IGCoffeeConvo with Michelle Stocker

Written by Alaina Weinheimer

The second IGCoffeeConvo of the spring 2020 semester was held on the first Friday of March. These gatherings are an opportunity for IGC students to get to know a GCC faculty member in a casual setting. This time, GCC faculty member Michelle Stocker (Geosciences) met with IGC students Melissa Burt (Biological Sciences), Emma Bueren (Biological Sciences), and Alaina Weinheimer (Biological Sciences).

While our conversation effortlessly jumped disciplines, from data availability to honey beekeeping, we students learned about the challenges and triumphs of working in a field whose essence jumps disciplines: paleosciences – an intersection of geosciences and biology. Michelle described to us the unique circumstances of administratively belonging to one department (Geosciences) but carrying out work that is very relevant to another department (like Biological Sciences), regarding topics like evolution and anatomy. Her students tend to take classes in both departments, bringing a unique perspective to both that enhances progress in both fields. While it’s exciting to both advance and make connections across multiple disciplines at once, this work has the potential to sometimes feel isolating unless community is well established. As more interdisciplinary programs, such as the IGC, emerge, a stronger sense of community is emerging to interdisciplinary work.

We also discussed different aspects of professional development when working in interdisciplinary fields, like paleosciences. Having background in both geosciences and biology open doors to careers in both fields. Some paleoscientists even attend medical school. However, Michelle mentioned the challenge of paleoscientists to convey to employers their extensive knowledge in animal anatomy and physiology. The degree on a paleoscientist’s CV often reads from a Geoscience department or institution, which does not explicitly convey this biological expertise. As a result, paleoscientists pursuing careers in primarily biological fields often emphasize their aptitude in biology in their cover letters. As science becomes more interdisciplinary, perhaps the nature of CVs and cover letter will evolve that will convey the unique expertise of the individual.

As a whole, this IGCoffeeConvo brought to light benefits and challenges of pursuing interdisciplinary research and careers. We students gained a deeper appreciation for fields that bridge departments, such as paleosciences.

If you are a GCC Faculty member and interested in participating in an upcoming IGCoffeeConvo, please contact Amber Wendler at awendler@vt.edu. Fellows should keep an eye on their email inboxes for opportunities to join in on future conversations!

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