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Career Profiles

Marilyn J. Suiter


Marilyn Suiter was interested in science as a child and remembers her enthusiasm for working on mechanical objects, from household appliances to automobiles. A talented science teacher in junior high-school encouraged her to continue studying science. Although her first science major in college was physics, she found the interdisciplinary nature of geoscience to be more challenging and satisfying than any one area of science. She has both a B.A. and a M.A. degree and is especially interested in stratigraphy and structure. Strata, layers of rock, provide clues about what the environment was like earlier in the Earth's history. The current position of rocks relative to each other provides clues about the processes that have taken place since those rocks were deposited. Studying stratigraphy and structure is essentially a detective adventure in unraveling the history of the Earth, much like solving a planet-sized puzzle.

Marilyn is Director of Special Programs at the American Geological Institute in Virginia. Earlier in her career she taught earth science in a secondary school, did mapping and laboratory research for the U.S. government, and worked for a petroleum company. She now uses those experiences to develop programs to increase the participation of women and ethnic minority professionals in the geosciences. By giving talks in schools and communities and sharing her experiences and information on career opportunities, she encourages young people to consider geoscience careers. She also directs a scholarship program for ethnic minorities and provides data to employers and policy-makers that will encourage them to improve opportunities for career access. Marilyn is also very active in the Association for Women Geoscientists, an organization that provides support for women who are geoscience professionals or are interested in geoscience careers.

The aspect she enjoys most about her profession is the challenge of solving problems in science. The interplay of chemistry, biology, physics and other scientific and technological disciplines in one area, the Earth, is a continuing stimulation to her. Answering questions about the Earth, the goal of geoscience, is particularly important to all of Earth's inhabitants.

Combining a family life with career pursuits is something that most people do in some way. Most people, married or single, need time for relationships and extracurricular activities. The geosciences offer a wide range of possible places to work. You could do field activities outdoors in in all kinds of places, from the Arctic to the desert, from urban communities to oceans and space, or you could work indoors in a classroom, office, or laboratory, or some combination of these.

Marilyn suggests you take all the math and science that is available to you in school. Taking courses that improve your ability to communicate is also important; great discoveries that are not communicated clearly have little chance to make an impact. You can also join science clubs, participate in science fairs, go hiking, collect rocks and shells, watch the weather, or study the stars. After all, the reason we do all of this is because it's fun.