Saturday, September 20, 2014

Potential dangers of working in the field

A couple of recent articles have pointed to potential dangers of sexual harassment or assault during scientific field work. I can't say that I'm surprised at the numbers. When you're working in a strange environment, a foreign country, in close quarters, adverse conditions, etc., the possibility of harassment or assault is increased. I am linking to the articles here to share with you. You have to be smart to protect yourself when you're in the field in many different ways.

Here is the New York Times opinion piece by Hope Jahren (University of Hawaii) about her experience in the field, including a warning to women in the field sciences, and hope that men will learn about this problem too.

This is the PLoS One article by Clancy et al. (2014) that is referenced in the NY Times article.

**January 2019 update** The stories of harassment of women in the field continue. Read this compelling story of a Boston University professor and his graduate student in the field in Antarctica in Science.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Managing and spending grant funds

Are you a student wondering why your advisor can or can't spend grant funds on you? Read this post from Prof-like Substance...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Go to grad school with your eyes open!

Stipends in grad school are.... modest (see above) and don't allow the kind of lifestyle that you can maintain with a "real" job. You're still a trainee in grad school, hence all of the comics pertaining to eating ramen noodles and the obsession with free food in PhD Comics, and other blogs about grad school... (and if you didn't think you could live on this kind of stipend [barring personal or family emergencies], why did you sign up for this?)

This past week, the Professor Is In blog began a survey of PhD debt to assess whether reports she'd heard about credit card and loan debt in the 100s of thousands of dollars could be real (i.e., >$260,000 in debt for a philosophy degree). Slate Magazine, The Atlantic, and The Chronicle of Higher Education all have articles about this survey too. You can go to the results of this survey through the above link, but here's a 2012 summary from a similar NSF survey:

Over 60% of the respondents reported zero debt, but nearly a quarter reported debt over $30,000. You can enter numbers for your own grad school experience at the Professor Is In blog. Post-grad school debt is much less of a problem for students in the physical sciences and engineering probably because most of those students are offered both a stipend and full tuition when they're admitted, and because those students spend only ~5 years on average in grad school.

As an undergraduate, I went to a local state university and my parents paid for my tuition. As a graduate student at a big research university, I was single and childless, drove a 15-year-old car, shared an apartment in a less expensive neighborhood that was a bit of a drive from campus, ate a lot of pasta, and didn't eat out much. I had a teaching assistantship for $12,000 (for 9 months) and my tuition was covered by the university. I graduated with $0 debt and had a blast in grad school (and I never took a loan, never had any credit card debt, and never worked another job apart from being a grad student). So zero debt is absolutely possible.... you just have to live like a student.

I really don't understand students that complain about being broke yet buy lunch out daily, drink Perrier instead of drinking out of the free water cooler that the department keeps, buy organic berries from Whole Foods (aka "whole paycheck"), get regular facials, or drive a new car. These examples are based on real people and they are what I consider pretty outrageous choices for someone in school.  If you're in grad school in the physical sciences and you're accumulating serious debt, you're making some seriously poor lifestyle choices, or you made some bad decisions en route to grad school (perhaps a you got a philosophy/religion/english degree at an expensive, small liberal arts college back east and piled up debt?). As a grad student, you're still a trainee (you don't have a degree yet!) and can't expect the same standard of living that your roommate(s) who got a job at Google straight out of college might have. But consider, your roommates may make a whole lot more than a typical grad student, but they have regular work hours, might have a dress code, get only two weeks of vacation per year (and can't leave for an awesome backpacking trip to Chile for 3 weeks at the drop of a hat [without getting fired]), and have to regularly meet deadlines (with complete, quality work...gasp!).

If you're thinking about grad school, go read the "Why did you take out the loans" comments in the PhD debt survey, think about what living like a grad student means, and consider if grad school is right for you before diving in...

Friday, August 9, 2013

(Lack of) Recognition for women in science

In looking for information about the 2013 American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco that my students and I attend each year, I ran across this photo of the 2012 Honors Ceremony to recognize scientists that have made significant contributions to the earth sciences:

I count about 23 medals hanging around necks in the first two rows of seats, and there is exactly one woman. (Did the photographer put her in the front row to make sure we see her?) I think this is appalling.

The reasons for such a small percentage of women being recognized for their contributions to earth science probably reflect in part why the numbers of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines steadily decreases from the students graduate from university through the rank of full professor and beyond:

I don't want to re-hash the various arguments about why women don't stay in STEM fields in academia - they range from "old boys club" sexism in hiring and a hostile work environment to wanting to have kids while trying to earn tenure to wanting higher salaries for less work required outside academia to a lack of support from their spouses at home to dual career couples who can't make it work - but rather to point out that whatever the reason(s), women remain underrepresented in STEM fields and that needs to be corrected.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What can you do with a degree in Geology?

