Why I’m a Geophysicist
The first edition of The Accretionary Wedge is coming soon, and the theme is
what the hell is wrong with us why we study geology. I don’t have much time to write today – I have a few errands to run this afternoon before heading out to a “What? No, we’re totally not at all jealous of everyone who’s at Burning Man!” party this evening. So I’m skipping over all the in-depth personal details that led me to the earth sciences – the desire to connect with the land around me, to work on problems of cross-disciplinary interest, to get paid to go camping, and so on.
This is the shortest true reason I can think of: I put the “geo” to my “physics” because Caltech had a science breadth requirement. My early earth science education was not very compelling – a 7th-grade class taught mostly out of the textbook, and a vague impression of musty cases filled with minerals and fossils and faded labels. When forced to choose between geology and astronomy for my breadth course, I took geology, because I heard there was a field trip and I knew one of the undergraduate TAs.
Ge 1 was a total fucking crack pipe. I wasn’t the only one who thought so, either. I don’t have numbers, but I know there was a significant increase in the size of the undergraduate programs after the course requirement was introduced.
This is one of the things that makes me excited about teaching an intro-level class. Since we’re drawing mainly from a pool of students who don’t intend to major in the physical sciences, it’s a little more difficult to recruit, but a few of my students from last year have gone on to take other courses in the department.
My sense is that even in California, students don’t get much secondary-level geoscience education and enter college without much understanding of how earth science works as a discipline. That leaves an awful lot of room for college-level intro courses and adult public outreach to make an impression.