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Laura Beckerman's Student Impression

"When I started at Northwestern University, I knew that I wanted the background to pursue graduate school in astrobiology, but was unsure which major(s) to pursue as an undergraduate to reach that goal. I decided to take Earth 107 to test out the Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS) department, and I fell in love with geology. Eager to learn more, I met with Prof. Donna Jurdy after class. After kayaking down the Chicago River with the EPS department in September 2010, I was convinced that this was where I belonged, and I officially declared a second major. Over the course of my sophomore year, I realized that my biology major would not permit me the flexibility to take the classes most relevant to my interest in astrobiology. With the guidance and support of Professors Jurdy and Hurtgen, I designed an ad hoc major in astrobiology that focused on a geochemical perspective to the field. After a great summer working with stable isotopes at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, I started working on sulfur isotope geochemistry in Prof. Hurtgen’s laboratory. I also started a work-study job with Prof. Beddows in preparation for the upcoming departmental move from Locy to the Tech infill. By the end of the year, I knew every professor, graduate student, and undergraduate major in the department, and the department had become my second family.

Within the EPS department, I felt both intellectually challenged and well supported. I held dozens of study parties to work on problem sets and review material for exams with peers, but also spent many weekends hanging out with the wonderful people who make up the department. I adored the hands-on learning techniques that many professors emphasized. Out of more than two-dozen science courses that I took as an NU student, Prof. Jacobsen’s classes were my favorites because of his laid-back style and focus on (fun!) laboratory exercises. But I also learned so much outside of the classroom on weekend field trips to Baraboo, WI and Marquette, MI and a two-week trip to the Yucatan. Through these trips, I learned how to take classroom lessons into the field. Meanwhile, my laboratory research excited a passion in me to pursue graduate school in geology. Maya Gomes, a graduate student in Prof. Hurtgen’s laboratory, taught me the skills needed for lab work and how to become a real scientific researcher through the questions I ask and the way I express my findings. Through thick and thin, Prof. Beddows mentored me through both academic and personal challenges. She celebrated my successes with me and gave me the encouragement I needed to make it through tough times. As my final year at NU comes to a close, I know that all my favorite memories at this school happened thanks to the EPS department. Because of this department and the incredible people who comprise it, I am leaving NU to pursue a graduate degree in geochemistry at my first choice graduate school as an NSF graduate research fellow. I feel truly blessed to have been an honorary major in this amazing department, and I will miss everyone who has supported me, challenged me, and encouraged me on this journey."