[originally appeared on The Earth Story]
In any map of North America, the Great Lakes draw the eye to their irregular shape, stamped on the continent like an aquatic Rorschach test. Formed after the last glacial period, the five lakes straddle the border between the US and Canada and contain centuries of history in their shipwreck-studded depths. Erie, Ontario, Huron and Michigan, and the largest of them all, Superior, together make up the largest system of fresh surface water in the world, providing drinking water for 40 million people around their shores and generating billions of dollars in revenue from tourism and recreational or commercial boating and fishing.
(Courtesy NASA https://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=78617)
For those who don’t know, last summer I decided to switch from the PhD program in geophysics to a masters. I will be starting in the PhD program in the communications department here at Cornell come August. It’s a less jarring change than it might seem at first glance; I’ll be studying science/risk communication and working on the same projects as before – earthquakes and energy development – but I’ll do it by looking at how people understand, learn about, and respond to seismic risks.
I spent much of last summer thinking about where I saw myself going with my current program, and the answer kept coming that, well, I didn’t. A large part of the clarification came from a couple chances to get out of the lab (in a non-hectic, non-racing-through-Oklahoma capacity) – a field trip to Wyoming with the Energy Institute at Cornell, and a quick trip to Italy, returning to the field school that I went to as an undergrad for a few days to help out as a staff member. On the Wyoming trip, in between visiting Yellowstone and uranium mines, I remembered some of what had always drawn me to geology in the first place. It was more of a classical geology trip than I done since early in undergrad – stopping at highway-side roadcuts and scrambling up outcrops, puzzling out relationships between layers and formations – and I loved it, but it showed very starkly that the things I like about geoscience aren’t really the parts that would help me sustain a research career.
Illustration for a story at: The Earth Story.