In 2012, Forbes magazine listed Geology as the 7th most valuable college major with a starting median salary of $45,300, and a mid-career median salary of $83,300. Many positions have much higher starting salaries depending on the field, for example, mining and petroleum industry positions: petroleum engineers have median earnings of $120,000. A recent study from Georgetown University noted that there is virtually no unemployment in the field of geological and geophysical engineering. Most geologists are employed in the western U.S., and in the south-central U.S. (Texas and Oklahoma) where jobs in the petroleum industry dominate. A recent American Geosciences Institute workforce evaluation estimates that by 2021, some 150,000 to 220,000 geoscience jobs will need to be filled. The AGI report notes that at current graduation rates, most of these jobs will not be able to be filled by U.S. citizens.

Graduates in geology may pursue a wide range of careers in the earth sciences and related fields:

• Environmental and Geotechnical consulting firms
• Energy companies such as petroleum exploration firms
• Mining companies
• Government agencies such as the U.S. Geologic Survey, Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management
• State/local agencies such as the California Geological Survey, Caltrans, Water-Quality Control Board, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, city planning offices, state and federal highway departments
• Non-profit groups that work to study and protect environmental quality
• Engineering geology to oversee the planning and construction of buildings, bridges, roads, dams, landfills, and tunnels
• Informal educational institutions such as museums
• Technician for science departments in universities or other institutions
• Teaching at high school, community college, university levels (university teaching and research require a graduate degree)
• Science writing
• Environmental law
• Publishers and producers of science books, magazines, computer software, web material, television shows
• Asbestos consulting and testing labs
• Professional Geologist, Certified Hydrogeologist, and/or Certified Engineering Geologis

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


GRE scores are required with most applications to graduate school. You must (MUST!) study for the GRE because you can improve your quantitative score dramatically even if your math skills are good (even very good), and the quantitative scores are what science faculty look at first. And despite the GRE's shortcomings, the majority of faculty looking at graduate applications give the scores A LOT of weight. The verbal scores are frankly less important (to me and some other faculty, even at large research universities) because it better reflects an applicant's economic background (and, of course, whether an applicant is a native English speaker), and tells us nothing about your ability to write. If I want to know if an applicant can write (and if they're savvy), I look to their e-mails to me and to their statement of purpose.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Statement of Purpose

Graduate program applications generally require you submit a generic application form of some sort, your university transcript(s), GRE scores, a CV, letters of reference (these should go directly from the letter writer to the university), and a statement of purpose. The SOP is important both for its content and for how well you express yourself.

In general, your statement of purpose is a 1-2 page typed description that addresses three areas: (1) Your educational experiences and how they have led to your interest in graduate study in the geological sciences; (2) a description of any scientific research you have conducted (be specific and include field experience, lab/analytical work, a summary of your findings); and (3) a description of your research interests for graduate school and your career goals. A well-crafted statement of purpose is specific about what you want to study and the geology faculty member(s) you are interested in working with. Do your research about the faculty and department to which you are applying and tailor each of your SOPs to that faculty member/department. You do not need to know exactly which one faculty member you want to work with - it's OK to include two or three names if they are working in related/complementary fields (but don't include, for example, a geophysicist, a geomorphologist, and a hydrologist - that would demonstrate that you have no idea what you want...). Nor do you need to know exactly which project you want to work on - be as specific as possible about your interests ("extensional terranes", "metamorphic core complexes", "ultrahigh-pressure metamorphism") and certainly include a description of how your research experience has prepared you to tackle your proposed research.

This web site and this link have good descriptions of the basics of the SOP (even though these are intended for graduate programs in psychology) and some things to avoid. Whatever you do, don't start your SOP off with the all-too-common "I have loved geology since I was just a kid starting out with my first rock collection" sort of statement. Gag me. Be matter of fact, as specific as possible, concise, and use the SOP as a place to elaborate on things only briefly included in your CV (like your research experience) or to discuss things that don't appear elsewhere in your application and that are relevant to your application (e.g., if you need to explain poor GRE scores or a D in a chemistry class in your freshman year). Stay positive and don't make excuses.

Spell check, proofread, and have someone else read your statement and give you feedback before submitting it (a grad student, a faculty advisor, swap SOPs with other students). The rest of your academic record can't be changed at this stage, and you can't control what your letter writers say, but you CAN write an excellent SOP.