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?|
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.