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What Do Geologists Do?

This material was originally created for On the Cutting Edge: Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.

William Dunne, University of Tennessee
Course: Dynamic Earth (Introduction to Physical Geology equivalent)
150 students

Students are often surprised at - and interested in - the variety of careers available in the geosciences.

The Activity

I ask the students to individually and then in small groups build a list of what geologists do. The class then builds a master list with me as the list constructor. This is a "low-risk" topic where virtually any student answer is correct, so that creates a positive. Plus, it establishes from the very first day that we will have in-class activities and that the outcomes of that activity will guide content later in the class. So, they expect it in future classes.

For the teacher, it is also a safe exercise because there are obvious ways to organize the outcomes for the students (on the blackboard/whiteboard/powerpoint "board"), so that they can collectively record their examples and linkages. Almost all outcomes fit very naturally into where the first class goes, which is to introduce rocks, plate tectonics and geologic time. Other introductions are possible as a function of the student answers, if needed.

Additional Information

Many educational and professional organizations have online geoscience career profile collections. Here are several of them, from