I really enjoy doing research for one of the departments on campus and most of the time I really enjoy doing that as well and I kind of consider that part of my extracurricular activities.

What are you going to miss about Golden the most?
To me, Golden is the perfect small town. It’s a lot like the town I grew up in, but better because it’s got a great downtown with great restaurants and great microbreweries but it’s also got all the outdoors stuff. That would probably be it: the fact that I can literally walk out of my house and go mountain biking or tubing down the river. And Golden’s the perfect gateway to being close to the mountains, but also close to Denver. So definitely the location and the activities you can do in the town. It’s been a great place to live for four years.

Do you have a favorite nerd story?
I mean I feel like my whole life is just super nerdy…well not really…
So almost all my friends are geologists, and with me being a geophysicist we kind of live in that world where you’re sheltered in this environment where everyone here can be completely normal when you think rocks are really interesting, but when you go outside places some people get really annoyed. All my friends want to do is just tell people about rocks when they’re on hikes and so I’ve been on multiple hikes where we’ll just be sitting on top and I’ll have my friends pick up rocks and we’ll just go find random people: “Hey, you wanna hear the geologic history of this area?” Part of me wants to facepalm, but part of me thinks they should be genuinely interested.

If you could have any superpower what would it be?
I’d probably take flying just because I always try to think of other superpowers that would be cool, but I always default to flying because they wouldn’t be as cool. I’m a big scuba diver, so I always think breathing underwater would be cool, and you could just stay down there forever and hang with the fish—but wait, no that’s still not as cool as flying. And then you can go check out sweet geology.

Do you have any advice to younger Mines students?
Go to class. But really, your classes are really expensive. The other thing I would say is that it’s really easy to get caught up in the swing of things and just go through the motions thinking about the end and getting a job and all that. I would encourage students to get out of that cycle and really focus more on why they’re here and what they’re learning rather than sort of just going through a checklist. Really college is about teaching you how to become a better thinker and to solve problems. I guess that would be my main piece of advice, and that they should learn MATLAB because MATLAB is awesome.

Favorite equation?
I feel like my favorite equation changes. Well, right now I’m in a class that deals with gravity, and I work with gravity gradiometry which is basically how gravity changes in each direction, so I’m really into tensors right now. So the gravity gradiometry tensor is pretty sweet. And also Green’s functions…you can never forget about Green’s functions. Those are classic.

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