From the Smithsonian to the RWTH: Welcome Prof. Troch!

  Copyright: © Troch

Dear Ms Troch,

on 15.09.2022 you succeeded Prof. Stanjek as junior professor of "Petrology and Fluid Processes". Why did you choose Aachen and what will be your focus in teaching and research in Aachen?

I am delighted to have the opportunity to set up a research group here in Aachen - in the direct vicinity of Germany's only active volcanic field! - to be able to set up a research group. Our focus will be on the petrological and geochemical fingerprints left by various magmatic processes in rocks and volcanic deposits. In order to decipher these fingerprints, a targeted combination of different methods is necessary, e.g. geochemical analysis, field observations, as well as the simulation of magmatic and hydrothermal processes in high-temperature experiments and numerical modelling. Of course, I would also like to convey this interdisciplinarity and holistic approach in my teaching.

  Copyright: © Troch

You studied geosciences and earth sciences at Kiel University and ETH Zurich from 2009 to 2014 and completed your doctorate in Zurich in 2019 on "The generation of low-δ18O rhyolites along the Yellowstone hotspot track: constraints from experiments, oxygen isotopes and thermal models". How did you get into petrology and what fascinates you about this field? How do you explain the importance of your field for society to a layperson?

I only really identified my fascination for the Earth system and volcanology in particular after my A-levels during a work & travel trip to New Zealand, even though I had been interested in these topics for a long time. Unfortunately, geosciences are often only touched on in the subject of geography at school - this is something that urgently needs to change, especially in view of the challenges posed by global climate change! In my first petrology lectures at university, I was very impressed by how much information can be gleaned from a single piece of rock about its formation and thus a piece of Earth's history. This basic research helps us to understand the underlying processes, their framework conditions and the natural material cycles on geological time scales. This understanding in turn serves the applied fields of geosciences, e.g. in assessing the hazard potential of volcanoes, the exploration of mineral raw materials in connection with magmatic systems and the use of natural hydrothermal systems for geothermal energy. This link between basic research and application-based research areas is what makes RWTH such an interesting location!

Her special focus is on the exploration of magmatic systems. In recent years, you have been active in Yellowstone National Park, Namibia and Iceland. How important is field work to you and do you plan to offer corresponding field events if necessary?

In order to be able to develop a feeling for the dimensions, time scales and variability of geological processes, we definitely need an occasional look over the edge of the screen. Geology must be experienced in 3D and geological phenomena must not only be seen in the lecture hall, but must also be grasped in nature - therefore, in my opinion, excursions are essential for geoscientific studies. I myself enjoy the varied juxtaposition of laboratory and field work and the evaluation on the computer and regularly find the field work a huge motivation booster. I would be very happy if we could share this joy of observing nature not only during the already planned excursions to the Eifel, but also during trips to other magmatic settings!

  Copyright: © Troch

You did not take the classic path of a habilitation for yourself, but went the way of a junior professorship with tenure track. Why did you decide on this path and what opportunities do you see in this academic career model?

As much as I enjoyed the field work in different parts of the world and my research stays in Switzerland and the USA, it was clear to me and my husband, at the latest with the pandemic, that in the long term we would like to live in Europe again and closer to family and friends. The junior professorship with tenure track offers young researchers the rare opportunity to build up their own research programme in one place with a longer-term perspective, instead of having to put a lot of energy into the next three moves. Experience shows that this uncertainty and almost prescribed restlessness is one of the main reasons why many bright minds, especially female ones, are lost to science. Concepts like junior professorships offer a way out of this - it would be even better if such models also existed for mid-level positions.

With your appointment to the junior professorship, you will supervise doctoral students. What guidelines are important to you in the training of your junior researchers and how do you plan to implement this in your junior professorship?

It is important to me to work together as equals and to treat each other in a friendly and respectful manner. To work scientifically, you don't have to be an absolute high-flyer in all STEM subjects; what's more important is motivation, perseverance and a great desire to learn new things and delve into new topics. A PhD can, but doesn't have to, lead to a career in science - working independently with large data sets, project management, method development, team coordination and knowledge communication are all skills that are often in demand. My role as a supervisor is empowerment, i.e. to accompany students and doctoral students on their path, to support them, to steer the project in the right direction and to ensure good framework conditions.

Since 2020, you have been a postdoc and Buck Fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC in the USA in the Department of Mineralogy. How does the scientific operation at this institution differ from the German university research system?

The biggest difference - the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is a museum with its own research department and huge collections, not a university. That means no students (except for occasional interns), no semesters and no lectures; at some point I really missed the direct contact with the students. As one of the largest museum complexes in the world, the focus for knowledge transfer at the Smithsonian is on the general public - and on all age groups. However, most of the scientists working there are not in daily contact with museum visitors, but only on certain tours and events. Unfortunately, much of my time in Washington fell during the pandemic, so I was only able to experience some of the great programmes at the Smithsonian.
And a final question: What are you most looking forward to at the Aachen location?
To new exciting joint projects inside and outside the Division, to brainstorming together about what magmas and fluids do in the continental crust - and of course to a good volcanic brew in the Eifel!
Many thanks for the interview and a good start in Aachen!