Senior Lecturer, Tectonics, Sandra McLaren @sandramcgeo: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Senior Lecturer, Sandra McLaren, teaching geology in the field.

NAME: Sandra McLaren

CURRENT TITLE: Senior Lecturer

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Tectonics, Structural Geology, Stratigraphy, Geoscience Education



Bachelor of Science 
Graduate Certificate in Arts
Graduate Certificate in University Teaching

TWITTER NAME: @sandramcgeo

What’s your job like?

I’m an academic geologist, and I have an amazing job where I have the opportunity to teach undergraduate students geology at all levels. I also have the opportunity to do research on topics that I am interested in, which is an enormous privilege. At the heart of research or teaching in earth sciences is understanding the evolution of the planet, which is pretty awesome. Helping students to find their interests is a great part of my job. I love seeing how students learn and put their knowledge together. The learning journey from new undergraduates to graduation is so good to see and be a part of.

What’s a typical day like?

A teaching day on campus will involve me giving a two-hour lecture and then facilitating a two-hour practical for my classes. Before the lecture, I review my notes and think about questions that the students might ask. Finding the right head space is important before starting a class, as I’m hoping to guide my students learning in each session in a really constructive way. I usually check my twitter feed before classes too, to see what’s happening in geology around the world. For example, I get updates on current volcanic eruptions, recent earthquakes or current research that’s relevant to what I’m teaching that day. 

When we’re on field excursions things are a bit different! After breakfast, we head out to the rocks on the site we’re studying, and I help the students learn to observe and then make interpretations of the geology. Often we’re on rocks along the coast, which is usually very scenic. If we’re lucky we find some sandy beaches to sit on for lunch as well! Students might be mapping, sketching key outcrops or measuring stratigraphic sections. I talk to the students as a group as well as individually, making connections with what we’ve learnt in class and what we can see in the field. We also spend time putting the rocks in a regional context and understanding the landscape more generally. On some trips, we also have lectures before heading out to the rocks and then practical exercises in the common room after we’ve made our evening meal. Sitting together in the evening is a great way to share examples and observations and for everyone to get to know each other.

What’s fun?

Heading out into the field with my students is always great fun (even when the weather is bad!). We get to know each other and can enjoy being outside in some spectacular locations. Geology student groups are always great. The fieldwork is such a good opportunity for learning (everything in the lectures suddenly makes sense), and we always have a good time. Designing new classes is also a lot of fun and thinking about new and exciting learning activities that can guide students is really enjoyable. 

Senior Lecturer, Sandra McLaren

What’s challenging?

Juggling time can be really challenging. There is always so much to do in an academic role. Teaching semester is always full-on. 

What’s your advice to students?

Always ask questions! Don’t be shy or embarrassed to ask–in lectures, in practical classes, and in the field. Your questions can help you and your peers understand tricky concepts and also provide your teacher with opportunities to bring in other examples and broaden the topic for everyone. 

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