10 April 2013
Core skills for geology majors
Posted by Jessica Ball
A recent discussion that I’ve been having with my fellow grad students lately has been about this question: What are the core skills undergraduate geoscience students should have when they graduate?
Sometimes, because of crazy course schedules, majors joining the department late in their college career, etc etc., it seems like skillsets can be acquired haphazardly or in an order that doesn’t benefit the student. Those of us who teach as grad students sometimes find that it’s necessary to do more review than we’d expect when we’re dealing with a lab or a course. Although review isn’t a bad thing, it can take away time from the main course topics. As a teacher, my goal is to get my students to learn the course material as effectively and efficiently as possible – and make it stick.
So, like any good geoblogger, I’m going to ask for help ‘crowdsourcing’ the answer to this question. If you could put together a guide of core skills for geology students, what would be on it? What do you want them to know before they attempt specific classes? What should they know by the time they graduate to be well-grounded in the field?
I’ve started a Google document called Geoscience Core Skills Checklist. It’s divided it into two sections: a generic checklist for skills I think a major should have when they graduate, and a list of specific core classes (and a few electives) that a geoscience major might take. At the moment these are based on curriculums that I’m familiar with from my undergrad and grad schools, but there’s certainly room for more. I’ve started off each course with a few basic skills I’d expect a student to have before they were allowed to attempt it.
What I’d love is for any of you to go and edit this list – add your own must-haves, qualifications, and comments. Even if you’ve not taught geology at the college level, if you’ve been in a college-level geoscience course, what do you think you took away from it (or should have)? What do you wish you’d learned better (or not at all)? What prerequisites does your department have for each of these core courses (if any?) Feel free to edit the document anonymously, or sign your name or initials to a particular comment so I know who left it. If you don’t have time to edit the document, chime in on the subject in the comments section (even a sentence or two will be a big help). Or, if you prefer, tell me on Twitter (@tuff_cookie)!
It would be really great if I could get a variety of responses and a lot of input for this – it’s a thought exercise that I’m working on with some of the other grads in my department, and it may come in very handy for us in the future!
Considering mapping/drawing skills, ArcGIS & Adobe products are almost only used by public service – in the private sector there are almost unknown due the high license prices – it’s true that basic concepts behind a GIS are good, but most problems I face is to get geologist students with technical drawings skills to draw maps/sections/engineering sections in CAD products
Bringing students to the field is always a source of joy… and despair. I’d make sure the basics of *efficient* fieldwork – and its goals – are there before they consider venturing further into geosciences.
Example (true story): one student will get out of the bus, rush to the outcrop, pick one loose block here and there, put everything mixed in a bag, take one GPS position and one photo, and call the job done, eagerly awaiting to go back to the lab to make his/her rocks tell a story.
Another one will take some time to sit a bit farther, observe/photograph/sketch the outcrop, then go to its best/freshest part (if not too risky), observe the rocks (drawing a summary profile and stuf), take pics and collect a (fair) amount of good hand samples, label/pack them, then rest in the shade with a fresh drink while meditating about what it all means.
Which one is the most likely to get the story right?
Callan had a meme on this topic four years ago. Here’s my entry, and the others I saw. It’s by no means complete or organized, but I think you’ll find it useful. http://outsidetheinterzone.blogspot.com/2009/03/10-things-geo-majors-should-know.html
I suggest that you contact the various state licensing boards. I know that California’s used to conduct a validation study that involved interviewing practitioners regarding what they do and what KSAs are important.
I might be in the minority, but from personal experience with grads and colleagues, a person with more tech savvy/experience than teaching experience is a boon. Too often I see grads come in and be flabbergasted when having to learn coding on their own, or working with field equipment, or high-tech lab sensors, etc…
Thus hours upon hours are spent having to learn programs and their principles from a very novice starting position. I think this also stems from choosing students who do not have a passion for science and technology in general, rather that they simply achieved a high GPA.
