Supporting Geoscience Students


Earth Science Literacy


"Earth Science Literacy is especially important at this time in history. There are many challenges facing humanity—dwindling energy and mineral resources, changing climates, water shortages—directly relating to the Earth sciences. There are many difficult decisions that governments, local and national, will have to make concerning these issues, and how well humans survive the twenty-first century will depend upon the success of these decisions."                 - Earth Science Literacy Initiative

Webinar on the outcomes and next steps of the Future of Geoscience Undergraduate Education project

The interdisciplinary nature of the geosciences requires that students understand the Earth as a complex system. The NSF Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education project developed a framework for undergraduate education aimed at fostering conceptual understanding and competencies (rather than course-specific content). The project's publication Vision and Change in the Geosciences – The Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education provides a comprehensive overview of this framework, as well as effective pedagogy and strategies for reducing barriers to participation of marginalized groups. 

Undergraduate education focused on conceptual understanding prepares students to enter a workforce where the roles of geosciensts are fluid and always adapting to scientific, societal, and sustainability challenges. The Earth Science Literacy guide by the Earth Science Literacy Initiative details the "Big Ideas" of the geosciences. Similar guides have been created for the oceans, atmosphere, and climate. Competency in these areas will equip students to meet the critical needs of the next century, including climate change mitigation and adaption, water and energy resources, and natural hazards (AGI, Geosciences Supporting a Thriving Society in a Changing World, 2020). 

Resources for teaching complex systems, connecting societal issues, redesigning curricula, and strengthening geoscience departments can be found at On the Cutting Edge: Strong Undergraduate Geoscience TeachingTeach the Earth, and Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education Summit Materials.


Transferable Skills


Train students to think like geoscientists and practice skills that can be leveraged in a wide range of jobs. Help students to understand how their geoscience skills prepare them for the workforce and how to market their strengths to prospective employers.

  • Spatial & temporal reasoning
    Solve problems in 3-D and 4-D space, grasp both deep time and human timescales
  • Real life problem solving
    Assess uncertainty, work with real data and open, complex systems, make inferences
  • Data synthesis
    Data collection, interpretation, handling multiple datasets, quality control, making predictions
  • Quantitative skills
    Math, statistics, computer programming, GIS
  • Communication 
    Clearly express ideas to scientists and non-scientists, work effectively with a team
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Skill importance in the geosciences; Figures 3-2 and 3-3 from Vision and Change in the Geosciences – The Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education

Resources on transferable skills:

List of geoscience skills from the Future of Geoscience Undergraduate Education Employers Workshop. 

Webinar on key skills and competencies identified in the Vision and Change in the Geosciences report.

Comparison of student preparation vs. skill importance in professional positions by Heather Houlton for AGI. Click here for an accessible text-based version.

Survey templates created by AGI for assessing students' Geology/Geography technical competencies from department, faculty, and student perspectives. For more survey information, visit AGI Workforce Readiness.

Live webinar courses and asynchronous online courses by the Geoscience Online Learning Initiative (GOLI) for continuing education in the geosciences and earning transferable credentials.


Evolving Workforce


The job outlook for the geoscience workforce is projected to increase by 4.9% from 2019 to 2029 (US Bureau of Labor Statistics). The American Geosciences Institute has predicted a 27% loss of the existing workforce by 2029 due to retirements (Gonzales & Keane, 2020). While retirements will open up positions for geoscientists entering the workforce, new technology is also expected to compensate for the shortage of workers in the coming decade. AGI reported in Status of Recent Geoscience Graduates 2017 that hiring of new geoscience graduates had slowed in 2017, attributing this slowdown to factors including slow recovery in the energy and mining industries, uncertainty about environmental regulations, and the replacement of some geoscience jobs with machine learning processes. Shifts in national priorities and emerging concerns will shape hiring trends in geoscience industries in the future. Unforeseen factors will also contribute -- for example, read about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on young workers in the oil industry

The geoscience workforce is dynamic and job seekers must be prepared to adapt, marketing their geoscience skills to potential employers in many intersecting fields. 

