Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Links: Sichuan earthquake and age of geoscience profs

I don't have internet at the new house yet, I'm going into the field tomorrow, and I'm leaving Sunday for the Teaching Intro Geology workshop. So I won't be doing much blogging for a while (unless I end up trying to blog from the workshop).

In the meantime, some news that I wish I had time to say more about:

1) GSA Today has an article about the tectonics of the Sichuan earthquake, by Clark Burchfiel, Leigh Royden, and collaborators. It's open access, so you can see it for yourself. The article explains Burchfiel's comments that the earthquake was larger than he would have expected - both estimates of exhumation rates in the mountains and GPS measurements of active deformation suggest that earthquakes of that size occur only every 2000 to 10,000 years. In other words, although the earthquake makes sense in the broad context of plate tectonics, the techniques used to study active tectonics would not have predicted this to be an especially dangerous area.

2) AGI's Geoscience Currents series has just released the geoscience faculty age distribution for 2008. Fewer than 200 faculty members are younger than 36; the numbers of faculty become dominated by associate professors (rather than assistant professors) between age 41 and 45. The flyer states that "The low numbers of faculty under the age of 40 likely reflects the growing tendency for geoscientists to take post-doctoral fellowships prior to entering the faculty ranks." I suspect that cause and effect are switched here, and that many geoscience post-docs would happily trade their jobs for faculty positions if given the opportunity. (As an aside, when I got my Ph.D. at age 26, I told myself that I would give myself ten years to find a job, and if I wasn't employed by age 36, I would do something else with my life. I know I finished grad school at a frighteningly young age, but it's still disconcerting to see that my upper age limit is on the low end of the age range for new hires!)

The graph is also worrisome for young women who wish to be both geoscience professors and mothers - waiting until after tenure (as I tried to do my first time around) is not an option for most women, and that means dealing with a young child in the stressful, highly uncertain world of post-docs and visiting instructors and assistant professors. (Or not having kids at all. But nobody expects men to give up the possibility of kids in order to be scientists.)

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