Habilitation Thesis

In the german-speaking world in order to progress in an academic career it is important at some point to complete something like a second PhD thesis in the form of a Habilitation thesis. This generally consists of a collection of your post-doctoral scientific research publications and an assessment of your teaching activities, with the purpose to demonstrate that you are a successful working research/teaching academic. Its an alien concept to me as a Brit, but I submitted by Habilitation in 2019 and was successfully awarded it in 2020.  I can now apparently call myself ‘Priv.-Doz. Dr. Assistant Professorin Lindsey Nicholson B.Sc., Ph.D.’.

Many thanks to the generous reviewers Tad Pfeffer, Andy Kääb, and Andrew Mackintosh, scientists and humans for whom I have the greatest respect, for taking the time to review it, and for providing me with very encouraging reviews of my work so far. It is much appreciated. My habilitation thesis can be accessed at the University of Innsbruck library here: https://diglib.uibk.ac.at/ulbtirolhs/content/titleinfo/5255142

The Habilitation thesis consists of 11 peer reviewed publications completed between 2012 and 2019 that all address aspects of understanding debris-covered glacier systems. These papers (i) lay out conceptual frameworks for understanding debris-covered glaciers systems, (ii) use detailed field observations to identify the significant controls on small to medium scale processes operating on debris covered glaciers, (iii) integrate debris covered glacier surfaces into coupled surface-atmospheric models, (iv) use satellite data to understand glacier scale processes affected by debris cover and (v) develop advanced numerical modelling tools for furthering our process-understanding of debris-covered glaciers.

“One aspect of Dr. Nicholson’s scientific career to date stands out with particular prominence, and this is the breadth of her expertise and interests.” Its so rewarding to see this attribute commended, as I sometimes feel like a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’, although I also realise my broad experience helps me collaborate well in interdisciplinary science.

“… to a large extent thanks to Dr. Nicholson’s work, effort and success, debris cover on glaciers is currently one of the main research topics within mountain glaciology worldwide.” I never saw my contribution this way, although I certainly love the topic and enjoy seeing the resurgence in interest in researching debris-covered glaciers.

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Imposter syndrome and nurturing work envionments

I’ve heard discussion of, and read some articles about,  ‘imposter syndrome’ with a fair amount of interest as I am someone who has suffered from regular feelings of inadequacy in all aspects of my life for all of my life so far.

Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.” Harvard Business Review, 2008.

Imposters! Not even wearing  underpants on the outside can make these people superheros …. extra points if you know any of the undoubtedly special and beautiful nerds in this picture.

I really thought that I’d developed robust strategies to overcome my low sense of self worth, by focussing on my practical achievements and learned capabilities while also fairly acknowledging my weaknesses and developing strategies to improve, or deal with them. Also my innate interest in, and dedication to, my job and its activities is pretty helpful, as my will to do it well often over-rides my insecurities, allowing me to perform the tasks required of me in a professional and acceptable manner, no matter how I might be feeling inside. Actually, I believe a degree of self doubt is a positive asset in the process of scientific inquiry, so I tried not to consider it a ‘problem’, but instead frame it as an opportunity.

Then, one day this imposter feeling went really bad and un-fun.

I was giving an important presentation, in front of many colleagues and friends. Being in front of people who knew me, I should have felt supported, but instead, I was convinced they had turned up out of sympathy for me – it felt like they knew I would fail, and that they were there out of pity for me that I was about to be exposed publicly. I was convinced that I was a total fraud, incapable of doing any valuable scientific work or teaching, and that this was clear to everyone. In my mind, they would all be wondering how I even got to where I am now. Despite all my previous experience of feeling inadequate, this was a different level, and made me realise what imposter syndrome really feels like and how it must utterly prevent people from making their valuable contributions. This time round, it was not possible for me to reason myself out of this deep-rooted sense of doom, nor shift my unhappiness and intimidation about being inside these feelings. I literally could not reach my practical, positive voice, and could not use my brain to resolve this situation. I was mentally crippled by the imposter syndrome. Uh-oh.

So, in the spirit of learning from, well, everything in life, I have gone back to basics and addressed some of the causes of the discombobulation that contributed to this experience. In addition to that, I decided that from my perspective developing a work-environment culture in which people are accustomed to receiving both positive and negative feedback in a supportive environment might go a long way to offsetting imposter syndrome, because it lets you experience trust in both your own and others opinions. There are many ways in which people can become vulnerable to impostor syndrome, and some people have experienced truly wounding situations of being belittled or otherwise devalued, or abused, but whatever the cause, I want to fight against people feeling this way about themselves. Life is short and sometimes challenging enough – there is no time for additional imposed misery. I will work towards myself, my colleagues, and everyone else feeling valued, and able to make their contribution in a secure and respectful environment. As a start to this, I began my new role as Assistant Professor at the University of Innsbruck with a team exercise for the Ice and Climate Unit to identify our shared priorities and values about the kind of work environment we want to co-create. In doing this I was inspired by the ‘Lab Book’ (“living manual of our values, guidelines, and protocols”) of the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR), which is a feminist, anti-colonial lab specializing in monitoring plastic pollution (thank you!). I have much to learn in terms of strategic development of nourishing work environments, but I am on the road, and have a great team with which to share the journey.

