I’ve been a busy, productive graduate student the past month with my first set of samples coming in (whoop, whoop!), learning some new foram taxonomy, trying to make a pretty map in Matlab, and trying to get a class full of students uninterested in geology actually interested in geology (…it’s still a work in progress). While busy doesn’t excuse my blog neglect, it did bring to light some pretty blog-worthy topics, including some serious winter sports FOMO and more ridiculously wonderful undergradisms. Which brings me to the topic of the week (rather month, since I’ve neglected this blog so thoroughly over the last 28ish days) straight out of the mouth of a frustrated intro geology student (who had just realized he forgot to do his pre-lab): “Geology is hard.”
“Rocks for jocks”
Or rather, Geology 101.
When I walk into syllabus week, crossing my fingers that I have at least one student in each of my sections the teeniest bit interested in my scientific obsession, the first thing I tell my students is that geology is not easy. It’s an interpretive science that pulls and gives knowledge to a vast array of other sciences. Answers are not always cut-and-dry, we don’t always put things into an equation and get out what we expect, and only practice (lots and lots… and lots of practice) can produce a productive, fully functioning geologist. I tell them that I struggled through geology classes, and that I still struggle through lots of geologic subjects today. I say absolutely everything I can to impress upon their syllabus week minds that no, this class will not be a total walk in the park, and yes, I will make you work for it. I don’t really think any one them really believe me… until they actually hard-core struggle through the first lab.
I may have a different teaching philosophy than other introductory level geology TAs, but I don’t like handing out participation grades. Whether a student is a geology major, somewhat interest in geology or just taking this class because it’s required, I still expect my students to put effort into each and every lab. And while I don’t expect them to remember every single word or definition they learn while taking the intro class, I do hope that they walk away with a bigger understanding of what the science of geology is all about.
The core classes
Even for us lucky few who embark on an undergraduate career in geology, struggle is still the name of the game. Mineralogy. Petrology. Structure. Sed/Strat. Geochemistry. Maybe even Geobiology and Geophysics…. the list goes on and on. My core major classes were some of the hardest classes I took in undergrad. Time spent on labs in many of these classes could border on 5 hours OUTSIDE OF ACTUAL LAB TIME, and there were lab days where I would sit there completely perplexed by symmetry blocks or what-the-hell-grain is this on my slide or understanding a ternary diagram with all sorts of minerals in solution or even trying to figure out my aqueous geochemistry computer program. Geology is hard, but it’s just because we need to know so much more than everyone else.
I don’t TA any of these classes at CU-Boulder, but I’ve heard plenty of things from those TAs to know that my experience is not unique. Geology students struggle, but it doesn’t mean we don’t love every minute of it (expect maybe finals filled with every mineral formula you were told you wouldn’t have to memorize).
Survive all your core classes only to realize you still have field camp to conquer? Yeah, I’ve been there. For all of you non-geologists (and all you geologists who managed to finagle your way out of this one), field camp is a comprehensive field mapping “experience” typically held sometime over the summer (usually somewhere cool like Utah) that lasts around six weeks. Sure, six weeks hiking and exploring in the glorious mountain-ridden wilderness doesn’t sound too bad to a geologist, but you’re forgetting the whole needing to remember all the minerals, rocks, structure, sedimentology, stratigraphy, ternary diagrams, paleoenvironment, brunton compass using and general just don’t fall on your ass while trying to find an outcrop geology skills.
Field camp is hard. Like throw your map board off a cliff (did it), lose your mapping partner (happened), leave your rock hammer on the top of the mountain (almost), leave your mapping partner to fight the snake in the outcrop alone (sorry Ben!), have an epic face-off with the worst gnats to ever exist (see above), stay up all night coloring your map and praying to the rock gods that your cross section will just magically look perfect in your professor’s eyes (hahahaha), and yes, even cry (saw it happen) hard. Your professor will probably give you some version of the “it’s not about the final product, it’s about the journey” speech, but that still won’t heal your poor I-just-mapped-these-rocks-totally-wrong-for-three-whole-days heart. But as expected with a crazy group of people obsessed with rocks, there will always be a shoulder to cry on (hi, friends), silly juice to drown your sorrows in (whatever your taste buds desire), and unbelievable stories to remember (remember that time?).
Field camp was hard. But damn, can I do it again?
If you make it through everything above, (congrats) there’s usually the one subject that just gets your little rock heart going; that one subject that makes you want to learn more (or to devout the next large chunk of your young life to school) and to not care about how much you struggle doing it. For me, it was geochemistry. Everything started to make sense during/after that class. Complicated mineralogy and petrology subjects suddenly clicked, and all the chemistry based diagrams I had been staring at for two years suddenly seemed so simple. Sure, a lot of geochemistry just made intuitive sense to me, but lots of it was definitely still a struggle. Struggling (and loving) geochemistry got me to where I am today… so I guess I can’t complain too much.
Everyone here with me in grad school found their one (or hopefully are busy finding it right now), but there isn’t a single day that I don’t walk into the geology building or INSTAAR and hear about someone struggling with something (e.g. research, lab work, time constraints, comps, classes, writing, teaching). Geology is still hard because graduate school is a-whole-nother level of struggle. But geologists, especially graduate student geologists, are crazy, so we love it.
In summary: Geology is hard, but we seem to like it that way. (Otherwise everyone would do it, right?).