2018-2019 Richard H. Jahns Distinguished Lecturer in Applied Geology

It’s been a great honor and opportunity to serve as the 2018-2019 Richard H. Jahns Distinguished Lecturer in Applied Geology. Between October 2018 and September 2019, I traveled to 22 states and met with students at 48 colleges and universities. There’s not a doubt in my mind that I learned more during my tenure as the Jahns Lecturer than I taught, but I did my best to fulfill the goal of the lectureship – to promote student awareness of Applied Geology.  The Jahns Lectureship has been awarded jointly by Geological Society of America (GSA) and the Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists (AEG) annually since 1988. I’m particularly pleased to have been the second woman Jahns Lecturer, the first since 1999.

The titles of the talks I offered are listed below:

  • You Don’t Look Like a Geologist – A Conversation on Diversity (or the Lack Thereof) in Our Profession
  • Let’s Talk – A Conversation on How We Communicate about Science
  • How to Build a Geology Career You Love
  • A Tale of Two Waste Sites
  • Always Book a Window Seat – The Lens Through Which We View the World as Geologists

See below for presentation abstracts.

The lectureship is sponsored by the Environmental and Engineering Geology Division (EEGD) of the GSA and the AEG. It is named for Richard H. Jahns who was a professor at Caltech from 1946-1960, Pennsylvania State University from 1960-1965, and served as dean of the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford from 1965-1979. At Stanford, he established a new department, Applied Earth Sciences, blending traditional geology studies with applied aspects of the geosciences. Professor Jahns was known for his challenging field courses, his practical inclinations, his superior mapping skills, and his wit. The 2019-2020 Jahns Lecturer, Scott Lindvall, studied with Professor Jahns as an undergraduate at Stanford. For more information on the 2019-2020 Jahns Lecturer click: https://www.aegweb.org/page/JahnsLecture2019.

You Don’t Look Like a Geologist

A Conversation on Diversity (or the Lack Thereof) in Our Profession

Too many times as a young geologist I was told, “You don’t look like a geologist,” often by clients and even by my own company’s managers. I haven’t heard that comment in some years, and I hope that speaks to the fact that more women are studying geology and going on to careers in our field, so the face of a geologist isn’t necessarily male anymore. According to recent statistics from the American Geological Institute (AGI) in the Status of Recent Geoscience Graduates report (Wilson, 2017), at least forty percent of geology graduates are women. However, we are still an overwhelmingly white profession (the same report indicates less than twelve percent of geology graduates identify themselves as belonging to underrepresented minority groups). There will be some statistics, but they’ll be a starting point to talk about why there is so little diversity in our field. Increasing diversity would expand the points of view team members bring to projects, and enrich the perspectives we use to solve the problems facing us. There is science that shows bringing diversity to our work is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. Who better to have this conversation with than you, the students and young professionals, who will be leading our field as long-time professionals head toward retirement. Whenever possible, I will invite others to participate when this talk is selected (people of differing races, genders and gender identities, age groups, and disciplines).

How to Build a Geology Career You Love

There are many options for work in environmental and engineering geology, but if you’re anything like I was as an undergraduate, you may be studying at a research-oriented institution and so engrossed in learning the science you love that you may not know all the ways you can apply it after graduation. From consulting work in small shops to mega companies, to being an in-house geologist for private industry, to staffing regulatory agencies from municipalities to the Federal government, to teaching STEM subjects from middle school grades up to the university level – there are myriad possibilities to build a fulfilling career. You can find what inspires you, and where you might inspire others. As you progress from student to graduate to young professional, there will be choices to make, like whether to pursue graduate studies, or where to look for a job (both geographically and by discipline), or even whether to strike out on your own, and when. In addition to decisions to be considered, there may also be risks to take along the way. Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did….” This presentation will speak to some of the choices you can make to avoid those disappointments, or to use the inevitable ones, to build a geology career you love.

A Tale of Two Waste Sites

Once upon a time, decades ago, before many an environmental regulation was promulgated, a consulting geologist was contracted to evaluate a site for development as a low-level radioactive waste facility. The geologist summarized the regional and site-specific geology and hydrology. In his report, based on what he’d researched and observed, he discussed potential consequences depending on how the facility would be operated. If waste containers were emplaced in a manner that maintained their integrity and the trenches were covered when not actively in use, the geologist surmised the site had a high probability of functioning safely and effectively. In that case, the possibility of leachate accumulating within the trenches, resulting in perched water tens of feet higher in elevation than the regional groundwater level, would be minimized. Unfortunately, the tale of that waste site is fictional.

The non-fictional waste site’s story has the same opening chapter, but the operational constraints outlined by the geologist were not followed. The site received and co-disposed low-level radioactive wastes and those that would later be classified as hazardous wastes in a total of 52 trenches. Waste containers haphazardly filled the trenches, were breached as they settled, and precipitation collected. Indeed, the warnings in the geologist’s report were correct. Leachate formed in the trenches resulting in numerous contaminants, from tritium (which migrated at the same rate as water itself) to complex organic compounds (which underwent retardation, but still impacted the surrounding environment), flowing from the site in a newly-created shallow, perched water zone, years later daylighting on the hillsides and in the creeks down gradient of the site. This waste site’s last chapter was written in a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study when it was listed as a Superfund site. We’ll talk about how more sites can have happy endings, when the story the geology tells is heeded.

Let’s Talk

A Conversation on How We Communicate about Science

Like members of any group with a common passion, geologists love to talk with each other about our work. That communication is important – it’s how we share the results of our research and experience, and build our knowledge base as individuals and as a profession. It’s also well within our comfort zone.

There’s been a troubling shift in recent years in how scientific information is received outside of our own community, by the public and policy makers. As scientists, we must assume responsibility for at least part of the negative perceptions; we’ve separated ourselves, and in some cases talked down to our audiences, to the extent that we’ve failed to convey the importance of environmental and engineering geology. Speaking with those who don’t know or understand our geologic “language” isn’t necessarily comfortable, and doing it well certainly isn’t easy. But we need to embrace that pursuit, communicating science well, as much as we embrace the work itself. Advocating effectively for our work will make it possible to do more of the science we so value, and for society to realize that value. In this presentation, we’ll talk about the challenges of conversing with non-scientists about science, and why we must face those challenges head on.

Always Book a Window Seat

The Lens Through Which We View the World as Geologists

A Geology 101 class can change the way you see the landscape for the rest of your life, even if you don’t continue on to a career in the field. From a road cut in your home town to the view from an airplane window halfway around the world, knowing the rudiments of geology tells you something about the earth processes that shaped the landscape before you. And if you’re studying to become a geologist, those views can tell you a story of the ceaseless motion and deep time that characterize our amazing home. The best geologists “read” the landscape and “geologist” becomes the lens through which they observe the wider world. A sense of curiosity and desire to learn, not just in the classroom or lab or on a job site, but every day, are traits to cultivate. In this presentation, there will be plenty of pictures through a geologist’s lens, and some of the tales those views tell.

Contact me here to connect about a presentation for your school or organization.