Trainee Spotlight: Jill Riddell

Jill Riddell is a PROTECT trainee from West Virginia University currently pursuing her PhD in Geology under the mentorship of Dr. Dorothy Vesper. For the last two years, she has been supporting PROTECT’s Project 4 research on sediment characterization by using a variety of soils and geochemical techniques to characterize karst sediments to help find out how pollutants are transported within Puerto Rico’s karst regions. Last year, Jill attended and presented at the 2018 Geological Society of America Annual Conference in Indianapolis,  Indiana, alongside senior researchers. Most recently, Jill was awarded the 2019 KC Donnelly Award to expand her current research and traveled to the University of Arizona SRP Center to work with Dr. Jon Chorover on sediment mineralogy and bonding.

In 2012 Jill came to West Virginia University to complete a M.S. in geology and geochemistry with Dr. Vesper. Jill was initially introduced to PROTECT at the end of her master’s degree when she became more interested in organic contaminants and how they move through karst aquifers. “After finishing my MS degree in 2015 and working in environmental consulting for a few years, I decided to return to WVU for my PhD studies. Again, I chose to work with Dr. Vesper to explore the ability of different groundwater tracing tools in karst aquifers that can have the potential to behave similarly to organic contaminants. Since PROTECT has a project focused on contaminant movement in karst, returning to WVU was a perfect fit.”

During her time with PROTECT Jill has traveled to Puerto Rico twice to collect cave sediments and work alongside the rest of the Project 4 team, lead by Dr. Ingrid Padilla. “During both trips to PR, I was able to learn and use new sampling techniques I would not ordinarily use in my research in West Virginia. I was also able to develop a deeper network of science colleagues and friends at UPR-Mayaguez, UPR-Arecibo, and the landowners that own the caves and springs at which the sampling took place.” Her involvement in PROTECT led her to apply for the KC Donnelly Externship. “Since my main research at WVU focuses on tracer movement through karst aquifers, adding more laboratory data on the interaction of the karst sediments and tracers will be essential in evaluating how these tracers really move through aquifers. ”

Jill has had the privilege to glean a unique perspective from her mentorship with Dr. Vesper since they have been working together for 7 years and Dr. Vesper has worked with PROTECT researchers since before its inception.  While earning her PhD and moving into an Academic Career as a professor and researcher, Dr. Vesper also gained experience working in environmental consulting and remediation for almost a decade. “Because of her diverse background, [Dorothy] is able to provide invaluable information on different career paths (academic, private consulting, research, teaching, etc.) and how the different interests and strengths of her students fit the paths they chose. She can demonstrate to students how scientific research eventually leads to laws and regulations that are monitored and regulated in the consulting word. In addition, Dr. Vesper has developed a vast network of colleagues throughout her career and is always willing to introduce students to different people that may help them in their research. Dr. Vesper never fails to advocate for her students, push us to become better scientists and researchers, and prepare us for the next step(s) of our careers.”

Jill’s favorite part about working with PROTECT has been the opportunities to travel to places she wouldn’t have thought possible and ultimately expand her research ability/network. “It can be challenging to learn new techniques and to spend long periods of time with scientists who are specialists in different fields, however it is these exact experiences that have made me a stronger scientist and forced me out of my comfort zone. I do feel that the opportunities provided to me by PROTECT have allowed me to diversify as a scientist and to evaluate scientific problems and questions on a broader, more ‘big picture’ scale.”

Jill Riddell is expected to graduate with her PhD in 2021 and plans to pursue a teaching position or a post-doctoral appointment in geochemistry. We are happy to have Jill as a trainee on PROTECT and are excited to see where her research takes her in the future.