Associate Professor, Geology, Dr. Gary Michelfelder @gmichelf: A Day in the GeoLife Series

Mt. St. Helens
Dr. Gary Michelfelder at the 2017 IAVCEI Conference at Mount St Helens, Washington. ©2020 Gary Michelfelder

NAME: Dr. Gary Michelfelder

CURRENT TITLE: Associate Professor of Geology
Missouri State University

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Igneous Trace Element and Isotope Geochemistry/ Volcanology 



Ph.D. in Earth Sciences, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana, USA
M.S. in Geology, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA
B.S. in Geology with minor in Military Science, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA


TWITTER NAME: @gmichelf

What’s your job like?

I am an associate professor at a medium-sized four-year public university in southwest Missouri. I teach in a department that combines geology, geography, geospatial science, and city and regional planning. We offer bachelor and master level degrees in geology. I teach undergraduate courses in Mineralogy, Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology, and Volcanology and graduate courses in Isotope Geochemistry. I also teach our Introduction to Graduate Studies Course. My research group focuses on large-scale problems on how magma interacts with continental crust, primarily at continental arcs. My students and I use a variety of geochemical and field methods to understand this problem at a variety of scales. I love to involve both graduate and undergraduate students in my research, especially in the field. My ongoing projects are located in the southwest United States, Alaska, and the Central Andes.  

Lascar Volcano
Field work at Lascar Volcano with M.S. student Tyler Sundell. ©2020 Matthew Zerilli

What’s a typical day like?

I don’t really have a typical day. I really rely on my calendar to tell me where to be and when to be there. If I had a normal day, it would focus around teaching and helping my graduate students. I typically teach two or three classes per semester and I have somewhere between two and five graduate students. I love doing research in both the lab and in the field and I am always trying to stay on top of what ideas are out there. I spend a lot of time in our laser ablation ICP-MS lab refining and developing new methods to obtain trace element data in rocks and minerals.

When I am not in the lab or teaching, I am usually meeting with my students. I try to meet with each of them for at least an hour per week, but most of the time I see them a lot more in the lab or doing some one on one instruction. Nothing beats taking students to the field though.  

What’s fun?

Fun for me is not being at work! One of my favorite things to do is get in the car with my wife and just drive somewhere new. When I am at home it is much more low key. Relaxing after a long day to a movie or listening to music is how I end most days. 

The field is a way for me to relax at work. I really enjoy getting into the field somewhere new and learning the area. That doesn’t mean the geology, it means the food! This is especially true in New Mexico, enchiladas and Hatch green chiles are my food happy place! When I go somewhere I look for the place where the locals go–that is where you find the best food. 

The only thing better than fieldwork on a volcano is the local cuisine at the end of the day. Ayllu Restaurant and St. Peter Brewery, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile in 2017. ©2020 Gary Michelfelder

What’s challenging?

Getting the results of my research out. I sometimes have shiny object issues where I get distracted by new things and following through to finish a project sometimes takes some time. I have learned to balance my time and schedule my day to get around this, but it is so easy to get distracted.  

What’s your advice to students?

Go for it. No matter what level you are at if you want to try out research find someone who is doing something you are interested in and ask. When you are doing the research make sure you know what is expected and what you can expect from your supervisor. If you are an undergraduate student, try as many projects as you can and talk to everyone you can about what they are doing. Research while in school is a gateway, it is not always the end game. Getting research experience will help you figure out where you want to go after school and most of the time that doesn’t mean research in academia. With any degree in geology there are lots of options for a career in the field, so don’t let anyone tell you the only option is academia.

Summiting Cerro Toco, Chile in 2017 with the MSU Volcanology Field Course. ©2020 Matthew Zerilli.


  1. Joe

    Hello there.

    Thank you for reading my post.
    I have a small issue (not necessarily, but a concern) in choosing what to study in university. I would like to pursue a career in geology but I am also interested in aviation. Basically, I enjoy working in the field and not in an office and these two careers are the ones I’m interested in that fall under that criterion. My question is, can I do both of these to get a degree? I have read in other posts where knowledge in geology is being used in aviation.
    And if I can do both, which should be the main focus?
    Anyone with the information I seek can answer this question.

    Thank you, Joe.

    1. Gary S. Michelfelder

      Hi Joe-
      Sorry about the late reply to your comment. It has been an interesting couple weeks of teaching here in Missouri. If you are interested in aviation and geology I suggest you look into remote sensing as a possible career field, mainly the use of drones. We have had a few students at Missouri State pursue this option for a graduate degree. Drones are becoming a huge part of geology and are being applied to everything from agriculture to volcanology and field mapping. Other options to combine the two in remote sensing include the collection of aerial photography, land surveys or thermal imaging of volcanoes or other geothermal sites.

      I hope this helps and if you have any additional questions just send me an email.



      1. Joe

        Hello sir.

        Thanks a lot for taking time from your very busy schedule to answer my question. This is a very interesting answer that you’ve given and I have additional questions. I would like to continue this conversation further and I will email you soon.

        Thanks again for your reply.

        Regards, Joe.

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