For Sheldon Turner, geology is the ultimate interdisciplinary field. In college, with little prior knowledge of geology, he took some courses and was excited to see that it involved his other scientific interests—math, physics and chemistry. Following his graduation with a bachelor’s in geology and a minor in physics, Turner joined the MSU Department of Geological Sciences. Here, his research has involves psychology, education and even policy.
At MSU, Turner is member of Julie Libarkin’s Geocognition Research Lab. As the name suggests, the lab goes beyond traditional geology to ask how people perceive and understand the Earth and its processes.
“There are a lot of assumptions about scientists, about how they behave and think,” said Turner who focuses part of his work on how students and expert scientists understand and perform science.
Recently, Turner worked on a project that studied geologists. Taking place over two summers in Montana, the study asked geologists, ranging from recent graduates to professional surveyors, to map the geologic structures and rock types in an area. A GPS tracked the geologists’ movement in the field and the maps were collected. Spatial ability, conceptual knowledge, and other aptitudes were also tested.
“With all this information we are learning the characteristics that make someone a ‘good’ geologist, and how that changes over a career,” said Turner. Beyond geology, Turner also sees this kind of research applicable to understanding climate change perceptions of expert scientists.
For Turner, learning how to share scientific findings is particularly appealing. While he is potentially interested in using these skills to teach, Turner is more drawn to the opportunities for policy work—a driving reason behind his decision to join ESPP. “I am very interested in science education policy because that is key to the future of science,” said Turner. More generally though, Turner is interested in communicating science to politicians to help them make informed decisions.
As part of ESPP, Turner finds he is benefiting from both the interdisciplinary nature of the courses and the students in the program. “Having those connections and the opportunity to collaborate is really great,” he said.