Post-doc spotlight: Kristin Chilton
Where are you from?
I'm from Florida originally, but have lived in Blacksburg since 2014. My husband and I moved here after graduating from the University of Florida because he got a job at a local robotics company, and we haven't wanted to move away since then!
What made you choose to come to Virginia Tech?
I was already planning on attending grad school when we moved here, and it of course made the most sense for me to pursue my graduate degrees at Virginia Tech not only because we now lived in Blacksburg, but because it's a great school with an awesome Geosciences department! Fortunately I was admitted to a Masters program, and have stuck around ever since to pursue a PhD (also in Geosciences), and am now a postdoc in CEE.
Where did you get your other degrees?
Even though I'm in the CEE department now, I'm a geologist by training, and have a B.S. in Geology from the University of Florida, plus M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Geosciences from Virginia Tech.
What is your area of research? Can you briefly explain a project you are currently working on?
My research broadly focuses on understanding landscapes - why they look the way they do, what processes (e.g., geologic, tectonic, erosional) are responsible for shaping them, how they will evolve in the future, and how to interpret them to learn more about Earth's past. More specifically, most of my recent work has focused on studying bedrock rivers and the erosional processes at work in them. Bedrock rivers are one of the most important drivers of landscape evolution across Earth's surface, so understanding how they behave is key to understanding landscapes in general. I usually use some combination of field work and lab work to conduct my research, and am currently running some flume experiments in the Baker Environmental Hydraulics Lab to understand how the orientations of fractures in bedrock influence how easily it is eroded by a river.
Can you explain why you feel your research is important?
My research helps earth scientists and engineers better understand how rivers erode into bedrock, which has important implications for understanding long-term questions about Earth-surface processes (like how different rock characteristics can impact the way river networks respond to sea-level fluctuations), and also shorter-term practical applications (like how to best construct dam spillways to reduce the risk of erosion).
What is your dream job?
My dream job would allow me to continue conducting research on landscapes, rivers, and Earth's surface in general, ideally while getting to interact with students in some capacity to share my love of Earth science and hopefully be a useful mentor. This sounds like I'm describing a professorship position (which would be awesome - particularly at a smaller, 4-yr/liberal arts college), but I could see there being opportunities at the US Geological Survey or even a non-profit conservation organization that fit this description too. Finally, I really have grown to love the Appalachians since moving to Blacksburg (my Ph.D. field work had me roaming around the local mountains and streams all the time, so they have a special place in my heart now), so my true dream job would let me stay close by to keep studying and spending time in this awesome and ancient landscape.
What are your favorite activities in Blacksburg?
In town, I really love the farmer's market - I'm there every Saturday! Don't miss the peaches in Summer! I'm also a huge fan of the local trail systems - the Huckleberry trail and Heritage Park are both great for a casual evening walk, the Pandapas trail system that spans Brush and Gap mountains is my favorite for trail runs or just a quiet walk through the forest, and the local "big" hikes are really awesome too (The Cascades is my favorite - especially in Fall, followed by Dragon's Tooth, then probably War Spur). In terms of food/drink - The Wine Lab is my go-to spot for both, but I also like Rising Silo or Eastern Divide if the weather is nice (though Moon Hollow definitely has the best beer in town). My other favorite thing to do is just go for a drive through Catawba and Ellett Valleys. The hills and farmland out there are really beautiful, and sometimes I'll put on some good music and just go for a drive to enjoy the landscape. I honestly wasn't that excited when we first moved to Blacksburg, but it's grown to be my favorite place I've ever lived. It really is awesome here.