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Marine Geologist
Carol Hirozawa-Reiss

Interview with Carol Reiss, Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How did you feel about science in school? (from the time you were in Elementary through High School? College?) That is, what were your thoughts towards science, scientists, and your teachers who taught science in school? Did science matter to you?

A: When I was in elementary school, all I remember was flash card drills in addition and subtraction. I don't remember having any science per se. (I attended an elementary school here in San Jose, and your questions have inspired me to contact the school and offer to be a guest speaker). I do remember my mother having a fear of spiders (hence my fear of spiders), but in my early years, I hardly recall appreciating anything in nature, except butterflies. My first vivid positive memory of science in school came in Jr. High. I remember science labs, and particularly one teacher who lit a Bunsen burner and heated an open can on the counter, then turned off the flame, capped the can and began his lecture. I don't remember anything from his lecture, but half way through, the can was imploding, and by the end of class it had deformed so much that it fell off the stand with a CRASH. (I guess that was my first lasting memory of science).

In high school, I don't recall if biology was a requirement or an elective for college bound students, but I think it was required, because when I first entered high school, I had no intention of going on to college (both my parents have a high school degree, and although my older brother was expected to go to college, I was not). But I do remember liking my high school biology class so much, that I studied hard to get good grades. I thought the teacher was also very fair in his grading, in that you didn't need to get a perfect score to get an A. The curve was determined by how all his classes did, and the top score was the top of the curve. (I still remember the one time I had that pleasure). That stands out in my mind over dissecting frogs and pregnant sharks!!

I didn't know any scientists growing up, and I guess I thought you had to be really smart to become one. I only had a B average in high school, and although I decided to major in biology in college, I had no idea what I would do with that,and I didn't think I would become a scientist. I was fascinated with archaeology, but I didn't think it would be easy finding a job.

Q: How and when did you become interested in science in the first place, and what was it that convinced you to pursue it as a potential career? (A person, event, teacher, parent?)

A: My interest in earth sciences started when I read the course catalogue at UC Santa Cruz my first year there. I took an intro class called "Understanding the Earth", and was fascinated and awed. I had the great pleasure (unbeknownst to me at the time), of having a very renown professor who had also taught future astronauts basic field geology prior the lunar missions. He would tell great stories of all these navy students (ex-pilots, future astronauts) that he would meet for a field trip all around the country. It was inconceivable to me at the time to be able to travel like that to do science. He was also in his 80's and in GREAT physical shape. He could outhike any of us to the top of a rock outcrop. Anyway, the class was so interesting, I took another, and maybe even another. The field trips were especially exciting, ("field trips take on a whole new meaning in geology - we often took weekend field trips, and literally to the field, often camping in tents or just sleeping under the stars) and I was amazed that a geologist could read the rocks like pages in a book, explaining the geologic history of the area just by the rocks and what was in them. Up until about my second year at Santa Cruz, I was still taking basic courses, not really knowing what I wanted to be/do, when my dad looked at my transcripts and said "looks like you're taking a lot of earth science classes - maybe that should be your major". He was absolutely right, and I haven't looked back since. I love my job, and everything I do here is wonderfully interesting to me. I got a job during the summer while I was still in school, and once I graduated, I was converted to earth science.

Q: How do you use science in your job? Does science play a daily part in your job, and life? (relate as many fields of science that you learned in school to your job, or relate as many fields of science that you actually use on the job).

A: When I first started here at the US Geological Survey, I was working in a sediment lab, or in the office cataloging rocks, then navigating for marine cruises. I didn't feel a college degree in Earth Science was necessary (but it was strongly recommended even at entry level), but it showed that a person could concentrate complete tasks. As I've worked here over the years, I've seen many students come and go, and I'm convinced now that the real prerequisite for working here should be largely interest and perseverance. Although essentially all my job training has come from on-the-job experience, the interest I have for the subject and the research allows me to do even a tedious task meticulously. If I could have cared less about an experiment, my work would have been sloppy and unusable, and my career here shortlived.

My career history at the USGS has taken me to lots of interesting places, and field work still takes me to some amazing areas (South Pacific Islands, Grand Canyon, to name a few). Basics in almost every earth science subject contributes to the complete understanding of a geologic problem. And now, doing a lot of education outreach, even though I am a geologist, many students still ask me about animals or critters in the sea, so even high school biology still comes to some use. Unfortunately, I don't recall my high school having any earth science courses, or I might have discovered my interest years sooner than I did. For me, I've largely been able to steer my career to things I'm interested in, so although many here rely heavily on math, chemistry, physics, and engineering, those were not my strong suits, so I haven't had to use them much, but that's not to say that if I liked them, I could not have found a place where I could utilize them.

One interesting aspect of my education has just come to surface this year. I always remembered my high school geometry class fondly, but never thought in a million years that I'd have any use for it or could find a job that utilized it. But just this year, I've made a career switch (still at the USGS), and in reading up on this new project of 'softcopy photogrammetry', I found myself reading all the old geometric proofs we had to work out in homework assignments!! In this new aspect of my career, I'll be using a computer to analyze and compare aerial photographs digitally from year to year. If I never pursued a career in earth sciences though, I never would have gotten here. Sometimes you just never know.

And lastly, one of the most useful classes I took in high school (before I thought I would go to college), was a typing class. My mom thought if I wasn't going to college, I should have a marketable skill, so she advised me to take typing so I could be a secretary. Well, with the advent of computers, I find myself typing much of every day!! I still think that's rather ironic, because I'm sure she never in a thousand years thought anyone other than secretaries would need to know how to type.

Q: How do you feel about science now? (Including science in your line of work and also other fields of science not related to your job)

A: I still love science, the excitement of field work, and I know I always will. I find every aspect of earth science interesting, from ships,submersibles or rafts, to visiting national parks (personal life). I'm also interested in every aspect of science as it relates to these areas. I have a collection of bugs that I've found dead wherever I go, I love butterflies(this was an early childhood love), and I'm interested in all rocks,minerals, and fossils of whatever area I'm visiting or working.

Q: How do you think you'll use science in the future, for the rest of your life? and what role do you think science will play in our lives in the future?

A: The one thing I thought about science growing up was that there were some great discoveries, but now that they've been discovered, it couldn't be quite as exciting as discovering those things. But obviously, the world continues to reveal it's secrets; one never knows what we will discover next, and that's what will always make research exciting to me.

Science will always interest an excite me, and will probably always have a great deal to do with the types and places where I choose to vacation. In that sense, it's sometimes hard to separate my work from my play. My kids always know that wherever we go, I'll ask them if they know what kind of rock we're seeing, and if they can figure out how the area evolved. Although the world will probably not need new scientists to study what's already discovered, new scientists will be needed to discover things that we can only dream about today.

After all, who would have even dreamed a common little mineral called silica would revolutionize the world. In fact, minerals have revolutionized the world throughout history, starting in the stone age. I couldn't even speculate as to what mineral will change our world in the future, but I'm certain it will necessarily come from our natural resources.

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