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Image from AGI's Status of Recent Geoscience Graduates 2017. 
For an accessible version of this image, contact workforce@americangeosciences.org.

Given the dynamic nature of the geoscience workforce, students should approach the job search with knowledge of the many geoscience industries and occupations and the competencies and skills desired by employers. This diagram by AGI shows the links between graduates from 2013-2017 with geoscience degrees (in color) to the industries (in gray) where these students were employed after graduation. The complexity of the diagram captures the complexity of the geoscience workforce -- jobs for geoscientists can be found in a variety of fields, many of which have not traditionally been considered part of the geosciences. 

As the workforce continues to evolve to compensate for worker shortages, employ new technologies to do basic geoscience tasks, and adapt to the needs of the 21st century, students must be prepared to apply their geoscience skills to a range of occupations beyond the traditional fields. 


Career Values


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Reimagining STEM Workforce Development as a Braided River, Batchelor et al. (2021). Click here for accessible text-based version.

Understanding the factors that attract students to the geosciences is crucial for growing a diverse workforce. The "Geoscience Pipeline" model has been used in the past to describe factors associated with choosing a geoscience career (Levine et al., 2007). Traditional views have suggested that a love of the outdoors, positive undergraduate experiences, and family influence are primarily responsible for attracting students to the field (Holmes & O'Connell, 2005). However, the persisting gap between white and racially or ethnically marginalized students entering geoscience programs and the workforce indicates that the traditional attractions of the geosciences are not successful at reducing barriers nor recruiting students of color (O'Connell & Holmes, 2011). The pipeline model was recently reimagined as a braided river that accommodates multiple entry points to geoscience, adapts to the needs of the field and of individuals, and represents the diversity of the geosciences (Batchelor et al., 2021).

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Survey results from Carter et al. (2021), showing underrepresented minority (URM) and non-URM student ratings of statements about their "ideal career."

The emphasis on the "outdoorsy" aspects of the geosciences may in fact be a deterrent to minoritized students (Carter et al., 2021, O'Connell & Holmes, 2011; Sherman-Morris & McNeil, 2016). Further, marketing the geosciences as a field for those who love camping and hiking ignores the many geoscience roles that may involve little to no outdoor time -- for example, climate modeler, laboratory scientist, data analyst, environmental lawyer, or science journalist. Departments should instead emphasize the wide range of career opportunities available, ensuring that departmental materials include diverse examples and imagery of geoscientists working in labs, offices, and leadership positions.

Family support and perceptions of the geosciences as a low-paying, low-prestige field also negatively impact the recruitment of students, particularly those belonging to minoritized communities (O'Connell & Holmes, 2011; Sherman-Morris & McNeil, 2016; Stokes et al., 2015). Departments can improve student and family engagement by including them in department activities and sharing of career knowledge. In addition to information about salary and job prospects, the societal importance of the geosciences should also be emphasized in culturally appropriate ways, as students may be unaware of the relevance of geoscience to their communities (Sherman-Morris & McNeil, 2016). AGI's Student Recruitment webinar describes strategies for recruiting and retaining geoscience students by focusing on job prospects and workforce data. 


Diversity & Inclusion


"The geosciences are still not effectively engaging the entire student population and thus are not competing for the best minds... Not only are we missing excellent future geoscience professionals, but also the diverse life experiences and perspectives that help in identifying and solving the geoscience-related problems facing society."
                                                                         - Vision and Change: The Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education

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Graph from AGI, data derived from Dept. of Education IPEDS

Of all the STEM fields, the geosciences are the least diverse (Huntoon et al., 2015; Gonzales & Keane, 2020). Initiatives to support broader participation in geoscience education have led to positive outcomes (e.g., Karsten, 2019), yet the barriers minoritized students experience lead to low enrollment and retention and perpetuate the lack of diversity among graduate students, faculty, and the geoscience workforce (Gonzales & Keane, 2011, 2020). Students belonging to the LGBTQ+ community also face barriers in a field that has historically been masculine and deeply heteronormative (Olcott & Downen, 2020; Powell et al., 2020). Further, the geosciences are often considered inaccessible to individuals with disabilities (Stokes et al., 2019). 

