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.

Trackbacks & Pings

  1. The Accretionary Wedge #1 (A Geology Blog Carnival): Why I Study Geology « Clastic Detritus on 02 Sep 2007 at 11:46 pm

    […] (5) Why I’m a Geophysicist […]

  2. The Accretionary Wedge #1: Why I Study Geology « The Accretionary Wedge on 03 Sep 2007 at 11:13 pm

    […] (5) Why I’m a Geophysicist […]

  3. Stone Fireplaces « Virginia Hughes on 04 Sep 2007 at 7:22 pm

    […] for example, a recent blog carnival at Clastic Detritus, in which bloggers respond to “Why I’m a Geophysicist.” (A geophysicist is, logically enough, a scientist who studies the physics of the Earth—things […]


  1. mark wrote:

    I was a lab/teaching assistant for intro geology at 2 different schools. One had intro geology for non-majors. I thought that was pretty close to worthless. The other school offered “natural science” to hard-core accounting majors, gym majors, and their ilk (a lot of non-geology majors took intro geology there). That closely resembled what I considered to be sixth-grade general science.

  2. mark wrote:

    Every now and then there’s a glimmer of hope. Two years ago I participated in the State level Envirothon, the annual environmental-science knowledge competition (I presented material on karst geomorphology and biospeleology). At least some high school students are exposed to some science.

    I’d like to take this opportunity to pass onto you a tag–you thought this pandemic of blogplay had passed?

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