What we look for in a new group member:
Undergraduates: We are always looking for undergraduates to help out or do independent research, such as for a senior honor's thesis. The ideal undergraduate student should have taken at least two of the 300 level ESCI courses. In order to do research, you must set aside at least one day for your work. You can set aside an entire day or two half days. This is the minimum level of time needed to commit to research. Anything less just is not possible.
Graduate students: We only take PhD students in our laboratory. You do not need to have had a MSc., but most of our projects take at least two to three years for significant headway, which is why we prefer PhD students. The ideal student is one who has a passion for the earth sciences, has good quantitative (math, physics, chemistry) and writing skills, is observant in the field and in the lab, and is patient and diligent. Graduate students are expected to be independent and develop their own ideas with the help of a mentor. We are always seeking good students to join our group, and, in general, we admit one new student per year into the group (and graduate one per year).
Post-doctoral Fellows: We have positions for post-doctoral fellows when we have funding. Funding situations change all the time, so the best thing to do is to just inquire rather than assume that lack of an advertisement means we are not searching.
What to expect after you get here
This is more for graduate students. We do not have canned projects waiting for graduate students to sign onto and complete, even though we are funded to pursue specific projects. Our philosophy is that the student should develop her/his own project without being forced to do something. Thus, a student may fit broadly into a topic for which we are funded, but in detail she/he will be free to explore and define her/his interests. This is considered ideal because this allows you the opportunity to own your work. Your relationship with your adviser will be a collaborative one rather than one in which you just do as told. Ideally, you and your adviser learn together. When you get here, you and I will dance around each other until you begin to find out what you like and don't like, and in the process, I will help you develop your own unique project centered around your interests and strengths. No two students in our group work on the same project. The fact that students work on such different projects sometimes makes group meetings difficult because finding common ground among all of us is not always possible. However, the bright side is that you will learn a lot about your own work as well as in other fields while you are here.
In your first year, you will be taking classes and developing your ideas for research projects. During your first summer, you will be expected to get deep into the laboratory to learn some basic skill sets. Hopefully, by the end of the summer, you would have generated your own data so that you can start analyzing the problem. By the end of your second year, you should have developed two proposals for your proposal defense. Your proposal defense will consist of 4 committee members, who will evaluate you on 1) the creativity of your proposals, 2) the independence of your proposals, and 3) your ability to complete the proposed work. In your proposal defense, you are expected to present a new idea or hypothesis that you wish to test. Your goal is to convince me and your committee that you have a good problem and that you are the one to do it. If your skill sets are deficient or if your proposal is poorly thought out, you will not pass this rite of passage. You will be given one more chance within a few months to try again. If you still cannot demonstrate independence, creativity and skills, then you will not be allowed to continue. Under some circumstances, if you have enough to write one paper, you can graduate with a terminal Master's degree.
If, however, you pass your oral examination, you will move on to the next round, which is the most exciting and rewarding part of the PhD. The next 2-3 years, you will be collecting and analyzing the data, challenging your adviser and putting her/him in her/his place and writing up the results into publishable manuscripts. The guidelines in our department are that you present 3 publishable manuscripts. When you are ready, which is usually within 5 years, you will defend your thesis.
Some students are concerned, of course, whether they will be happy during their PhD. In our group, you are treated as an independent and creative collaborator. You only do what you want to do. So your happiness is dictated by you, but the best way to evaluate whether you will enjoy being in this group is to talk to current and previous students.
What to expect after you get a PhD
Getting a PhD is very different from an undergraduate education. Consider a PhD thesis as a ~5 year interval in which you define an important problem in an interesting field and, after you graduate, you have become one of the world's experts in the field. But more importantly, you have shown that you can start from knowing nothing and, in five years, becoming the world expert. You should now have the confidence to pursue anything. So now that you have your PhD, what is in store for you afterwards?
For some of you, going on into academia may be your ultimate goal. If so, you would continue on with a post-doctoral fellowship at some other institution and then hopefully get an academic position. This road is tough, but is very rewarding at the end.
But there are many alternatives. You could go work in industry. Industry needs people who can develop and lead projects. If you can become an expert in your research field in five years, you should be able to do the same in industry. Industry jobs, particularly for geologists, often center around energy but their are opportunities in mineral resources, environmental engineering/consulting, waste management, medical imaging, or instrument development/applications.
You could also find yourself in government or non-profit ogranizations working on urban planning, conservation, public policy, homeland security (forensics). And you could also become an educator, e.g. a teacher.