Profile: Dr Laura Guertin (Lecturer in Earth Sciences, Penn State Brandywine, USA).

Laura Guertin.JPG

Name: Laura Guertin

Job Role: Professor of Earth Science

Organisation: Penn State Brandywine, Pennsylvania, USA

Education Background:

  • BA in geology from Bucknell University (PA),
  • PhD in marine geology & geophysics from University of Miami – Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science (FL)

1. What inspired you to take up a career in the Geosciences?

Believe it or not, science was my least favourite subject growing up. I didn’t enjoy learning science and didn’t see a purpose for learning it. But then, I had an excellent chemistry teacher in high school that not only made learning science fun but showed me why science matters. It wasn’t until I took my first geology course in college that I knew that geology was going to be my science major (exciting classes, field trips, and fun!). Since my family had always vacationed at the beach every summer when I was a kid, I wasn’t surprised that while learning about the Earth more and more, my interest in the oceans grew stronger. Once I finished my degree in geology, I knew I wanted to learn more about the oceans, so I went to graduate school for my degree in Marine Geology. Who would have thought those summers at the beach would influence my eventual career choice!

2. Can you give more detail about your path to your current job role?

Being a faculty member and teaching at the college level was never a career I had envisioned for myself. I was always afraid of getting up and speaking in front of people! In graduate school, my program did an excellent job of training students for careers in the industry. I was a teaching assistant (TA) for four years in graduate school and assisted with the undergraduate geology courses. Through the TA, I learned that I actually liked teaching (I surprised myself!). When I graduated, I purposely applied for temporary teaching positions so I could get some experience to see if this was really the direction I wanted to head, instead of industry. I was fortunate to get a job teaching for two years in Virginia, then was in Colorado for a year, and finally landed my current position at Penn State Brandywine in Pennsylvania. I’ve never second-guessed or regretted my decision to become an educator.

3. What does your current job role involve?

As a faculty member at a university, my job involves three categories of duties – teaching, research, and service. I must teach classes each semester, involving lecture and laboratory exercises indoors and in the field (I teach primarily introductory-level Earth science courses for non-science majors). I must have an active research program that requires me to produce original research results that I present at conferences and publish in peer-reviewed journals. I must do service as a member or officer at my campus, at the university level, and at the local/state/national level. This service can include serving as an elected officer, organizing conference sessions, giving science talks in the community, doing outreach by visiting classrooms of younger students, etc.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

There are so many parts of my job I really enjoy – collaborating with other professionals in the geosciences and outside the discipline, participating in field programs and learning geology while in the field, helping non-scientists young and old understand why knowing geology is important, and teaching university students. Seeing that “light bulb” turn on above the heads of my students after I explain a new topic and see their excitement while they are learning is so rewarding to me. Recently, I was able to go out to sea on a hydrographic survey in the North Atlantic Ocean with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The three weeks I was on the ship happened to overlap with the timing of my semester, so I taught online. How many people get the opportunity to teach about the ocean, from the ocean??? It was one of the best teaching experiences of my life. And knowing that I’ll have more incredible opportunities like this in the future keeps me excited to teach, do research, and serve my students and the community by communicating what I do what why it is important.

5. Why do you think it’s important to encourage more girls into Geoscience?

All disciplines need to be as inclusive as possible. Currently, the geosciences have a large population of white males, so the diversity is incredibly low when it comes to gender, ethnicity, physical mobility and visual ability, etc. The more diverse we are, the stronger of a community the geosciences will be (and I firmly believe better researchers, better collaborators, better communicators, and more). There are reports that the ratio of male/female graduates from undergraduate geology programs in the United States is close to 50/50 – so why doesn’t this ratio continue when you look at the numbers for the career professionals? There is much work that needs to be done to not only have girls graduate as geoscience majors but to have girls stay in the geosciences. I hope that by sharing my story in this blog post, I can inspire a student to be a geologist and help us grow the number of females in the profession.

6. If you could give a piece of advice to girls currently thinking about a career in the Geosciences, what would it be?

Believe in yourself, and follow your passion. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t be a geologist because you are a female (or that you are too short, or not strong enough, etc.). Realize that there are so many options available – work in the lab, go in the field, teach in the classroom, write for a magazine, produce a video, etc. If you find geology fun, then you are in the right discipline!

Make sure you also check out Laura’s great article about her project #365selfies!


 A new profile is added each Wednesday at 10am BST. If you’d like to be involved, upload your profile today using the ‘profile uploads’ page or email: lara.mani@plymouth.ac.uk

Follow us on Twitter: @girlsingeosci

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