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Ellen Wohl, a professor of geosciences at Colorado State University, credits her dad for her early love of science.
A high school biology and chemistry teacher, Wohl’s father took her hiking, camping, backpacking, skiing, and on family trips to national parks.
“I have wanted to be a field-focused research scientist since I was a young child. The only question early on was which scientific discipline I would focus on,” said Wohl.
After completing high school in Ohio, Wohl moved to Phoenix with her parents and enrolled at ASU. She was interested in both biology and geology and “more or less flipped a coin and enrolled as a biology major,” she said. After taking a class in introductory physical geology with SESE’s Carleton Moore, however, she switched majors to geology.
“I feel very fortunate to have gotten an undergrad degree from a department that, despite being at a very large state university, was extremely focused on field experiences and provided opportunities for undergrads to feel that they belonged to a group,” said Wohl. “Without exception, every faculty member with whom I took a course at ASU took an interest in me as an individual and mentored me in learning how to be a geologist and how to do research.”
Of particular influence to Wohl were Carleton Moore, Bob Dietz, Troy Péwé, Paul Knauth, John Ferry, Ed Stump, and Mike Malin. From introductory geology courses to lab work, and from advice on graduate school to summer field camps, these faculty members instilled, according to Wohl, “a sense of belonging to an exciting and unique group with high expectations and professional standards.”
Her advice for current students is to work as a lab or field assistant with a faculty member or grad student, then conduct your own research as an independent study or senior thesis.
“There is no better way to learn research skills than by engaging in research,” she recommends. “I still think that the more diverse your field experiences, the better you are as a geologist.”
She also recommends paying close attention to what the research faculty are doing and finding inspiration therein. She vividly remembers, for example, the incredible photos Ed Stump regularly showed of his research in Antarctica in his structural geology course.
Wohl, who earned her doctorate at the University of Arizona, currently teaches courses on geomorphology and fluvial geomorphology at Colorado State University and she is the recipient of the prestigious G.K. Gilbert Award in Surface Processes from the American Geophysical Union for 2018. Her research interests include physical-ecological interactions in river ecosystems and the implications of physical riverine complexity for organic carbon storage.
She’s been able to do field research on every continent except Antarctica and she says, “I’ve got my sights set on that continent . . .” with Ed Stump to thank for the inspiration.