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Book about glacier research on Vernagtferner

Heidi Escher-Vetter worked at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences section of Geodesy and Glaciology for decades focusing her research on examining the methods of glacier monitoring and analysing the results of the changing Ötztal glaciers. In 2020 she has prepared a book describing her personal experiences of this work history and its now available for pre-order.

thumbnail of Vernagtferner_Flyer_WEB

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#shareEGU20

The massive European Geosciences Union annual conference is online as #shareEGU20 this year due to global pandemic conditions. This is unusual but offers a new model for conference exchanges going forward, and I’ll note some thoughts on this here.

  • The sessions are now open to the public, and free, which is a massive change, and a good one!
  • Its great that a large number of people have uploaded display materials which will be publicly accessible (mostly under CCBY licensing), although you could choose to do this in previous years I see this also as a massive advantage to open science that so many are doing this year.
  • The chat format is a bit strange, but I have the feeling that its also a bit of leveller and has some positive aspects for inclusion, and people are behaving very nicely with it, despite it being faceless.
  • I imagine its also helpful for people who don’t feel confident speaking up in English, whether its giving a presentation or asking questions, the text format might help.
  • On the other hand it was pointed out to me that its exhausting for dyslexics … wow – I bet it is!
  • Although it can get a bit hectic I like that several topics can be discussed in parallel – its very efficient this way, and I think presenters are perhaps getting more feedback overall – and certainly a more even distribution of feedback.
  • My impression is that people are preparing and reviewing material and this is a huge advantage in generating valuable and engaged discussion of the material.
  • Plus some people have done AMAZING jobs of uploading cool content:like videos of their presentations or interactive website presentations. Very impressive examples of making the most of the new format.
  • I also like that the material is open for online comments for an extended period, which gives people more time to engage with the science being presented.
  • Its still overwhelmingly large as a conference, and many sessions seems to have overlapping themes making it hard to know if you are ‘getting’ all the contributions on a particular topic (this is problem in the in-person conference as well).
  • Some sessions are doing ‘external’ video conferencing sessions – which is a cool and flexible option for smaller sessions, but also introduces a random element in the timetable you had to register for some sessions and not others, for example I missed registering for a session that I did not notice was not an online chat.
  • Its a pity that some of the short courses are not offered – as these are a very valuable part of EGU.
  • For conveners its extremely valuable to have a side audio chat going on, and I guess this functionality could be added within the EGU online platform in the future.
  • Possibly, it could be valuable to have the functionality of ‘threads’ in the live chat but I’m not 100% convinced this will be an advantage, as focussed discussion can already be switched to the presentation comments section as is.

All in all, I had low expectations but found that it worked remarkably well – congratulations EGU and all the scientists and administrators making it work!


I’m just listing the contributions that I’m involved in here so the the University asks me for updates on my participation I can just copy/paste from here without having to remember it:

Session CR4.1/GM7.8: Evolution of glacial-periglacial-paraglacial landscapes and debris-covered glaciers

Convener: Johannes Buckel. Co-conveners: Adina Racoviteanu, Evan Miles, Lindsey Nicholson, Tobias Bolch, Anne Voigtländer,Jasper Knight, Darren Jones

Displays | Chat Wed, 06 May, 08:30–12:30
… tweeting about this from @RockyGlaciers

The statistics for this session were: 192 participants in the online chat session, 38 abstracts were in there, of which 27 had display materials uploaded and presented, which was a pretty good turnout.

Ice thickness measurements of the debris covered Ngozumpa glacier, Nepal

  • Lindsey Nicholson, Fabien Maussion, Christoph Mayer, Hamish Pritchard, Astrid Lambrecht, Anna Wirbel, and Christoph Klug  … Wed, 06 May, 10:45–12:30 | D2523
Results of the IACS Debris-covered Glaciers Working Group melt model intercomparison

  • Francesca Pellicciotti, Adria Fontrodona-Bach, David Rounce, and Lindsey Nicholson … Wed, 06 May, 10:45–12:30 | D2524
The challenge of non-stationary feedbacks within the response of debris-covered glaciers to climate forcing

  • Anna Wirbel, Lindsey Nicholson, Christoph Mayer, and Astrid Lambrecht … Wed, 06 May, 10:45–12:30 | D2527
Sediment dynamics in glacierized catchments: a comparison study from two proglacial streams in the Sulden catchment (Eastern Italian Alps)

  • Michael Engel, Velio Coviello, Anuschka Buter, Ricardo Carillo, Sushuke Miyata, Giulia Marchetti, Andrea Andreoli, Sara Savi, Christian Kofler, Vittoria Scorpio, Lindsey Nicholson, and Francesco Comiti …Thu, 07 May, 08:30–10:15 | D1146

A multi-scale investigation of geometrically derived z0 from Hintereisferner, Austrian Alps

  • Joshua Chambers, Mark Smith, Thomas Smith, Duncan Quincey, Jonathan Carrivick, Lindsey Nicholson, Jordan Mertes, Rudolf Sailer, and Ivana Stiperski … Mon, 04 May, 16:15–18:00 | D2693

And finally the 3rd IACS Working Group on Debris Covered Glaciers meeting on Thursday!

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Records of loss and the left behind

At the start of my MA in Art&Science at the University for Applied Arts in Vienna, we introduced out background to our fellow students. As part of this I made a sort of display about how working on glacier change is very human, low tech+high tech, carefully executed, but sometimes messy, sometimes emotional kind of activity. This became a wall installation, but shortly afterwards I made a digital version of it too:

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