Profile with Clara Blättler
Clara Blättler (Massachusetts & University College 2008) is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Princeton. She works in the Department of Geosciences, with a speciality in stable isotope geochemistry. She studied for her undergraduate degree at Harvard and pursued her Doctorate at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. During her time at Harvard and Oxford she was also a competitive athlete. She is an accomplished classical musician.
Rhodes Project: Can you tell me a favourite childhood memory?
Clara Blättler: We used to take family holidays on Cape Cod and as children we would swim on these little inflatable floats and peer into the water with our goggles. We’d see spider crabs and conches and all sorts of things. We’d bring them out of the water and back to the beach and once, when my grandmother saw the conches, she said immediately, “Oh those would be great for dinner!” We must have collected ten or twelve of them and we took them back and boiled them and ate conch soup. We must have been the only people on the Cape who’ve ever eaten those creatures!
Rhodes Project: What piece of technology could you not live without?
Clara Blättler: My computer, hands down, which is probably one of the few pieces of technology that would qualify. I don’t have a fancy phone, I have a very simple phone. I don’t have an MP3 player. I don’t have much of anything other than a computer.
Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about a favourite project or hobby?
Clara Blättler: My personal love right now is growing plants and gardening. This is the first time I’ve had my own apartment and a little bit of space to actually grow things. I’ve planted chilli seeds and lots of different herbs. It’s been so wonderful to see them grow up, to sprout, blossom and fruit. This is my side project now, trying to make a little garden with lovely things to eat.
Rhodes Project: When did you first become hooked on Earth Science?
Clara Blättler: I became hooked in my first year of college. I was invited along to a seminar on El Niño and I was really struck by how interesting it was. I felt that I didn’t know anything about the area so I decided to take Earth History as a freshman. It was totally fascinating. The really interesting thing, however, is that when I went home and informed my parents about my area of study, my father said, ‘Oh yeah we thought you’d do something like that. You were always the kid who was looking at the trees and the dirt and the bees and the stones.’ So it was nice to think that I had always had this connection with the natural world. It was only in college that I was really able to recognise it.
Rhodes Project: What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
Clara Blättler: On a broader scale it’s interacting with people. Part of the reason I’m so interested in the field is that I wish people had a deeper connection with the environment and the natural world. Being able to share that and hear about it from other people is really wonderful and enriching. But in addition to that, I love the fact that when you’re doing research you’re doing something new, something that’s never been done before. It’s amazing to think that, until now, no one has ever seen the data we’ve uncovered. You are doing something totally unchartered and that’s a nice feeling.
Rhodes Project: Is there anything about your work that you find constantly frustrates you?
Clara Blättler: Perhaps the same answer! It’s new and has never been done before and it means there is no right answer. You don’t always know where you’re going and so there’s a lot of fishing around and trying things that don’t work. That’s both the biggest reward and also the biggest challenge.
Rhodes Project: How you do think being an athlete has contributed to other aspects of your life?
Clara Blättler: It’s been a great relaxation break from work, that’s the major thing. It might seem strange to think that being competitive and training hard is relaxing, but it really calmed me to have a totally different social circle. It enables you to clear your mind from anything that hasn’t been working all day or any work-related stress.
Rhodes Project: Did you find the sporting culture at Oxford was different from American schools?
Clara Blättler: I think it was, in a lot of ways. People ask me all the time to compare my experience in the US with the UK and I would always dodge the question. It’s very hard to determine, but, one of the best things about being at Oxford was that people expected you to have a life outside of work. You’re expected to have social connections outside of your department and many other enriching activities in your life. In the US people very often expect graduate school to be difficult, isolating and totally focused. I was a competitive athlete as an undergraduate and I didn’t know if I wanted to continue afterwards but the club feel of the Oxford team was really special and I loved how inclusive it was. Everybody was really trying, individually, to improve at something and I found myself getting drawn more and more into the athletics club.
Rhodes Project: What is your favourite piece of music to play?
Clara Blättler: I’m more a pianist these days as I haven’t touched my violin in a very, very long time! I have so many pieces that I love. I’m actually currently sitting at my keyboard and looking at all of my music on the floor. One of my favourite pieces of music is Rhapsody In Blue by George Gershwin. When I stopped taking lessons it became my personal project to learn that piece on my own. It’s been a long time and I still can’t quite do it justice, but there’s a part of it that I love to play. It’s very earthy and I love the rhythms and the sound of it. I’m sure I play it terribly-I wouldn’t want anyone to listen - but I love playing it for myself.
Rhodes Project: If you could pick three places in the world that you would want to visit now, which would you choose and why?
Clara Blättler: There are so many amazing geological things that I want to see. I would love to go to Iceland for the geology. It’s a unique place on the planet and what I’ve seen of the scenery is just spectacular. Also, I grew up in Boston, and I really love the feel of the city, so I’d put Boston on the list as well. The third one would have to be in Switzerland. My father is Swiss and we’ve often taken holidays in Switzerland. My third place would be in the middle of the Swiss mountains with a beautiful blue lake beneath me. When you travel around you realise there’s so much to discover, so many different local feels and landscapes and cultures. That’s one thing that I enjoyed the most about Oxford and my time there.
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