Earth Science Week 2012: Careers in the Field

Forest Service geologist Jessica Lopez Pearce leads a tour at Summit Mountain in Kaibab National Forest. Geologists are key in turning on students to the coolness that is geoscience. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region, Kaibab National Forest under Creative Commons license

Earth Science Week has been held every October since 1998 for the rock-lovers among us to celebrate together. Each time it has a different theme, and for 2012 the theme is "Discovering Careers in the Earth Sciences." Geoscience touches everyone's lives, and wherever you look in it there's a career waiting.

Careers are a major focus for the American Geosciences Institute (AGI), the founder of Earth Science Week. I will point you to the AGI's Geoscience Currents page for data on recent salaries and job categories. But good salaries and job opportunities aren't the things that attract young people to the geosciences, according to a recent AGI survey of students. For the great majority of students it was one of two things: they came to college already knowing that geoscience is cool, or a gifted teacher of Geology 101 showed them that geoscience is cool.

Earth Science Week is a way of spreading around that initiation experience to the wider public. Between October 14 and 20, here are some of the things you might consider. First, of course, is to follow the Earth Science Week Facebook page for new announcements.

Go out and play on No Child Left Inside Day, on Tuesday, October 16. The AGI has an activity guide for teachers in case you're rusty.

EarthCaches are a special type of geocache that focus on the rocks and processes beneath the landscape. Instead of trading trinkets in a hidden box, you learn a lesson to take away with you.


The space agency NASA is hosting three days (Tuesday to Thursday) of online chats with working geoscientists in and near Antarctica. These include two events in Spanish. Details and schedule here.

Why does NASA care about Earth? Because the space program has paid off tremendously by giving us a platform to view and study Earth from above. NASA's Theresa Schwerin sticks to the jobs theme: "NASA Earth explorers have careers that span across the sciences and engineering to education and communications, and can take them to the far reaches of the planet." The NASA site for Earth Science Week has an illuminating page on careers that offers far more possibilities than you might think, including artists, lawyers and—hey, how about that!—writers.

National Fossil Day is on Wednesday, October 17. You might think of the great dinosaur-centered national parks, and indeed the National Park Service has a lot going on all around the country that day, not just in the parks but on the National Mall in Washington DC. Locally I don't see any events, but a National Park Service inventory of fossil resources in the Bay Area may suggest a self-directed quest, something even more informal than an EarthCache, to find and photograph our own fossils. And you can always check the National Fossil Day Facebook page for updates.

Friday the 19th is Geologic Map Day. The AGI has a wide-ranging set of resources for this, but to my way of thinking the good old-fashioned paper geologic map is your best entertainment value. No doubt the Map Sales Room at the U.S. Geological Survey campus in Menlo Park will have some specials that day.

The ultimate Earth Science Week experience, I think, would be to spend it at the Grand Canyon. All that week, Grand Canyon National Park will be having special walks, talks and presentations.

Imagine building a career—living a life—around those subjects. That's the promise of the geosciences. Find a geoscientist during Earth Science Week to turn you on to this exciting field.