Universal Skills Needed for Graduate Student Success in Diverse Geoscience Professions

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Preparing graduate students for success in diverse geoscience professions requires they develop universally valuable skills, as well as how to learn and adapt as science and jobs change. The Geoscience Employer’s Workshop, part of the NSF-sponsored initiative on the Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education, identified a range of skills relevant to graduate employment success. High levels of quantitative skills are needed across geoscience professions: linear algebra, differential equations, probability, statistics, and computer programing skills all increase students' employability and resiliency.

While traditional geoscience graduate programs encourage specialization, doing research improves critical thinking and problem solving through collecting and interpreting data, and using geologic reasoning to synthesize diverse datasets. Solving high ambiguity, 3D and 4D problems with incomplete data prepares students for “real world” professional projects and/or future research. Graduate students currently communicate science primarily to experts, but in future careers they will need to tailor their communications to diverse audiences including educated non-scientists, potential funders, management and the general public.

Nearly all types of geoscience employment require working in teams with people of varied expertise. Effective teamwork requires goal setting, time and project management, conflict resolution, and being able to listen, to lead and follow, and to share in all aspects of the work. In today’s workplace, it is also critical to understand different cultures, be aware of implicit biases, and be able to work with people with varied viewpoints, educational backgrounds/abilities, and emotional makeup. A global perspective and understanding the societal implications of the work are essential. Ethical behavior and overall professionalism, including risk management and other business aspects, need to be part of graduate training.

While team-based research and global and societal perspectives are part of some graduate geoscience programs, such opportunities need expanding for both MS and Ph.D. students. Students should be better informed about the diversity of geoscience careers, and the skillsets and competencies these jobs require.

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Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 48, issue 7, no. 283-9