My path to DBER - from field geology to geoscience education

Emily Ward, Rocky Mountain College

My path to becoming a Geoscience Education Researcher was a mix of both formal training and apprenticeship in educational research. I became interested in geoscience education when I started working as a TA in graduate school. I started reading the Journal of Geoscience Education to find out more about effective instructional techniques and about how to improve student learning. I sought out a PhD program that would incorporate an element of geoscience education and landed at University of Montana. I completed my PhD in geology and worked on an outreach project with colleagues from Blackfeet Community College to develop field-based outdoor experiences for middle school science teachers. I am grateful for this experience with the Tribal college and reservation schools because it provided me with the opportunity to participate in a project that was important to the local community and effectively blended my love of field geology with student learning. Through our work together on the outreach project, I developed the trust of my Blackfeet colleagues which has led to a sustained research collaboration that is ongoing today.

After completing my PhD, I went on to work as a postdoctoral research associate at the Geocognition Research Lab at Michigan State University where I learned more about the methods and analyses used in discipline based education research. I had the opportunity to audit courses at MSU and learn from some top-notch education researchers in the field. I interacted with other postdoctoral researchers with similar backgrounds to my own, whose formal training was in a science discipline and were interested in becoming aware of the research methods and analyses used by education researchers so that they could employ these techniques as DBERs. Through this experience, I saw that geoscience education encompassed much more than outreach and included basic and applied research on how people think about Earth and understand geological processes.

The advice that I would pass on that has been of use to me in the early stages of my career is to be collaborative. Make connections with those from which you can learn and develop your skills. Take time to build trust in your working relationships. Trust is the essential foundation for sustaining these relationships over time.