In the latest American Association of Petroleum Geologists Explorer, geology professor Sharon Mosher offers some great insight into the future of our profession at a time when fewer students are graduating with geology degrees* while the industry need for geoscientists is at an all-time high.
“There’s still a tendency to emphasize field work and travel, but many students now don’t find this attractive,” Mosher noted. “They want families and a stable home life and don’t want to travel.
“Additionally, most first generation college students equate field work to manual labor and aren’t interested,” she noted, “plus they may be reluctant to leave their community.”
The folly of using field work as a lure for students today becomes even more apparent when considering the bulk of the professional jobs they ultimately will take on, for the most part, require staying indoors in front of a computer.
On reading this article, I posed the following questions to the geoscience community on Twitter.
1. How to attract students to [geoscience studies] in an era when education isn’t valued as an end in itself and has become a conveyor belt business?
2. Then again, if [current] end goal of higher ed is just to get a job, the geoscience industry is hiring! So, where are the applicants? What’s the hurdle?
To which I got several telling responses, but two that really stood out. The first was from Erik of Eruptions Blog, a geoscience professor himself:
“I think we’re stuck in a loop where many faculty don’t even think to recommend industry jobs to students.”
and the other was a reply to both Erik and me from Infrasound Huntress:
“Very true! My adviser is still in his ‘first job.’”
Are you hearing this? Professors and full-time researchers are needed now more than ever, but the inflexibility and lack of vision, versatility and diversity of their current incarnation may be their own undoing. Fewer geoscientists are being made for academia and industry.
On cue, this Inside Higher Ed article on chemistry academics is making the science blog rounds today: Why Women Leave Academia. As the author suggests, feel free to apply the learnings to other science departments.
… By the third year, the proportion of men planning careers in chemistry research had dropped from 61% to 59%. But for the women, the number had plummeted from 72% in the first year to 37% as they finish their studies.
If we tease apart those who want to work as researchers in industry from those who want to work as researchers in academia, the third year numbers are alarming: 12% of the women and 21% of the men see academia as their preferred choice.
… Universities will not survive as research institutions unless university leadership realizes that the working conditions they offer dramatically reduce the size of the pool from which they recruit.
Two articles on different aspects of the same crisis published in the same week: While the research it generates is relevant and critical, academia has created a self-promoting infrastructure and surrounding bubble, which would be fine if it didn’t a) make it impossible for scientists to make more of their own and b) ignore economic needs and life realities in the process.
If you don’t believe me, have an honest chat with some young and female professors. They love science and, for this, they try so hard to be part of the club and play its game, but they will tell you that the pull of a balance between work and life, better pay and newer processes and technologies is very compelling.
* The University of Wisconsin Department of Geoscience seems to buck the low enrollment trend, with twice as many declared Geology majors this year than in the past. When asked what gives, one undergrad offered, “We’re probably seeing that there are great careers ahead for us.” Hmmm. I’m in the process of designing a survey for these undergraduate majors centered on what brought them to geology. I’d also like to see how many of them actually graduate with geology degrees.