A Postcard From: Helen Whitty ’18

Name: Helen Whitty
Class Year: 2018
Major: Geology
Hometown: Silver Spring, Md.

Internship Placement: Paleomagnetism Laboratory
Job Title: Research Assistant
Location: Bryn Mawr College

This summer, under the guidance of my mentor, Professor Arlo Weil, I’m continuing to explore questions regarding micro-scale deformation in sedimentary rocks caused by tectonic stresses. Last summer, I traveled to Argentina to collect data and rock samples from two systems of mountain ranges, called the Sierras Pampeanas and the Precordillera. Since then, I’ve been running numerous magnetic experiments on the cores we collected, in an attempt to determine what factors control the deformation styles seen in these orogenic systems. As this is a position I hold during the school year, it’s great to be able to continue my research throughout the summer, thanks to the Summer Science Research program here at BMC.

The most exciting part of this summer so far has been the way in which it has shaped my understanding of geologic research and why we pursue it. Two years ago, when I started working in the paleomag lab, I quickly became enchanted with the idea of scientific research as a possible career path for myself. My work there gave me a sense of pride. My self-confidence skyrocketed. Eventually, though, I began to question what impact, if any, the results of such research would have on my community. I began to feel like I was putting a lot of my resources into a pursuit that means very little to anyone other than me and my boss and a few other structural geologists.

But, this summer, through conversations with both avid rock-lovers and non-geologists alike, I’ve uncovered several satisfying justifications for why I have not been wasting myself on this research. And these realizations have led me to new questions — about the ways in which scientists communicate their findings, as well as how we approach scientific education in elementary and middle schools — which have ushered me into new networks of people who are exploring ways to make science education more accessible for young folks, especially for those who belong to demographics that are continually underrepresented in STEM fields. Now, more than ever, I’m excited to fold these questions into the process of writing my senior thesis, which will be a challenging yet personally meaningful culmination of my time spent in the paleomag lab.