The past two years I've had the privilege of working with some of the best and brightest young geoscientists in the country through our NSF-REU project on Precambrian Rocks of Yellowstone National Park. We selected these students based on diversity of geologic interests (petrology, geochemistry, structural geology, sedimentology), types of institution (liberal arts college, comprehensive and research I universities), geographic distribution (coast to coast), and academic preparation (students had completed most of the geoscience "core" courses"). Most importantly, these students were selected on the basis of their motivation to learn geology, curiosity about the Earth system, and confidence in their abilities as expressed in letters of support from their academic advisors. Our research positions were highly competitive, and we could only select 12 participants out of a pool of over 100 applicants in each of our two years. These students were all well-prepared, enthusiastic, energetic, and ready to rock'n'roll. Simply stated, we got to work with the best of the best.
All of these students have now graduated with undergraduate degrees from their home institutions. In tracking their continued professional development many have applied and been accepted to graduate school, some have elected to do year-long service projects, some have gone on to pursue careers in industry or have had internships with the USGS. This is all good news. However, there is a disturbing undercurrent: although many of the students have been accepted to graduate programs at prestigious research institutions, a number of students have had to defer the start of their program, or were ultimately told they could not enroll, because research funding was not available to support their graduate work.
I'm currently attending the International Geological Congress in Brisbane, Australia. At this meeting I've been struck by the huge presence that the mining industry has at this meeting, with major sponsors that include Rio Tinto, BHPBillition, Vale, Xstrata, and the Moultrie Group; and the relatively minor visibility of energy companies in contrast to similar meetings in the US where oil and gas interests seem to reign (Petrobras being the only major energy-based industrial sponsor). The depth and breadth of the scientific presentations on mineral resources is hugely impressive: ore petrogenetic processes, geochemical and geophysical exploration methods, remote sensing, structural control of ore deposits, tectonic distribution of ore deposits, role of ore deposits in evolution of the crust, metallurgical processing, minerals that support emerging technologies. More
The front cover of the current issue of The Economist documents the power of modern science, celebrating the finding of the Higgs boson as "a giant leap for science." But the back cover of the same issue documents the abject failure of natural history education in America. More
I'm thrilled to report that the book that grew out of the Synthesis project, the parent project of this blog, is now out: Earth & Mind II: A Synthesis of Research on Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences, Geological Society of America Special Publication 486, edited by Cathy Manduca and myself. It's available from the Geological Society of America bookstore
However, having shared my thrill at holding the book in my hands, I have to admit that there are some ideas in the book that I have already outgrown during the months that the book has been in production. More
Recently my "Teaching & Learning Concepts In Earth Sciences" students and I renovated one of my old data-using lab activities, from the days when I used to teach "Planet Earth" to non-science majors. The old version of the activity led students step-by-step through a series of manipulations of an on-line global data base, using a professional data visualization tool. The old directions provided a lot of scaffolding for how to make data displays of ocean salinity in and around the Mediterranean Sea, but little support for how to extract insights about earth processes from those displays. The new version assumes that students are already pretty adept at getting computer apps to do what they want, and refocuses the scaffolding on how to think like a geoscientist, how to think about the meaning of the data. More