Dr. Jane Alexander Discusses her Passion for Geology and her Career
By: Brooke Price
Dr. Jane Alexander who is a geologist, a geology professor, and a chairperson to the Earth and Environmental Science Department, provided me with some insight about her early life and her current research projects during a recent interview.
Alexander’s passion for geology was fueled by her interest in rocks as a kid. Her mother who was a chemist further expanded Alexander’s knowledge of this topic by answering any questions that she might have.
She later decided to pursue a degree in geology. Alexander got her bachelor’s degree in geology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She then got her PhD in geology at University College London.
After she got her bachelor’s degree, Alexander worked for two years at an environmental consultancy company just outside of London. She worked on projects related to nuclear waste disposal and modeled what happens to the waste after it’s been buried.
Alexander decided to become a professor in addition to being a geologist because she enjoys research. Since she had experience in working in the industry and she went back to school to do her PhD, she realized that she liked the research environment better than the industry environment; “you are able to choose your direction a lot more than just being given assignments… a lot of freedom.”
The most memorable experience she had as a geologist was finding something surprising and trying to figure out why it happened. When she first taught sedimentology, she found an outcrop in the back of the parking lot and she noticed that the rocks in the outcrop weren’t what they were mapped out as.
This was because the exposure had recently been blasted out to make room for the parking lot.
Over the years, Alexander was able to travel around the world conducting field work. Her favorite place she did field work in was in the south of France where she did undergraduate mapping; “it was a beautiful area, the weather was gorgeous, we stayed in a really nice campsite, everyone was friendly.”
The most interesting place she visited for work was Japan, where she did field work for her PhD. In Japan, she collected samples of sedimentary rock to analyze for major elements and rare earth elements.
Alexander is currently doing a survey of the Staten Island shoreline to see how much microplastic contamination there is. “There’s no other area in New York City where people have analyzed the sediments [on the shoreline for microplastics]… some people have analyzed the seawater and the Hudson Estuary, but not the actual sediments on the shoreline and it’s a breaking field, so we’re at the moment, still developing a methodology that’s reliable to actually find the microplastics and separate them out from the sediment and then, when we’re happy with the method, we’re going to be doing basically a spatial analysis.”
For her project, she collected sediments from the east coast every 200 meters and then she would have to go around the rest of the shoreline and collect samples and then map out the distribution of microplastics.
Alexander has worked in the field of geology for many years. However, the Earth and Environmental Science Program was only recently introduced to the College of Staten Island in 2016.
As a coordinator for the program, Alexander was allowed to develop the program and figure out what direction to take it in. It took about 5 years of writing and going through committees to get to the point where they actually launched the program.
Alexander expressed that a lot of research and writing goes into coming up with the proposal in the first place to see what other colleges are doing as well as what jobs students are likely to do once they graduate from the program. The staff wants to make sure that the focus of the program is towards jobs that are available.
There are about 50 students currently enrolled in the program. The program started out small, but it is growing as more students show an interest in the earth and environmental science field.