I am not a geoscience graduate ( I am an electronic engineer who took a physics post graduate degree) but I have been involved with graduate recruitment a lot. The key thing to realise is that many, perhaps most, graduates end up not really using the training they obtained at College. The real skill that they acquire is the scientific discipline and how to use their skills and knowledge to best effect. However before that they need to start off in their working life so I would recommend asking as many companies who recruit geoscience graduates what they look for in new graduates and teach that as a first priority. Then ask the same companies what other skills they look for that marks out a graduate for promotion. Then encourage that – but you may not be able to teach all those because for some employers those necessary secondary skills might actually not be in geoscience at all – that’s not a problem it is entirely normal as one proceeds through a professional career. In my later employed life I was a commercial director of a software house. The originating qualifications of our staff were variedalmost to the point of disbelief. Good luck
Have at least seen and preferably used or assisted in the use of equipment associated with each major technique
Be familiar with Golden Software’s packages as basic tools, espec. Surfer
Be able to recognise basic anomaly forms within data
Understand basic sources / mechanisms of anomaly creation, e.g. commercially relevant magnetic ores
im geomorphology graduate in Iran/Tabriz uni
im searching in net about landslid hazard so see your blog and read your topic
excuse me if my English is weak . im searching about good topic and fresh that select PHD thesis and work about it. there are many morphological phenomena in our region . same as mountain, volcano, gully,&….
which topic you opinion to me
If you’re looking for landslide hazard topics to think about, Dave Petley’s Landslide Blog is definitely the place to start (https://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/). I mostly deal with volcanology!
I absolutely love and appreciate your blog!
I’m currently an undergraduate geology student and thought I might provide some insight into our program and why I feel a lot of our students aren’t quite as prepared as they should be. Our department is fairly small (we struggled to reach the required 10 student minimum in our mapping class to keep the course from being canceled), and upper division geology courses, including the final summer field course, are taught on an every other year schedule. The order in which courses are taken (mineralogy before sedimentary petrology, etc.) are often determined by when the students enter the program. On top of this, budget cuts have decreased the sections offered every quarter in basic chemistry, physics, and calculus and a lot of the students in our program are unable at times to even begin those courses until their final year, after the majority of major courses have been completed.
I find that the professors in our department (all very good professors) have to spend a lot of time reviewing basic material because students lack the proper prerequisites and don’t go as in depth into the material for the class as we could go. I am worried that I will be one of the graduate students who is unprepared and concerned about how I might fare in a graduate program. I appreciate the core skills checklist you have started and wonder what advice you can offer someone who is coming from a less rigorous program in geology to make sure they are prepared for graduate level work.
Thanks for your great insights! We are in a very similar situation in my department, and we are also a bit stretched in terms of when courses are taught because we have a limited number of faculty to cover them.
In terms of advice, I would say that you should make sure you know how to do most of the things that people have been adding to the checklist – depending on what program of study you want to go into, of course. You should definitely make sure you’re comfortable with writing, meaning you should practice – and get peer comments/reviews, not just from your profs – every chance you get. Writing quickly and well is very important for grad work. Also, you should make sure you know how to read and absorb research articles efficiently; you will be doing a lot of reading as a grad and you’re never going to have time to only sit down and read papers. Know how to pick out the key points and translate math-y papers into simple terms, and it will help a lot. (My strategy is to read the abstract and conclusions, then look at figures, and THEN go for the middle bits if I have the time.)
You do spend some time reviewing things in grad school anyway, but the difference is that you usually do it on your own time, not in class. So even if you don’t remember things or feel like you know the info in-depth, having good study habits and being able to keep yourself organized and on-schedule is really important. You can always learn as you go!
Hope this helps. If you have more questions, feel free to contact me via the email on the blog!
Great topic! Students need strong scientific written and oral communication skills. These skills should be integrated across our geoscience classes, rather than farmed out to other departments.
When I worked in environmental consulting, the poor communication skills I observed really surprised me. Scientists in any field need to be able to read, analyze, and synthesize large volumes of written reports and data (their own, and those created/collected by others). We need to be able to explain and summarize our data collection, analyses, conclusions, etc. in written form,and to adapt that written form to the appropriate context (a report for a client, a report to EPA, and a journal article are very different writing styles and structures). We need to be able to talk with other scientists as wells as with non-scientists (regulators, clients, property owners, resource managers, policy makers, etc.). By “talk” I mean informal conversations, presentations, and interviews, in addition to formal lectures.
We can accomplish this in our classes by designing learning experiences with a variety of student products or deliverables that reflect real-world science applications and products, rather than just standard classroom lab reports and papers.
[…] any good geoblogger, I crowdsourced the answer to this question, and asked all of you to offer your input on what core skills geosciences students should they have […]
Have you seen the Summit on the Future of Geoscience Education Effort? It is
http://www.jsg.utexas.edu/events/future-of-geoscience-undergraduate-education/ Check out the survey. They think about skills in a broader sense, not technology used, but ways of thinking. There is still a need to align what faculty think are keys skills with what industry/employers think. Keep it up!
Thanks for the link. Definitely some interesting reading there – and things to keep in mind if I move in an academic direction again!