Heather BussIt's About Communication
Pennsylvania State UniversityState College, PA
Since NSF IGERT programs promote thinking across the traditional borders of a multitude of disciplines, it makes sense that students often come to them by a variety of interesting paths. For example, the path taken by Heather Buss, now a third-year doctoral student in geosciences at Penn State's Biogeochemical Research Initiative for Education (BRIE), included a stop at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, and a brief, but significant, detour through a Kmart Garden Center.
After my first semester [as an undergraduate in geosciences at Penn State] I decided that I really didn't want to take another retail or waitressing job for the summer, that I really wanted to spend the summer doing something related to my field, even if it meant making two dollars an hour," Heather says with an accent which betrays her Houston, Texas upbringing. After talking to a school counselor, she ended up applying to the BRIE IGERT's summer internship program for undergraduates. Thinking it best to hedge her bets, however, she started work at the Kmart just in case. She was just about to resign herself to another summer of retail work when Susan Brantley, the director of the summer program (and who would later become Heather's advisor through completion of her B.S. and into her doctoral work) came into the store and gave her the happy news that she'd been accepted.
That summer was very cool, she says. I got to do really interesting things, I learned how to use the atomic force microscope, and I did a lot of lab stuff, wrote a short paper, gave a poster presentation, and went to research group meetings."
The experience convinced Heather not only to stay on an interdisciplinary track after graduating, but to enroll in BRIE and continue her work with Brantley.
When I was just starting in my science studies it just seemed like so much had already been done, everywhere, in everything, she explains. Although I realize now that there are lots of questions left even within the disciplines, it just seemed like the new places to go in science were cross-disciplinary. So that was a big motivator... I looked around at other schools and other programs but decided that I really liked the interdisciplinary program, and I didn't see any other interdisciplinary programs like the BRIE program.
Students enrolled in the BRIE program approach the science of biogeochemistry from a variety of disciplines, including biochemistry, chemistry, environmental engineering, soil science, and geosciences. Heather's research focuses on the 'weathering processes' of rocks and minerals in variety of environments and contexts. She's currently studying the way that granite breaks down in tropical environments, conducting much of her field work in Puerto Rico. In many ways, this is a far cry from the plans she'd made for herself when she was twelve to be a photographer. But after studying advertising photography at the Brooks Institute, she became frustrated with the lack of creative freedom the field would allow her, and decided to rethink her career path.
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