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WILLIAM SIOK GRADUATE SCHOLARSHIP WINNERS “Why I want to be a Geologist...”


Kristina Butler, SA-9057 University of Texas at Austin


This is my third year composing on essay for AIPG on why I want to be a geologist. This is the first year I have started introducing myself as a geolo- gist! This is also my first year teaching geoscience. As a teaching assistant for an undergraduate field methods course, I teach the lab component of the class and


assist the students on their field projects. Disseminating four and half years of my geoscience experience to eager, smart, hard-working undergraduates is the most exhilarating and challenging endeavor of my academic career to date. Their questions reveal the gaps in my own knowledge but they also frequently inspire new research ideas. I have no doubt they are teaching me more than I am teaching them. Developing the skill to convey new concepts effectively while retain- ing their attention for three hours is certainly an art. That breakthrough, though, when they really start to understand something, get excited about it, and start explaining it to each other, is just spectacular!


I’ve discovered that I enjoy developing creative ways to motivate undergraduate students. I recently embarked on a project building a web-based library of sedimentological photo- graphs and concepts geared towards undergraduate students called FutureRXdoc.com. I was motivated to build this web- site because I searched for this type of resource when I was an undergraduate student embarking on my thesis research. My goal is that this free highly visual educational tool will encourage students to gain a robust understanding of pro- cess sedimentology and to maintain separation between their observations and interpretations. This website also features a blog which discusses pertinent issues facing undergraduate students today, such as: how to write an effective abstract, how to engage with prospective graduate school advisors, and how to land an internship. So far, this tool has been already been used by several students at my undergraduate institutions as they conduct their thesis research and apply for graduate school. It has promoted several email exchanges during which I was able to answer questions regarding both graduate school applications and research.


I was a non-traditional undergraduate student. Raised by ex-pat parents in China, I attended a small international high school. Although I became fluent in Mandarin, this institution did not offer geoscience courses and lacked a well-developed student advising program. The Yunnan Province of southwest China is rich in karst topography and associated caves and mineral deposits. As a teenager, I was fascinated by these features, but lacked the mechanism to connect that interest to a future career in geoscience. Despite graduating cum laude, I did not pursue a STEM-field post-high school. It wasn’t until later in life that I interacted with geoscientists. I enrolled at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) for a B.S. in Geological Sciences the following school year, at 24 years old. For the first time in my life, I was confident in my trajectory and had a support system of mentors. I had the unique opportunity to start my bachelor degree knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my career! I am fortunate to wake up every day excited about my work and amazed that I get paid to do this. Seeing that passion and confidence growing in my students is why I want to be a geologist.


Skyler Mavor, SA-8996 Colorado State University


When I was an undergraduate strug- gling to choose a major I was fortu- nate enough to have an honest and well-timed conversation with a geol- ogy graduate student. Naturally, he encouraged me to take geology classes, and said that geology would “change the way I see the world”. I brushed his


comment off as hyperbole. Now, nearly a decade later, I look back at his comment and think that if anything it was under- stated. No longer can I glance at a mountain range without a mental guess at underlying fault geometry and the age of uplift. No longer can I open Google Earth without spending a few minutes assigning relative ages of glacial moraines or determining the vergence of folded strata. A rock isn’t just a rock anymore; it’s a hornblende tonalite, an ooid grainstone, or cataclastic quartzite, and each of these names leads to a possible history. A chunk of rock now carries a clue to its his- tory of crystallization, deposition, or tectonic damage. I can’t pass a roadcut without turning my head. I can’t help it, and I can’t turn it off.


I enjoy geology because it’s difficult. I’ve found nothing that inspires and challenges me as much as exploring the geologic history of a complexly deformed area given only what is exposed at the surface. I love unraveling the story of the rocks through diligent and focused observations, data gathering, and plain hard work. As we all know, what we find in the field isn’t always… textbook. It’s these moments of dumbfounded head- scratching that are most critical, because these moments lead to insight and new understanding. As the old adage goes: ‘the rocks don’t lie’.


It’s the puzzle that draws me in, because unlike most puz- zles we’re given only a fraction of the pieces. We see only the exposures at the surface and our task is to assemble not only the 3-dimensional geometry but to reconstruct a succession of geometries through time and space in the proper 4-dimensional order. But also unlike many puzzles, this one really matters. If we assemble our models correctly we can make predictions with real-world consequences that affect millions of people. We can predict zones of hazard and safety from tsunamis. We can find natural resources that are used by nearly every person on the globe. We can assess how our world changed in the past and use that knowledge to predict how it may change in the future. We can save lives.


My only medicine is to dive deeper. I decided to pursue a higher degree and enrolled in graduate school. I’m most passionate about geologic mapping. I view mapping as one of the foundation pillars of geology, for without it we have no context in which to place our more detailed discoveries. I believe strongly that there are still innumerable discoveries to be made by the diligent field geologist. By furthering my education and experience, I’m gathering the tools to help me answer the questions of a new generation of geologists. Armed with technologies old and new, we can tackle the problems that for decades have awaited solutions. But no geologist can tackle these problems alone. Only through collaboration can we bring all the pieces of these puzzles together for new insight. This promise of new findings, new understandings of the world around us, new frameworks to piece together the observations we make every day… these are the reasons why I want to be a geologist.


22 TPG • Jul.Aug.Sep 2018 www.aipg.org


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