Achieving equity, diversity, and inclusion in the geosciences will require major systemic changes in our education institutions, workplaces, and society (Dutt, 2020). 

Improving student diversity and inclusion at a departmental level may look different across universities, as minoritized student populations are not homogeneous and face unique challenges.

For excellent overviews of departmental strategies, see the resources listed on the right.

Report Chapter 8

Vision and Change: The Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education

InTeGrate Workshop

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Earth and Environmental Sciences: Supporting the Success of All Students

Wolfe & Riggs (2017)

Macrosystem Analysis of Programs and Strategies to Increase Underrepresented Populations in the Geosciences

All geoscience departments can take the following steps toward improving the experience and retention of geoscience students: 

  • Take into account historical cultural context (Fernando, 2021)
    Families and students looking for financially secure careers may discount the geosciences, while others may be discouraged from entering the geosciences due to negative relationships with historical resource extraction or colonialism. Departments can emphasize the transferability of geoscience skills, the range of career opportunities outside of natural resource extraction, and the relevance of the geosciences to the students' communities. GeoContext is an excellent tool for incorporating lessons on racism, colonialism, imperialism, environmental degradation, and extractive practices into geoscience curricula. 
  • Increase students' sense of belonging (Huntoon, 2015)
    Effective academic, peer, and professional mentoring can help students combat stereotype threat and imposter syndrome. Departments can create learning communities in which students can find mentors, share experiences, and enjoy a safe space to raise questions and concerns.
  • Use inclusive language and preferred pronouns (Olcott & Downen, 2020)
    The correct use of students' preferred pronouns (or gender neutral pronouns if not indicated) shows respect for students' identities. Faculty and students can indicate their preferred pronouns in introductions, email signatures, and name tags.  Adopting these practices department-wide can create an inclusive space for all identities and normalize the practice of sharing pronouns. 
  • Make the implicit explicit (Stassun, 2013)
    First-generation students may not have family and friends who can guide them through their educational experience and may be unfamiliar with academic culture and the unspoken expectations (Hidden Curriculum). Departments and instructors can support these students by discussing the implicit rules of academia, such as how to address and email professors, what to expect when attending office hours, where to buy affordable textbooks, and general academic expectations (e.g., participation, group work, academic honesty). Similar support can be provided for students seeking jobs.
  • Support students in finding internships and research opportunities (Baber et al., 2010)                         
    Geoscience programs such as internships, Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs), or Summer Research Opportunity Programs (SROPs) build students' self-efficacy by providing peer networks and role models, introducing career opportunities, and fostering interest in the geosciences. Departments can advertise opportunities to students and encourage them to search for programs (useful sites include NSF REUGeoscientists in the Parks, and Pathways to Science). Students also benefit from support during the application process, including steps like asking for letters of recommendation, creating a CV/resume, and writing personal/research statements.
  • Make fieldwork inclusive and accessible (Carabajal et al., 2017; Olcott & Downen, 2020; Stokes et al., 2019)
    Many departments require a field course or experience for graduation, which can be exclusive to individuals with disabilities. Designing inclusive fieldwork using shared tasks, multi-sensory engagement, and flexibility of access, delivery and pace improves the experience for all students. Fieldwork can also present challenges to women and LGBTQ+ individuals due to lack of privacy and sanitary facilities. Standard field safety briefings should include a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy. Departments and instructors can also include information for students about planned restroom stops, menstruation in the field, and protecting student identities. Positive field experiences can contribute to student retention in the geosciences. For more information, visit the International Association for Geoscience Diversity (and sign up for a free membership!).

