November 15, 2016
I’m 23 years old, and I still am not sure what I want to be when I grow up—and that’s okay. This has been my postgrad experience and that of many of my peers. I graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2015 with a degree in environmental geology. I knew at that point that my interests were in Earth science and its use to create a better future. That, as it turned out, was a very broad aspiration. Right after graduation, I took an internship as a conservation education presenter at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Although that was a very worthwhile endeavor, it dealt heavily in conservation biology, and as a geologist, animals were not my passion (unless, of course, they had been dead for ~65+ million years).
My next internship took me to AGU, where I worked with the Thriving Earth Exchange (TEX) as the community science intern. I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with the TEX team, connecting communities to Earth and space scientists to overcome challenges. This fulfilled part of my need to use science to make a positive impact on the world; however, it wasn’t me that was doing that science. One day, looking through the TEX inbox, I happened upon an email that took me (quite literally) on my next journey in my career.
One of TEX’s collaborative partners is Experiment.com, a crowd-sourcing site that works to raise funds for scientific projects. On that particular day, Experiment had sent TEX an email regarding the Bighorn Basin Dinosaur Project. As a lifelong dinosaur nerd, I was intrigued, and once I read about the project, I was hooked. Within about an hour I was cashing in a graduation present IOU for plane tickets to Montana to participate in my first paleontological field expedition.
It was an incredible experience and an opportunity I would never have guessed that I would be fortunate enough to stumble upon. I got to touch (and take gratuitous selfies with) the K-T extinction boundary, see a specimen of Archaeopteryx, and even physically help to unearth and jacket multiple dinosaur specimens. These were things on my bucket list, and I got to do them all in a week! Not to mention that the other volunteers were wonderful, and the scientists that led the trip were some of the coolest and most interesting people I’ve ever met. It was not only a fun time but an invaluable networking opportunity and a chance to build field skills and gain technical information.
Now, I work with the state of Virginia as a geologic technician—an opportunity I heard about by chance through my alma mater’s geology listserv. A year after graduation, and I feel like I’m finally using the skills that I went to school for. Sometimes that’s how it goes—each opportunity leads you to the next, often in unexpected ways. It’s important to keep an open mind, keep in touch with your networks, and try to fully utilize each opportunity you come across. I’m still not sure where my career path will take me next, but I’m learning to be okay with that. It seems like being an adult is mostly making things up as you go along and trusting that you’ll end up where you need to be. Maybe that’s what growing up is about? I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
Haley Gannon graduated with a B.S. in environmental geology from the College of William and Mary. A former community science intern at the American Geophysical Union, she is now a geologic technician for the Virginia Division of Geology and Mineral Resources.