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The Fall 2012 Check-In: Mentoring, Future of Geoscience, Being Crafty

The Fall 2012 Check-In: Mentoring, Future of Geoscience, Being Crafty post image

I was going to start this post with “Been busy doing a lot lately,” but when am I not Busy Doing A Lot Lately? As I go from assignment to task to project to meeting, the blog comes to mind and the notion with it to record. Instead of multiple little posts, here is much of what I’ve been spending time and thought on lately.

Work: What I do for a living is not something I (like to) discuss at this blog, but it does dominate my brain power and day. Without giving away too much, I believe I’ve really grown as a geoscientist in the last year, all the way from the science to the business ends of things. A co-worker joked the other day, “Been in this industry for fifteen years and still think I’m too young to know what these concepts mean and acronyms stand for, much less explain them to others, and yet I do.” Time does that, I suppose, but so does loving your science, wanting to be here, great colleagues and being good-exhausted from working the hell out of it every single day. The impostor syndrome wears off, leaving the more immediate and more sincere concern of Holy Crap, There Is So Much Yet To Learn. The nature of the science-technology beast is that no one will ever know enough to do it and never will, but knowing more of what you speak of, how to ask questions and where to go to learn is definite growth.

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Geoscience recruiting and mentoring: Having mentored a graduate student intern for the first time this past summer, let me confirm that a) it takes a lot of time and b) nothing teaches you quicker than teaching others. Why? You’ve got to get everything lined up in your head first before you pass it off on a poor, unsuspecting apprentice. You have to know many of the answers ahead of time and still be prepared for what the newbie finds. The big lesson for me was, be it in education, research or a corporation, the first order of business is telling the initiate why they are here. Right at the outset, discuss with them drivers, bottom lines, expectations and even how they are supposed to go about achieving goals if that is what they are being ranked on. Make sure to also talk about conscientiousness: any robot/monkey can be programmed to operate a mass spectrometer or interpretation software and to analyze the results; showing up, respecting your co-workers’ time and working with genuine interest and integrity are those human traits that cannot be taught.

Now I want a robot monkey.

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The future of (geo)science education at American universities: I am starting to see more and more instances of the fallout of decreased government science funding and it is a gross misalignment of American research priorities and job realities. As I discussed with a number of scientists this week, the drop in funding to university science departments has resulted in an understandable scramble by these departments and professors principal investigators to acquire whatever little money to conduct existing research and to push through as many Ph.D.s as possible to justify the flow of those meager funds. So, what we are ending up with are “research group leaders” instead of teachers, the horrifying “fast-track” Ph.D. at a time when they are a dime a dozen and difficult to employ, and the growing marginalization of the academically-solid and highly-marketable M.S. degree.

The end goal of science is itself and not jobs, but given (this economic) reality, what I describe above is nothing short of setting students up for long-term failure. PhD-ed lab monkeys will eventually be of no use to anyone in academia or industry, especially if they have never had the opportunity to become seasoned researchers who can pose, work on and “own” research questions they come up with. Also, as a higher-up at a university of note remarked recently, “The supply of well-trained M.S. graduates is going to dry up, or be restricted to just a few schools with such strong ties to [industry] that they can continue their master’s programs.” As someone who recruits, I am sick and tired of hiring M.S. graduates from these few schools with strong industry ties because of the lack of variety in what they know and that an increasing number of them come for the paycheck but not a love of geology.

Honestly, if I see one more SEC or Big 12 resume, Imma go all Bucky Badger up in here.

In the past, I’ve supported elementary through high school science classrooms, undergraduate field work and the mentoring of graduate students. Now, I’m thinking the way to go is to talk to more undergraduates and advise them to seek out good M.S. schools and get that under their belt before going on The Only True Way or leaving academia for work.

Related Links:

Recent Twitter conversation among geoscientists on the fast-track PhD and the fate of the MS [Storify]

I Have No Time to Think and Write: How Academia is returning to the 19th Century [Social Science Space]

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Project Gutenberg: With Michael Hart gone, the board of the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation is that much more relevant. We will meet very soon to discuss the status of and new directions for the project.

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Back Of Town is back: Season 3 of Treme is upon us and with it our Back Of Town blog. Mark Folse and Sam Jasper get to be chained to the writing desk this time around, as Virgo is back in school as a graduate student (you go, girl!) and Ray Shea is busy living and taking care of his family, as if *rolls eyes* that’s more important than writing for yet another online publication. These are wonderful writers and, more importantly, trusted friends who deal with my OCD, spelling-and-grammar-nazi ways. Please do get yourself to the Back Of Town and soon.

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Exercise & Sleep: Hate to admit it, but I’m now at that age when eating low-fat yogurt for a few days no longer helps shed unwanted pounds. And Winter Is Coming turkey pie eggnog fa la la la la la, etc. I’ve found that I love bicycling, dancing and the occasional pilates and weights, and that’s it. Jogging/running and yoga are fine and dandy, but they’re not sustainable activities for me. In other words, bo-ring. The weather is finally tolerable enough in southeastern Texas that D and I can take our bicycles out for more than five minutes without turning into liquid messes.

D has also [whine] implemented [complain] a strict [waaaaah] bedtime before which I have to part with my precious iPad and iPhone [NOOOOOOOOOoooo]. Guess what. We’re sleeping better and this apparently is the first step to long-term weight loss. People, you know I am a night owl who has fought sleep since the day I was born, but it works [grudge sour grapes grudge]. Has it made me a morning person? Hell no. Just in case you were wondering who this is and what she has done with the real Maitri.

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Making Things: Now that D and I are 95% moved into our house, I have been able to transform the study into a library/workspace with a work table, dress form, storage closet and a central floor on which I can spread out for large projects. Other than being able to mend costumes and clothing, I can make! Behold:

The Great Beaded (and Glittered) Cheesehead of 2012

Beaded Cheesehead 2012 #1

Beaded Cheesehead 2012 #1

The best (crafty) thing D and I have worked on together: A Packer Badger Fairy Princess On A Holstein With Attacking Dinosaurs And Pompoms Hardhat. This was a bachelorette gag gift for our dear friend Julie who is a paleontologist/geologist, hates all things girly and pink, loves the Badgers and the Packers, drinks Guinness and married another geologist last month.

A Packer Badger Fairy Princess On A Holstein With Attacking Dinosaurs And Pompoms Hardhat

In Progress

A Packer Badger Fairy Princess On A Holstein With Attacking Dinosaurs And Pompoms Hardhat

Alright, off to check on the clearcoat on the cheesehead and then a bike ride! I am way too excited about this weather, I know.

1 comment… add one

  • BranVanchemist October 10, 2013, 5:29 PM

    I don’t know how I didn’t find this blog earlier. Laughing at “SEC, Big12″ comment. I worked for one of them institutions. The postdoc projects and techs on hand is what carries the grad student load. I really don’t know what they learn, seems like they are herded in, pandered to a company head within one semester and are trained in the practice of scientific slavery. I left. Searching for answers for materials id like to contribute to open access.

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