Initial Publication Date: April 13, 2015

National Perspectives on the Geosciences

Christopher Keane, American Geological Institute

These pages are derived from presentations delivered at the February, 2005 Workshop at the College of William and Mary and at the 2005 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. You can also download (Microsoft Word 26kB Nov10 05) the original presentation from AGU.

How Do We Evaluate How the Geosciences Are Doing?

There are multiple components that define the geoscience discipline, and it is the aggregation of the performance of those components that define the discipline's health.

The primary sectors of the discipline are:

  • Academic Departments
  • Primary industries, like oil & gas, mining, environmental
  • Government at all levels, both research and regulatory
  • Secondary Industries, such as telecommunications, which employ geoscientists for specific roles in their industry

The measures of health can be made through taking the "temperature" of these various parts of the discipline

  • How much economic growth is occurring within each of these sectors?
  • How steady is the human resource pipeline—are we facing surpluses or shortages of skilled geoscientists?
  • To what level does the public recognize the geosciences and its contribution to society?

One key issue is that most of these metrics are human-centric—that the geoscience workforce is productive, engaged, and well-balanced. Attaining this is dependent on success of college and university departments.

How are the geosciences doing?

To answer this question, it's necessary to first answer some other questions: How do we define doing "well?" Is our perspective domestic or global?

All in all, the geosciences are probably doing better than many expect. Many departments are undergoing changes right now and not all change is successful. The biggest issue is one of "market rationalization."

Self-Selecting Department Categories

If academic departments are the lynchpin, are there natural groupings within that community?

  • Major research departments
    • Traditionally strong programs
    • Comprehensive with history of strong geoscience research and teaching
  • "Second-tier" state and private departments
    • Apparent peak risk-group—this is where the greatest level of attrition has been, since these departments are not core to the institution's mission
    • Many four-year programs are seeking the balance between education and research to meet their institutions needs with their limited resources
  • Traditional B.S. granting departments
    • Many of the long-standing and traditionally of successful programs are at these four-year, usually liberal-arts schools.
    • Their key strength has been a focus on educating, not training, and thus have retains fairly traditional programs that have prepared graduates for an array of opportunities
  • Community Colleges
    • As the fastest growing component of higher education, they are not making a major impact in preparing and/or developing geoscience majors
    • Most recent closures and consolidations have been at the community college level