State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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Careers in Earth Science

Students examine sediment cores in Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory's Core Lab. Photo: Angel Mojarro
Students examine sediment cores in Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s Core Lab. Photo: Angel Mojarro

Last year, President Obama launched Educate to Innovate, a campaign designed to improve the participation and performance of the nation’s students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The United States lags behind other countries in STEM achievement; programs that increase STEM literacy, introduce students to STEM career options and promote the excitement of these careers will help close this gap.

To raise awareness of STEM careers among New York City students, on April 5 Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory invited 120 ninth-graders from Brooklyn Millennium High School to campus for a STEM Career Day. Students learned about a wide variety of opportunities in geoscience disciplines, from finding evidence of climate change, cosmic impacts and earthquakes in deep sea sediments to communicating the importance of scientific research to the public. Throughout the day, students toured campus and met with Lamont scientists, who shared their research and what inspires them to explore Earth.

Geochemist Terry Plank, who studies why some volcanic eruptions are more violent than others, gave an interactive presentation to students on what she’s learned about volcanoes and, David Letterman style, what she enjoys most about her job.

“Dr. Plank not only connected with the students, but was able to explain the benefits of being a researcher in a passionate and fun way,” Rebecca Stern, a teacher from the school, said. “Two students have told me that they were inspired by the trip and want to be Earth science researchers when they grow up, which is so amazing.”

Students also commented on the new perspectives they gained from spending a day at Lamont-Doherty, “It [Career Day] opened my eyes to a whole different work field. All the information you gave us was like nothing I had ever seen before. Also, when you allowed me to actually see all your data and where it was located, it made it even more enjoyable,” one student said.

Another commented, “You have really convinced me of maybe changing my future to another route. Seeing you care a lot about nature really made me think about how beautiful Earth is and how I would like to protect it one day.”

The goal of STEM Career Day was to provide an opportunity for students to understand the breadth and depth of geoscience and explore their own career interests through conversations with Lamont-Doherty researchers.

“We want to inspire the next generation of students to protect our planet through engagement in geosciences. Lamont-Doherty is uniquely positioned to do that,” education and outreach coordinator Minosca Alcantara said.

Are you considering a career in science? According to Terry Plank, the Top 10 reasons to be an Earth scientist are:

1. You can study volcanoes.
2. Travel, travel, travel!
3. You get to write proposals to study things that interest you.
4. You get to write papers about your work and be famous.
5. You work in teams of smart people.
6. You get to be your own boss.
7. You might get to be on radio and TV.
8. It teaches you to do all sorts of useful things.
9. Next stop, knowledge!
10. It’s our Earth, someone has to study it!

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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