Geophysics Field School 2021

I decided to take the geophysics field school because I realized I needed a Geophysics classified course. At some point, I knew this, but that fact was lost to me in my last 5 years here at Western. I think it was the fact that in my Masters, the required seminar took care of that requirement, paving the way for me to take planetary courses for the rest of the program. Enter the PhD program, and I don’t have that course since I took it in my masters. In my opinion, the planetary field courses should count in geology and geophysics; I suppose we could debate which classes fit into which program more. Nevertheless, the notion that physics based planetary processes (a course Dr Catherine Neish is teaching in Winter 2022) isn’t geophysics is absurd to me. There multiple courses about the physics of the earth, and what is planetary processes if not geophysics of other planets? Sadly, our Earth Science department hasn’t put much effort in really asking what each of their programs are meant to offer.

In any case, that left me in need of a course. I am in my final year, so my options of courses are slowly fading. I ended up choosing this course because it was short and I absolutely love the prof, Dr. Sheri Molnar. Still, this course came at a rough time. I had so much going on at once, and it wasn’t even my fault. A series of events just cascaded to put me in a rough August and September. I just wasn’t in the mindset for it. What’s more, I was very much resenting having to take it. All that said, it was generally a very positive experience.

This was my first actual class with Dr. Molnar, and I liked how she taught overall, but I have a couple criticism about the overall structure of the course. It was a bit much getting so much so early so fast. That is the nature of short courses though. After taking the oral exam, I feel we are expected to know a lot more than can be retained in such a short period. Then again, this course isn’t new, so it seems unlikely this method hasn’t been tested with a larger sample size than just me. I ended up struggling most with the actual field method, or in particular, the instruments. Multiple times, I left lecture immensely annoyed and frustrated at how esoteric it all felt. However, the hands on application that followed gave me what I needed to understand the method.

Part of me wishes we started hands on and then learned the theory behind it. Or, more realistically, start with the theory, learn how to use the theory in a hands on instrument application, then follow up the hands on with the explanation of how we relate its readings with the overarching theory. Instead, we learn the theory, how the instrument works, and how to interpret the readings of the instrument, then apply it. Logically, that seems to make sense, but I think we are more likely to retain the relationship between its results and the underlying theory after we understand how to use the instrument to get the results.

Now, I want to discuss the esoteric nature of these instruments to me as a planetary scientist. The methods really are outside my purview, and I think the focus does center around the departments ideas of what geophysics is. Then again, it’s by definition field work, not remote sensing or rover type work. That is part of why I was so resentful to take this course. It isn’t that it wouldn’t be good to know, merely that my time seemed better spent on other things. That said, in the end I am glad I did it. Its not as if this isn’t good skills to have. It absolutely is. The entire time, I was trying to think about how these techniques can intersect in a planetary mission type scenario.

The course itself, while not very focused on my area of interest, was an excellent way to learn and improve project planning and implementation. The most exciting part of this course was the ability to think about how we can apply what we learned to solve a given problem. That is relevant to any field, but I think it is especially relevant to planetary science considering any substantial science we do has to be thoroughly planned and vetted. What’s more, it allowed for a level of creativity that was remarkably satisfying to apply.

Don’t get me wrong, the class is a lot of work. There are times when I absolutely hated all the energy it was taking from me, in the classroom, the lab, and in the field. But at the end of the day, it was a very positive experience, not just because it was fun, but because I am now moderately skilled at several of these techniques. These are things that I generally enjoyed learning and applying, even if the thought of doing it wasn’t always positive.

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