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Alumni: Stephen Mabee, Class of 1974

Current Employment
State Geologist of Massachusetts
Adjunct Professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Stephen's Story

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 data analyst.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Consider also courses in chemistry, physics, biology, anthropology, policy, economics, computer science.
  3. 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.
  4. Make sure you know how to write and communicate effectively. These are still the most important skills you can bring to the table.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 advantage.
  7. 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.
  8. Be flexible and inter-disciplinary and welcome the opportunity to work with non-geologists.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 policy-making.