How I Became a Geologist

May 15, 2011 Leave a Comment

When did you decide to pursue this course of study? Was it something you've been interested in from childhood? Did you love playing in the dirt as a kid? If you weren't pursuing this course of study what would be your second choice? (from Carma)

How/why did you chose geology over english/writing? (from Pam)

As you can infer from the second question, geology was not my first choice.  It wasn't really even my second choice.  Not from the beginning, anyway.  In fact, I was completely uninterested in science.  I went to college planning to major in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing.  I wanted to be a journalist.  I joined the newspaper staff my freshman year in college and became a paid staff writer very early on.  I was Arts Editor for two years and Editor-in-Chief my senior year.  I liked the writing, page layout and the people I worked with (most of them, anyway).  But by that time, my desire for a career in journalism was slipping, for a variety of reasons.  Looking back, I'm not sure I should have dismissed it so quickly.  But I did.  And I gave it all up to pursue a completely new field that had never even phased me before.

This is where I spent a large majority of my senior year.  Murray (the skeleton) and I had some good times together.

I first became interested in geology when I took a required science course called The Planet Earth.  In the beginning, I HATED it.  It's not a good idea to begin an intro geology laboratory with topographic maps.  HUGE turn off.  There are some complicated concepts that go along with them and when I taught my own students during grad school, they despised it as well.  But after that first day, the labs got better and I enjoyed the lecture topics as well.  On my first test, I got one of the highest grades in the class.  Then, for an English class, I had to write a paper on a controversial topic, and we had to interview an expert on that topic.  We had just been discussing creation vs. evolution in geology, so that was on my mind.  I asked my professor if I could interview him.  It was a bit of an awkward interview, which I later found out was due to the quirks in that particular professor's personality.  But while we were talking, he asked me what I thought about getting a major in geology?  My first thought was 'Ummm....what?  No way.  I'm not a scientist.'  But I couldn't get it out of my head.

After that, it was really just a progressive decision that happened over time.  I felt much more comfortable and at home in the geology department than the English department.  I got to look at rocks and go on field trips.  I liked the people better.  When I got stressed about the newspaper, I'd go work in the geology lab. But one main determining factor happened during my sophomore year.  The career counseling center called me up and basically forced me into doing their "sophomore spotlight" career thing.  So I went and the whole time the girl talked about how I could work at a publishing house.  It was just "blah blah blah publishing house."  And that sounded really boring to me.  (this seems funny now, considering...) I thought if that was what I was destined to do with an English degree, then I didn't want to do it.

That same year, I declared a minor in geology.  (I still wasn't totally committed to the degree yet)  I talked to the department chairperson at the time about what classes I should take and I signed up for them.  One class I took was a field course over spring break.  We went to Arizona, and it was amazing.  I learned so much.  It was sometime during that trip that I could no longer imagine my life without geology as a part of it.

In Arizona, we played hackey sack while our professor was falling off a cliff in the background.

Soon after that, I talked to my professor (the same one I interviewed my freshman year) and he said, "You know, if you just take these few more classes next year, you could get a major."  I had never thought of that.  I wanted to do it, but I needed some more confirmation.  So I did what I thought was best.  I called my mom.

To answer the question "Did you love playing in the dirt as a kid?"  Yes, in fact, I did love playing in the dirt as a kid.  I LOVED the sandbox.  We didn't have a liner on the bottom so we could dig all the way down into the soil, which was all clay-ey.  I thought that was totally awesome.  I also loved picking up rocks.  I'd forgotten about it, but I had a huge collection in the garage.  So when I told my mom I wanted to major in geology, she was not surprised at all, and told me to go for it if that was what I wanted.  That was all I needed, and so, at the end of my junior year, I declared a major in geology.

In the end, I graduated with a double major in English and geology.  So I suppose I could still be a writer if I wanted, but like I said, I can't imagine life without geology.  At the same time, I can't imagine a life without writing either.  Blogging helps with that, but I'm realizing that I want writing to be part of my professional life as well.  I feel like my current position does not showcase my natural talents as much as I'd like it to.  This is part of the reason why I want to do research.  A big part of research is writing and publishing papers, which I would be good at.  My thesis committee in grad school complimented me on how well written my thesis was.  So I know I can write about scientific topics.  Maybe I could be a science writer.  But I also want to do at least some of the science myself.

Overall, I'm happy that I was introduced to geology in college.  If it hadn't been for that, I wouldn't have had many of the experiences and met many of the people that I have.  I learned a lot about science and also about myself during that time.  I hope that this next chapter of my life will build on those experiences to give me all that I hope for in my life and my career.  We'll have to see what happens.


  • Rachel said:  

    That photo is hilarious!

    So interesting to hear you majored in English too. No excuse not to keep blogging lots now :P

  • Off-Black said:  

    That picture is classic. I like topo maps, and my surveyor cousin reckoned I was pretty handy at using them when I was still a teenager. Maybe I missed my calling :)

    I also got into science by accident. Apart from being generally interested in it, actually working in it was not even a consideration growing up. I discovered in my mid-late teensI wasn't able to do my lifelong first choice for medical reasons, about the same time I discovered I was reasonably adept at practical science stuff, so got into it from there. After being in an office for the last three years now the itch to get back into more practical hands-on stuff is growing :)

  • Chloe said:  

    First, that photo cracks me up!
    It's so interesting to know all these things about you!!
    I always wanted to study Medicine or something related, but I graduated in English Translation and Interpreting... Long story. haha

  • Anonymous said:  

    And nobody tried to save him!?!

    I have enjoyed reading your answers to all the questions. I still hate blogger, though, so this comment is coming with much pissedoffedness in my heart. :)

  • PJ said:  

    Thanks for the info! I love to learn about the twists & turns that people's lives take to get them where they are.

    The rock collection that your mom has in the garage made me think of all of those rock reports and leaf collection reports we had to do in school! Those were the days.

  • Maureen said:  

    Those WERE the days. I'm pretty sure I still have my leaf project somewhere. My mom ironed them in wax paper so they're pretty much indestructible. haha.

  • Anonymous said:  

    I loved rock/leaf collecting! In second grade, I had a collection of n-leafed clovers that I was particularly proud of (n=4,5,6,7).

  • carma said:  

    Very interesting post - and I love that it wasn't your first choice. Makes me feel better about my current choice - when I'm much more suited for creative pursuits. Hopefully I can learn to love this as much....

    It would be awesome if you find a way to combine your two interests - maybe writing for a professional geology journal?

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