"As a geoscientist I can study science and serve my community at the same time."
I retired from the Army at 49 years old and I returned to school to study volcanoes for a doctoral degree! In 2000 I was awarded my Masters degree in geology from Washington State University. I stayed on for a year beginning a Ph.D. program. After 9/11/01 I ended up spending 2003-2019 on active service with the military. After retiring I wanted to do something engaging and exciting. Why not study volcanoes again? Now at UT Austin, I am studying the volcanic eruption that formed Crater Lake in Oregon ~7000 years ago. I will be getting my Ph.D. in geosciences in 2024. After my doctoral degree I want to continue my studies either as a researcher for a national lab or agency such as the U.S. Geological Survey or as a professor helping undergraduate students develop and complete research projects in Quaternary Volcanism.
As a child I was intensely interested in the natural world. I was raised on my parents small coastal mountain farm in far northwest California; fog, banana slugs and the Redwood forest. My father was a scientist turned school teacher who constantly taught my sister and I about the world around us. After high school I attended Humboldt State University for one year. During that year I took a geology class called Earthquake Country. The instructor was very charismatic and engaging. During field trips where we dug tsunami sands out of coastal marshes and bay mud he spun fascinating tales of Native American tribal legends of violent ground shaking and giant waves from the sea. I was hooked on geology. After four years in the Army I returned for a Bachelors degree in geology. I continued for a Masters degree studying volcanoes in Washington and Oregon. After my Masters degree I worked as a geologist for the Oregon Dept of Transportation. During this time I was in the Army National Guard. Soon after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 my unit was mobilized and we went to Baghdad for a year in 2004-2005. My experiences there changed my entire perspective on life. I spent the next 14 years full time in the military, returning twice more to Baghdad and a one year stint in Ghazni, Afghanistan. As my time in the Army grew short I began considering options in employment where I could combine management and leadership skills I had developed in the military with my background in science. However, I soon realized that my true desire was to return to school to study volcanoes and earn a doctorate degree. I have spent the majority of my adult life in service of our Nation; doing work with a "higher purpose". By returning to study volcanoes I am combining my desire for continued service to my community with my passion for geosciences. I am studying large explosive volcanic eruptions. These eruptions are inherently hazardous to human populations. Part of my doctoral studies will be aimed at developing mitigations to specific hazards associated with these eruptions.
The surprising thing is...
Geology is much more than just "looking at rocks". It is a combination of what many people think of as "classic sciences". It is the art of using many related scientific and scholarly disciplines and skills to solve problems and mysteries about the Earth and other planetary bodies in our solar system. I think of the geosciences as an "applied science". We use chemistry, physics, biology, math, computer science, and many more "pure" disciplines on a daily basis. The U.S. Geological Survey, part of the Department of Interior, is heavily involved in investigating everything from the mitigation of natural hazards from floods, earthquakes and volcanoes to studies of invasive plants and fish in American's natural waterways. The geosciences touches every part of every human beings daily lives, from the mining of tin, tungsten and gold for our cellular phones to the quality of the water we drink and the air we breathe. The people involved in geoscience are just as varied as the science itself. Oil reservoir engineers working in Houston, South America, or the Middle East. Seismologists mapping fault traces in a dusty trench in Nevada or New Zealand. Water quality managers collecting and analyzing samples in Washington, Brazil, or Munich. Volcanologists monitoring sulfur gas emissions from Mt. Kilauea in Hawaii or Mt. Etna in Italy. The careers in the geosciences are broad and are constantly expanding. It is an exciting field in which to work and study.
It's never too late to return to a life in the geosciences. I was away from school and from studying geology for nearly 20 years. Beginning graduate school again at one of the top geoscience programs in the United States, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to keep up with a robust graduate student schedule and I would fall behind a lot of my peers who are younger and have much more recent experience with core science, mathematics and geology classes. I quickly found that this wasn't an issue. At times I have had to review key concepts and particular details, but all it has taken is a willingness to put forth the effort. The experience and skills working on tough challenges that I developed in the military have served me well in graduate school.