9 August 2016
Work or pleasure? Taking a geoscientist on vacation
Posted by Jessica Ball
I’m getting ready to take my first long vacation-with-friends in quite a while, and I’m very happy to be following the trend of geologists going to Iceland. Suffice to say that there will be scads of photos when I’m there, when I get back, and probably for a few months afterwards. (Can you tell I’m excited?)
One thing that I get asked sometimes is whether I ‘turn off’ my science brain when I go on vacation. The answer varies; to some extent, I’m always looking at my surroundings with a geoscientist’s eye – if you spend years training yourself to see things that way at work, it’s hard not to let it carry over into everyday life. And often I go on vacations with the goal of seeing some cool geology. In the past few years, that’s included volcanoes, canyons, mountain ranges, caves, more volcanoes, a few lava domes, and a lake or two. And because I enjoy those places, even trips that I take for work purposes have an element of vacation to them.
Occasionally I have to rein my science side in a bit so I can enjoy things. But when I’m traveling somewhere, I feel like it adds to my experience, a bit like having a really nerdy Google Maps layer. I can get so much more out of a landscape when I have the mental toolbox that lets me think, I know why this mountain is here, or Those rocks are folded because of this, or What’s going on under this geyser, or It’s amazing that I’m standing on something that was molten rock a few years ago. Forget augmented reality through your phone; I’ve got that all the time, and it’s awesome.
Of course, not everyone cares as much as I do about geology, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve trained myself (I hope) to figure out when my nerdiness is becoming overwhelming or boring; no one wants to hear a lecture when they’re on vacation, after all. I happen to be going to Iceland with three other geoscientists, so I anticipate this won’t be a huge issue, but we all know the value of switching out of science mode and enjoying the sights, or a yummy meal, or just being silly.
But being a geoscientist is all about telling stories – stories about the Earth, about how and why bits of it formed, or are changing, or haven’t changed. I love that I can go on vacation and figure out the story of a place even if I haven’t been there before, just from what I notice through that mental scientist’s lens. I think it makes the experience that much richer.
See you all at the end of August, when I’ll have some new geologic stories to tell about my trip to Iceland!