References

  • Baber et al. (2010). Increasing Diversity in the Geosciences: Recruitment Programs and Student Self-Efficacy. Journal of Geoscience Education, 58(1), 32–42. https://doi.org/10.5408/1.3544292
  • Carabajal et al. (2017). A synthesis of instructional strategies in geoscience education literature that address barriers to inclusion for students with disabilities. Journal of Geoscience Education, 65(4), 531-541. https://doi.org/10.5408/16-211.1
  • Dutt (2020). Race and racism in the geosciences. Nature Geoscience, 13(1), 2–3. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0519-z
  • Fernando (2021). Student-Led Diversity Audits: A Strategy for Change. Eos, 102. https://doi.org/10.1029/2021EO154085.
  • Gonzales & Keane (2020). Diversity in the Geosciences. American Geosciences Institute. https://www.americangeosciences.org/sites/default/files/DB_2020-023-DiversityInTheGeosciences.pdf
  • Gonzales & Keane (2020). Geoscience Workforce Projections 2019-2029. American Geological Institute. https://www.americangeosciences.org/sites/default/files/DB_2020-025_EmploymentProjections2019-2029.pdf
  • Gonzales & Keane (2011). Status of the Geoscience Workforce 2011. American Geological Institute. https://www.americangeosciences.org/sites/default/files/StatusoftheWorkforce2011overview.pdf
  • Huntoon et al. (2015). Increasing Diversity in the Geosciences. Eos, 96. https://doi.org/10.1029/2015EO025897
  • Karsten (2019). Insights from the OEDG program on broadening participation in the geosciences. Journal of Geoscience Education, 67(4), 287–299. https://doi.org/10.1080/10899995.2019.1565982
  • Levine et al. (2007). The Geoscience Pipeline: A Conceptual Framework. Journal of Geoscience Education, 55, 458–468. https://doi.org/10.5408/1089-9995-55.6.458
  • O’Connell & Holmes (2011). Obstacles to the recruitment of minorities into the geosciences: A call to action. GSA Today, 21(6), 52–54. https://doi.org/10.1130/G105GW.1
  • Olcott & Downen (2020). The Challenges of Fieldwork for LGBTQ+ Geoscientists. Eos, 101. https://eos.org/features/the-challenges-of-fieldwork-for-lgbtq-geoscientists
  • Powell et al. (2020). How LGBT+ scientists would like to be included and welcomed in STEM workplaces. Nature, 586(7831), 813–816. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-02949-3
  • Sherman-Morris& McNeal (2016). Understanding Perceptions of the Geosciences Among Minority and Nonminority Undergraduate Students. Journal of Geoscience Education, 64(2), 147–156. https://doi.org/10.5408/15-112.1
  • Stassun (2013). Addressing chilly climates in science and engineering PhD programs: Lessons from the Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program, paper Presented at 2013 STEM Symposium, Am. Inst. for Res., Washington, D. C. http://bit.ly/EOSFVBridge.
  • Stokes et al. (2019). Making geoscience fieldwork inclusive and accessible for students with disabilities. Geosphere, 15(6), 1809–1825. https://doi.org/10.1130/GES02006.1
  • Stokes et al. (2015). Choosing the Geoscience Major: Important Factors, Race/Ethnicity, and Gender. Journal of Geoscience Education, 63(3), 250–263. https://doi.org/10.5408/14-038.1
  • Wolfe & Riggs (2017). Macrosystem Analysis of Programs and Strategies to Increase Underrepresented Populations in the Geosciences. Journal of Geoscience Education, 65(4), 577–593. https://doi.org/10.5408/17-256.1
  • Carter, S.C., Griffith, E.M., Jorgensen, T.A. et al. Highlighting altruism in geoscience careers aligns with diverse US student ideals better than emphasizing working outdoors. Commun Earth Environ 2, 213 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-021-00287-4
About
  • GROW is a collection of career resources for undergraduate and graduate students in the geosciences, intended to help students identify and pursue career paths beyond academia.
Support
  • This project was supported by the National Science Foundation (Award #1911527) and our many contributors who generously volunteered their time and knowledge to assist our team.

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  • Any opinions, findings, and recommendations expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation nor of contributor employers.
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