Field Methods -or- Rock-breaking 101

I’ve only just become aware “The Accretionary Wedge,” a geological blog carnival! It’s basically a monthly amalgamation of the thoughts of geoscientists world wide in reference to an earth-science related prompt.

What a fun concept.

This month, the prompt was for ‘dream geology classes.’ You know, the ones you really wish were offered back in your undergrad days. There are a few that I’ve always wished were taught, some of which I see are already touched upon in the responses to the call for posts. I’ll just talk about one.

FIELD METHODS -or- Rock-breaking 101

One class that I’ve noticed is sorely missing from almost all geology programs is a “Field Methods” class. It could be that the geosciences are heading more and more into the laboratory or onto computers, but it seems that field geology is suffering. A person can actually get a degree in the earth sciences without doing more than a day or two of field work ever!


I was fortunate that where I did my undergraduate (Fort Lewis College), they actually offered a one-semester field methods class. This wasn’t field camp, that was different. This was a full semester course on how to read maps and use compasses. It taught you haw to take notes and how to deal with the geologist’s ‘laboratory,’ where it could rain on you while you’re working. It was ‘field-camp-mini,’ but it put those of us who later took a formal field camp (also offered by my school) at a huge advantage over our less-skilled classmates. (I’m glad to see that Fort Lewis still offers the field methods class, though it looks like field camp might have gone by the wayside.)

I loved that class. I learned in that class that I had what I needed to become a real geoscientist.

The only thing that the class lacked that I wished were in there was specific training on how to collect a hand sample. Seriously, I wanted to learn how to break a rock with a hammer. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. There’s a finesse – a certain amount of skill – needed to break off the perfect chunk of rock, completely dependent upon the equipment you have and the type of rock. A two-hour lab exercise would have been effective to teach that.

That’s the class I think needs to be offered in every department at every school. I know I benefited greatly from having it, and I’m certain that students of the geosciences would benefit as well.

1 thought on “Field Methods -or- Rock-breaking 101

  1. I agree! A lot of universities / colleges aren’t offering adequate (if any) field exposure and experience. I was luck enough to have two semester of field based courses where we spent a week, each, making maps, measuring vertical sections, taking measurements, collecting samples (sort of), etc. In addition to this we had a 6 week field camp in MO and WY, where we did more of this. It’s sad to see this portion of geoscience education slowly disappearing.

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