Why Study Earth Science?

Catherine graduated from a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Geology and is currently completing her PhD where she travelled to remote Madagascar to collect rocks. You’ll also find her lecturing and demonstrating second year geology courses. Find more stories from the field here: https://catinthefield.wordpress.com/ Here, she writes about her experience studying Earth Sciences.

In high school, I loved ALL of the sciences. So I enrolled in a Bachelor of Science! But I didn’t know which major to pick. Chemistry was great fun – I knew the first 20 elements off by heart. Biology was super interesting – who knew what simple beginnings complex life evolved from! And physics – what do you mean we can detect emission spectra from far off planets?!

So I took up Chemistry, Biology and German (as breadth). With my extra science spot, I chose Earth Science… and loved it. Suddenly I was the Sherlock Holmes of Earth answering questions like:

When was the last earthquake in this region? What causes extreme temperatures? How do we deal with the aftermath of natural disasters? What’s happening to the ozone hole?


And I travelled! The fieldtrips were ultimately the best part of my degree – we walked on ancient volcanoes in western Victoria (wishing they’d erupt) and put our noses to the sediments on the coast trying to work out how our continent has changed over time. We spent two weeks being dropped into the middle of Australia in groups and told ‘map the area, we’ll pick you up in 5 hours’.  We cooked on campfires and tried the local parmas in many country pubs.

But the best part of studying Earth Sciences in undergrad was gaining the appreciation and knowledge I now have for the world around me. I know how tropical cyclones form and can debate climate science with confidence. I can read weather charts and observe the cloud patterns and temperature changes to estimate rain potential. ‘That rock I kicked down the path is a limestone… this area used to be under the ocean!’

I stuck with Earth Science through Honours (nowadays Masters is recommended instead of Honours) and into a PhD. I’m using my chemistry knowledge to look at chemical substitutions in minerals; my (limited) physics and mathematics experience in how minerals behave under different pressure and temperatures. And I’m still travelling – I spent a month collecting rocks in the most remote regions of Madagascar and presented my work at a conference in Namibia. Others have gone to the Himalayas, Iceland, East Timor, Kenya and New Zealand.

Image by Catherine
Geologists in their natural habitat

Tip from someone who’s been there, done that: Combine an earth science major with subjects from chemistry, biology, physics or maths. Maths is essential for climate science and will really set you apart in geology. You don’t need to be super fit for fieldtrips and the department is really accommodating of circumstances.

I’ve gone full circle and now demonstrate the practical classes and field trips that I enjoyed as an undergrad. If you think the above experience sounds interesting, here are some subjects you might be interested in. They are a great introduction into the field and don’t require prerequisites. You don’t have to be a first year to take these subjects – they complement the other sciences and would also be good as breadth if you’re interested in climate policy or environmental law.

Like me, you’ll soon be laughing at disaster movies, getting inappropriately excited about earthquakes and marvelling at the kaleidoscope of colours that wait under the microscope. You’ll run into the storm.

Subjects in First Semester 2016:

EVSC10001 The Global Environment (Option for all majors)

Subjects in Second Semester 2016:

ERTH10002 Understanding Planet Earth (Required for Geology majors)

ATOC10001 Wonders of the Weather (Required for Climate & Weather majors)

You can find more information from the University on Earth Science here.

– Catherine

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