The 'fun' of learning about the 'yield strength' of a material, and how it relates to the movement of glaciers.

By Kelly

This semester I have had the delight of demonstrating for the first year course that introduces students to earth systems science. Here at the ANU, it is called ‘The Blue Planet’ because ultimately we want them all to become oceanographers. Okay so that is not entirely true, I want them all to become oceanographers but I am slightly biased towards the marine. I may also have exaggerated slightly about it  all being delightful because no one in there right mind has EVER described marking 80-90 practicals delightful (see comic below, I’m embarrassed to say but I made this mistake). However let us focus on the positive and that is the students, they are delightful, okay again, perhaps not all of them….

I remember being a terribly eager first year student, I remember thinking it was all too complicated, the labs were long, the reports even longer and the workload endless. I remember agonizing over a lost mark, competing with others to finish labs first, and losing sleep over exams, both before and after. I’m prone to a little melodrama every now and then and decided in my second year that I had done SOOOO badly in an analytical chemistry exam that I would have to become a basket weaver, or some other professional that didn’t require any knowledge of carbonate chemistry. I aced it, which just makes me annoying to everyone.

I never did understand why my lecturers looked on with such bemusement. One of them even told me that I was getting myself all wound up about nothing, she said that ultimately they were not teaching me anything I needed to know. That knowledge would come when either I went on to a job, or went in to graduate school. She was a very funny lady and I didnt’ take her seriously but it turns out SHE WAS RIGHT! Now I am not saying the education wasn’t valuable, as it absolutely was, but the subject matter from many of my courses has disappeared from my memory in the same way the location of my keys often does. I draw a complete blank most mornings as to where I put my keys and I have no idea about maximum likelihood classification as it relates to remote sensing either.

I hope the first year students are enjoying  ‘The Blue Planet’ and are starting to see that the Earth Sciences is where your knowledge of the periodic table, of calculus, or even Henry’s Law can be applied to real world problems in very interesting ways. With every new year they will discover that they were, in part, lied to in the previous year as the earth gets more and more complicated. Personally I’m considering that job in basket weaving again…..

From the Piled Higher and Deeper (PHD) comic strip