Earth Science Professor, Dr. Laura Guertin @guertin: A Day in the GeoLife Series

earth science

Dr. Laura Guertin at Yellowstone National Park.

NAME: Dr. Laura Guertin

CURRENT TITLE: Professor of Earth Science

AREA OF EXPERTISE: My graduate research focused on determining the timing of Late Cenozoic sea-level changes on the south Florida Platform through a lithostratigraphic and integrated chronostratigraphic examination of continuous cores. My research agenda has shifted towards a pedagogical one, looking at how educational technology can be used to enhance the scientific, information, and geographic literacies of non-STEM majors in undergraduate introductory-level Earth science courses.

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: I have been teaching at Penn State Brandywine since 2001, where I am currently a Professor of Earth Science.

EDUCATION: I have a Bachelor’s degree in geology from Bucknell University and a Ph.D. in marine geology & geophysics from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science.


TWITTER:  @guertin

What’s your job like?

As a faculty member at a university, my job duties require me to perform activities around the themes of teaching, research, and service. My teaching requirements go beyond classroom teaching, as mentoring and advising is an important part of what I do each day. I help my advisees work on their course schedules and provide career advice. I help undergraduate student researchers investigate their own discovery-based research projects along their lines of interest to build up content knowledge and skill sets. For my own research, I’m constantly reading journal articles, gathering/analyzing data, and finding ways to disseminate research results. I engage in service opportunities on and off campus, from serving on campus committees and campus governance to contributing to boards of community organizations, to giving talks on Earth science topics to general audiences. I am actively involved with programs that promote STEM careers to girls and geoscience content to K-12 teachers.

What’s a typical day like?

I don’t think I would use the term “typical” to describe any day! I’m at work by 7 a.m., where I start going through emails and prepare for my course lectures. I typically lecture in the mornings and early afternoons. During the lunch hour, our “common hour” on campus, there is a faculty committee meeting or student club event. I also have office hours scheduled to meet with students for advising or assistance with coursework. I’m the point-person for the Earth Sustainability Certificate program and meet with students to help them make progress in this program. I’m the club adviser for the Sustainovation Club (sustainability + innovation), and I coordinate club projects with community partners. I spend time working on my existing research grants and planning future conference presentations and publications. My evenings and weekends are for course preparation and working with the boards of community groups. I try to spend most of my days being “proactive” instead of “reactive” but best-laid plans….

What’s fun?

Hands-down, being in the classroom with students is the best part of my job and the best part of my day. When I can get the non-STEM majors in my geoscience classes working with authentic data and reaching an “ah-ha” moment in their learning, nothing could be more rewarding. Hearing students ask questions and actively engage in their own learning makes me feel like I’m being successful in accomplishing my overarching course goal and secondary course objectives. I also enjoy doing undergraduate research with students, and I’m so proud when they share their research at conferences. I also find attending conferences and blogging fun activities. (I’m a blogger for the American Geophysical Union at GeoEd Trek (, where I blog about educational technology, science communication, and more). Meeting new professionals and sharing conversations on common topics keeps me engaged in the discipline and advances my own learning.

What’s challenging?

The work-life balance is hard – very hard. It is easy to get drawn into so many work activities, and I have had a difficult time saying “no” when I am asked to do something. As I have progressed through my faculty rank and with the more years I spend on campus, my service duties have increased and are more of a demand on my time. I still struggle with not feeling bad when I do say “no”, but I know I have to take care of myself first – otherwise, I’m not much use to anyone.

I would love to figure out how to make grading an enjoyable activity. I would love to figure out how to spend less time on my laptop. I would love to get out to sea more on oceanographic cruises, like the hydrographic survey I joined on the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson. I would love to figure out how to carve out more time in my day for my hobbies (hiking, crocheting, quilting, Zumba, etc.). But the only hill I’m climbing right now is to get to the top of my email Inbox! Finding the balance is hard to find, as the workload and outside requirements continuously change, but it is important to keep working towards this moving target!


Dr. Laura Guertin on the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson during a research cruise in the Atlantic Ocean.

What’s your advice to students?

I would tell students to be true to themselves. Spend some time really reflecting on why you are majoring in a geoscience field, and what you hope to do. Don’t let others dictate your major or career, and don’t be stubborn and stick with the major if there is something else that interests and inspires you. Seek advice, and ask questions. Your adviser will not be disappointed with you if you fall out of love with geology – or, maybe it is the chemistry requirements you don’t love, but you still have a passion for geology and want to combine that with your talent in art. Take the time to explore the interdisciplinary fields that are available (science and art, science communication, science, and law, etc.) – and read the profiles on this website!

Surround yourself with supportive friends and colleagues, ones that you connect with at meetings or through virtual communities. There, unfortunately, are men and women you will come across in your schooling and career that are bullies and demonstrate microaggressive behavior – just try not to let them frustrate or discourage you. And if their behavior gets overwhelming, don’t be afraid to talk to someone about it.

To end with some positive advice… I like to tell my students that I open doors of opportunity for them (by offering undergraduate research opportunities, inviting them to lectures, etc.), but it is up to students to walk through those doors and take advantage of the opportunities. So students, walk through those doors – you never know what you might learn or what is available on the other side!

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