Comet Takes Command

The post below came across the Facebook feed this afternoon and made me cry a bit.

To me, the speaking cat be my recently-laid-to-rest Charlie, and the new cat be our puppy Comet. Yeah, I know, Comet is a dog. It was, however, suggested to me that during the two months that both Charlie and Comet shared our house, Charlie shared all his secrets with Comet. When all the secrets were shared, and Charlie was confident that Comet could handle everything, Charlie let himself rest. Continue reading

Paying it Forward

Twenty-mumble years ago, when I was an undergraduate at Fort Lewis College, in Durango, Colorado, taking my first paleontology class, something happened that was humorous, but also touching, and has stuck with me ever since.

The instructor for the class was Dr. Doug Brew. He was a paleontologist that specialized in brachiopods. I loved this class, naturally because it was paleontology, but also because Dr. Brew was one of the most ‘human’ professors I had ever had.

The class was first thing in the morning. I typically arrived for class a little early, giving myself enough time to stop at the little cart near the door to pick up a cup of coffee before going in. On this morning I was running late, so I passed on the coffee and entered the classroom a little late. I sat down and scrambled to open my notebook to get started. Continue reading

Coursework – Groundwork

There’s this entirely under-appreciated think that teachers of all kinds do. Countless hours of effort go into the preparation of each class, even when it’s the third or tenth time the course has been taught.

It doesn’t matter how hard you try, there’s this thing that must be done that takes up so much time, yet goes largely ignored.

sad syllabus is sadYup, it’s the writing of the syllabus. And that’s what I spent almost all day today working on: the syllabus, the lecture, reading, and exercise schedule, and all the extra documents that have to be in place before teaching can even begin.

I’m exhausted from the effort, and it’s still not completely done. And classes start tomorrow.

My Post-PhD Story

It’s a common question. What can you do with a Ph.D.? Why get one? Why not just get a Master’s Degree? Or a Bachelor’s?

Most folks think of the Ph.D. as a degree that dooms its recipient to a career in academia. But that’s not necessarily true.

Jacquelyn Gill is interested in knowing the answer to that first question, too. As such, she’s started a blog-carnival in which Ph.D.-bearers are encouraged to tell their story. Some have succeeded in getting that tenured job that is perceived as the only possible option for a person with a Ph.D. Many have left academia.

Others  (like myself) have remained in academia, but definitely not on the tenure track.

I’ll tell you my story. Continue reading

Cupcakeia and Apparent Polar Wander

Sometimes, we as professorial-types, come up with some goofy things to teach some fundamental lessons. Thus was born the continent of Cupcakeia, and its accreted terrane of Frosteringia.

A sketch of the hypothetical continenent of Cupcakeia. The northern part of the continent is marked by a chain of formerly volcanic mountains, Frosteringine Mountains.

A sketch of the hypothetical continenent of Cupcakeia. The northern part of the continent is marked by a chain of formerly volcanic mountains, Frosteringine Mountains.

Continue reading

If I Were a Mineral, Would You Rock My World?

Every science – actually every discipline any person can study – has some fundamental basics that are absolutely important.

You can’t study language without knowing the difference between a noun and a verb (and how that works with adjectives and adverbs).  You can’t study biology without knowing what a species is. And you can’t understand geology without knowing what the difference between a rock and a mineral is.

In teaching an introductory geology class, you might guess I spend quite a bit of time discussing the latter. I always think it should be obvious. But the only obvious thing is that it isn’t obvious. Continue reading

Cross Bedding and Finding Up

Sometimes, I have a terrible time explaining something to my students in class.

Sometimes, I can redeem myself by writing a blog post clearly explaining what I couldn’t get through in class.

One of those topics is cross-bedding in rocks. Now, if you’ve ever driven anywhere in the southwestern United States, you’ve seen lots of cross-bedding.

Crossbedding of sandstone near Mt. Carmel road, Zion Canyon, indicating wind action and sand dune formation prior to formation of rock. Credit: National Park Service photo by George A. Grant, 1929

This can happen at nearly any scale, from tens of feet in thickness, to inches in thickness. So, then, how do cross beds form? Continue reading

So, You Want to be a Paleontologist?

With any luck, when this post goes live, I’ll be on my way to Los Angeles for the 73rd annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

I’m a paleontologist. If there was a special ‘I really am a paleontologist’ card, I’d be a card-carrying paleontologist. (We need to make cards. I’ll get on that.)  I have all the credentials – the Ph.D., the publications, the global field experience – that people expect that all paleontologists would have. I even teach paleontology courses at a university

So, naturally, one of the most common questions I get is, ‘How do I become a paleontologist?’ Continue reading