Alumni: Stephen Mabee, Class of 1974
State Geologist of Massachusetts
Adjunct Professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to stay in geology
throughout my career. In addition, I have also seen it from the
private, academic and now public sectors. I also am a big believer
in taking time off between undergraduate and graduate school, if you
can do it, to find out what you like and to mature a little bit
before heading to graduate school.
I received my degree from Tufts in 1974 and applied to the
University of Colorado for a M.S. degree but deferred for one year.
During that year I worked for ERT in Concord, Massachusetts as a
I received my Master's degree from the University of Colorado in
1978. I did my research on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic and
had a chance to live with the Inuit, travel across the sea ice on
sleds and walk the Penny Ice Cap.
I turned down two job offers in the oil and minerals exploration
industry to work as an engineering geologist in a small
architectural and engineering firm in Boulder, Colorado. This
started my career in the private sector as a consultant. I worked up
and down the Front Range from Wyoming to New Mexico.
I eventually moved back to Boston after taking a job at Sasaki
Associates in Watertown, MA, an eminent landscape architecture and
design firm. I worked with designers, planners, engineers and
architects on projects all over the U.S. and met some interesting
clients such as the Rockefeller family and Senator Edmund Muskie.
I returned to graduate school after a nine-year hiatus to study
groundwater hydrology since this was an emerging field with a lot of
employment opportunities. I received a Ph.D. in 1992 after six years
of school. Instead of returning to consulting I changed career
directions completely and headed into academics for the next 10
years teaching hydrogeology and environmental geology at Amherst
College and the University of Massachusetts. My research focused on
water issues, particularly groundwater in bedrock and took me to
places as far away as Nasca, Peru. In 2002, I was appointed the
State Geologist of Massachusetts. My work focuses on geologic
mapping and water issues in the state and allows me to interact with
citizens and state employees as well as meet with legislators on
Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill.
Earth science has never been more important than it is today.
Alternative clean energy, sustainable water, global change and
material science are at the forefront and will remain critical
issues for many years to come. Geologists will continue to play a
major role in addressing these critical issues. Accordingly, there
will be job opportunities for geoscientists in the foreseeable
future. However, based on my experience I would offer the following
advice to prospective majors.
- Choose a broad spectrum of geology courses that give you
depth in the subject. For the environmental geology professional
essential courses, in addition to the traditional core courses,
should include the following: glacial geology, hydrogeology,
structure and tectonics (many groundwater issues are associated
with bedrock environments so these courses are very relevant
today), geophysics, geochemistry.
- Consider also courses in chemistry, physics, biology,
anthropology, policy, economics, computer science.
- Math is a must because geologists interact with engineers
and engineers communicate with a very quantitative language. If
you are not able to speak their language then you can not
compete in the marketplace.
- Make sure you know how to write and communicate effectively.
These are still the most important skills you can bring to the
- Working as a geologist or any job for that matter, is 50%
knowing your field and 50% getting along with other people. To
the extent you are able, put yourself in situations where you
have the opportunity to work in teams to develop leadership and
team building skills.
- Learn a second language. The world is shrinking and there
will be more opportunities to work abroad. Knowing a second
language such as Spanish or Chinese will be a competitive
- Keep learning new skills and reinventing yourself. Learn how
to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS). It is becoming the
norm in the workplace and it is a transferable skill. Learn how
to program and use graphing and spreadsheet software.
- Be flexible and inter-disciplinary and welcome the
opportunity to work with non-geologists.
- There is no substitute for doing fieldwork and developing
good observational skills. Unfortunately, I see a society that
is technologically very capable but we are losing the ability to
observe, record and assess in the natural world. Having good
observational skills coupled with excellent quantitative skills
is essential. So get as much field experience as possible, even
if it is traveling.
- Even if you do not pursue geology as a career after college,
a law degree or a business degree with a geology degree is a
powerful combination and will be very marketable for government,
resource management, environmental law, social justice or