The University of Pennsylvania, Master of Science in Applied Geosciences ’20—expected
Rhodes College, Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Sciences ’18
“I’ve always been interested in the applied aspect of science,” says Hope Elliott (Master of Science in Applied Geosciences ’20—expected), who majored in environmental science as an undergraduate. “Environmental science meant I was able to do lab work and also see the connection to relevant problems that need to be solved—and I’ve continued along that vein for the rest of my academic career.” Now preparing to apply to PhD programs as she completes the Master of Science in Applied Geosciences (MSAG), Hope appreciates the program’s emphasis on practical knowledge. “I am getting to do lab work, but everything we learn in the program is still tailored toward its applications: How is this relevant? How might it help you in the workforce or in applied research?”
Hope first came to Penn as a student in the Master of Environmental Studies (MES) program, but after a semester, she decided to focus on science and lab work. She was able to transfer her MES courses into the Master of Science in Applied Geosciences and create an individualized concentration in environmental chemistry. “As I went into my second year, I decided that I wanted to get a PhD, so my classes have changed to help me prepare for that next step and make myself a more competitive applicant,” Hope recalls. “The program gave me the flexibility to make that change—and even to change degree programs—and still meet my goals in two years.”
In addition to her chemistry studies, Hope took classes in wetlands ecology and environmental and occupational health and learned GIS (geographic information system) mapping with a professor who literally wrote the book on map algebra. “Those courses are very intense,” says Hope. “You learn so much from week to week, but the skills you come out with are amazing. I have so much more experience in GIS now, and that actually got me an internship last summer.” The internship was with the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, looking at restricted monitoring station data from their drought monitoring system and mapping the data with raster files. “I wanted to try a desk job for the summer because I had only done lab jobs before, so that was an interesting experience,” Hope explains.
Back in the lab for her culminating capstone project, Hope has been working with a Penn alumna and faculty member to study the mineral composition of charcoal samples from Uganda. She grinds up the charcoal and analyzes it using optical emission spectrometry and X-ray diffraction, among other techniques. “It gets very messy!” she laughs. “But it is great lab experience! It’s amazing that I was able to just say to my advisor, ‘This is the kind of lab work I want to do,’ and she was able to point me to someone in the department who could help me with that—and they have access to all the equipment you’re ever going to need.”
With aspirations of a career as a research chemist, Hope is looking at PhD programs in marine science to prepare for her next step. “I would be studying slightly different things, but still doing applied analytical chemistry in the field of marine science,” she explains. “Geoscience is such an interdisciplinary field; it involves chemistry, biology, and social science, and so much of it has to do with communicating data to the public.” For Hope, that broad base of knowledge is key to the kind of work she wants to do after doctoral studies. “Geoscientists are involved with environmental problems from formulation to solution,” she says. “That's the skill set you need to be able to work in that field, design your own projects, and solve your own problems.”