17 July, 2011

How to Get Mistaken for a Geologist

One of the flattering (and alarming) things to have emerged from getting linked by Pharyngula was having a few folks mistake me for a really real geologist.  I'm not a real geologist (but I play one on the intertoobz).  It wasn't quite the same shock as getting adopted by the geoblogosphere, but ran a close second.  This isn't the second time I've been mistaken for an actual working geologist.  When I start babbling about subduction zones and plate tectonics in real life, people who haven't met me yet automatically assume I'm a professional.

How does that happen?

This, combined with a friend asking how one goes about self-teaching, led me to pondering.  And then my tongue adhered to my cheek.  What results is the following Sooper Sekrit Manual, in which I explain how you, too, could Get Mistaken For a Geologist.  With minor adjustments, you can apply it to any branch of science.

1.  Read blogs.

Oh, hey, look, you are!  But I mean read blogs by actual geologists, too.  There's one hell of an education awaiting you on the internet.  It's like sitting in a field full of geologists, and they're teaching you what they know.  They'll show you wonders and introduce you to new concepts and get you conversant in the life and work of a geologist.  They'll even answer questions!

2.  Read books.

Read deeply and widely, everything from pop sci to textbooks.  Yes, I read textbooks for fun.  I am one of Those People.  It can be rough going at first, but if you read absolutely everything reputable you can get your hands on, you'll end up absorbing far more than you realize.  Next thing you know, you'll be pontificating on things like thrust faults and metamorphism, throwing around $100 words like they're pennies, and observers will believe you have an expensive education.  It's a lot of fun, especially when you tell them all you've got is a GED and a handful of college credits.  Have a camera handy: the look on their faces is priceless.

3.  Read papers

Once those books which in the introduction explain that the average layperson may find it tough going because the author was writing for serious students and professionals no longer daunt you, head over to Google Scholar and seek out the actual scientific literature.  You'd be amazed how much is actually available for free.  You'd be even more amazed at how much of it you can actually comprehend.  It's the best way to get in-depth information on a particular aspect of geology.  It's also fascinating to see how science is done.  And then you'll have a bag full of $1000 words to throw around like confetti.

4.  Learn the lingo

Oh, look, you already have.  Side effect of all that reading you're doing.  I'm also writing a book on just that subject, so you'll soon have a handy guide.

5.  Befriend geologists

Or let them befriend you.  They're a lively, fascinating bunch, more than willing to let layfolk who have an interest and the willingness to learn hang about with them, and they'll show you things like how to properly use a rock hammer and what a Brunton compass is for.  They will make you look upon this world with wonder and awe and appreciation.  And do they ever know how to party!

6.  Collect rocks

Be one of those people who loves rocks so much they're willing to schlep ten thousand pounds' worth out of the wilderness because they wanted just one more hand sample.  And I'm not talking about the really perfect mineral specimens and gemstones and all that other stuff that everybody in the universe likes.  I'm talking about mudstones and basalts and all of those kinds of rocks that are deadly-dull to the average human being. 

7.  Dress in geo gear

Not that there's a standard uniform, but we're talking clothes and shoes suitable for long, dirty hikes over outcrops in all sorts of weather.  If you want to be mistaken for a geologist, you can't wander around in fancy shoes dressed like you're about to meet with the CEO about a promotion to the corner office.

8.  Carry a rock hammer and hand lens

Not everywhere.  Just out in the field.  When you go on hikes, have a hammer with you specifically made for bashing rocks with.  Geologists know that a rock can look very different when broken open, due to the effects of weathering.  So they don safety goggles, pick up a hammer, and whammo.  Then they whip out a hand lens to study the fresh face exposed.  They may occasionally nibble on the rock in order to determine what it is, but this is optional if all you're wanting to do is pass.  I don't think it's common knowledge among layfolk yet that geologists can discern a lot about a rock by consuming bits of it.

I think we should get jackets made with this logo - who's with me?

9.  Beer

If you want to be mistaken for a geologist, you must understand beer.  You must be prepared to discuss, drink, and praise beer.  You will notice that beer comes up a lot.  Beer's importance to geology cannot be emphasized enough.

There you go.  All you need to know in order to be mistaken for a really real geologist.  As for why you'd want to be mistaken for one, well, that is because geologists are teh awesome and geology is one of the most important, most interesting, and most beautiful sciences in existence.

And there's beer.  Never, ever, forget the beer.


Alex said...

I think the natural follow-up to this would be a post with a few pointers to those mysterious elusive geologist blogs. I've searched for them before and usually hit dead or weird ones. Where's the good stuff? I wanna be a pretend geologist, too! (And I have the thousands of pounds of rock to prove it ...)

george.w said...

My favorite scene in Good Will Hunting is when he tells some ivy league guy in a bar he could have got the same education for $1.50 in overdue library fines. I love higher education, work for a university and all that, but people need to take more responsibility for empowering their own minds. Even while they're IN college...

Utemike said...

@Alexander Scroll down! Dana always includes great links sourcing her stuff before you even get to Los Links.

If you have gone through all her posts without licking a rock or developing a taste for good beer, check out the science blogs she notes in the lower left margin.

Ron Schott said...

I cannot understate how much a post like this warms my soul. Brilliant! If I had a class full of students like you, we'd move mountains. (Literally - piece by piece.)

Thus, it is with some trepidation that I offer a minor criticism. May I humbly suggest a modification to your "Stand Back" logo... A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away a wise old Jedi master uttered this admonition: "Try not. Do... or do not. There is no try." I subscribe to the wisdom of his words.

Hollis said...

Es verdad. Geology is accessible and super enjoyable with a little self-education. (I have oodles of degrees, but none in geology.) Landscapes are soooo much more interesting to me when I can marvel as to how they came about, see the evidence for myself. And looking back millions, billions of years inspires awe, feels mystical. Being an atheist, this might be my only chance to experience grace, ecstasy, epiphany and all those fascinating religious phenomena I hear about.

Cat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cat said...

Oops, I'm new at this whole commenting thing!

But this list,it works! I figured you were a geologist in training :)


Start here,

Chris Rowan's all geo blog roll

mocular said...

As a geology grad from the 1980s, I might add a couple of things. 1) Gin & tonic - if geologists are not drinking beer they are drinking gin & tonic. 2) Mu Shu Pork - A table of geologists at an Asian restaurant always seems to have a high percentage of Mu Shu pork orders.

As always, I enjoy your posts. thanks!

Alex said...

Thanks all for more tips and pointers!

Anonymous said...

I love it! May I suggest an addition to your list of awesome?

Road cuts. Learn to love the road cut. It's a great reason to swing the 'ol hammer and learn something of the local geology.

tim said...

For number seven, consider http://geotripper.blogspot.com/2009/03/fully-equipped-geology-student.html.
For number eight, I suggest one carry a hand lens everywhere. What else are you going to carry in that small change/watch pocket in your jeans?