Cecilia Hurtado

Sector: Academia

Field: Science

Occupation: Student

Meet Cecilia Hurtado, the summer Intern for the Talent Pool department at AGU. She recently graduated from the College of William & Mary with a B.S. in geology and her senior thesis concentrated on the structural and geologic history of the metamorphic sole of the Semail Ophiolite in Oman. In the fall she will return to W&M as the Geology Research Fellow to expand her thesis research.

Please state your name, where you work, and what you do. 

My name is Cecilia Hurtado and I am the summer Talent Pool intern at AGU. My tasks vary from day to day but I’m currently working on the August Education Special Interest Group (ESIG) newsletter, doing data analysis for an Eos article in the works, and establishing the foundation for a new mentoring program.

What inspired you to become a geoscientist?

I am at the very beginnings of my geoscientist career, having just graduated from the College of William & Mary in May, but I’ve enjoyed studying earth science since I was in grade school. I spent 8th-10th grade in Oman (an incredible place to study geology) and each year the school took different field trips to locations all over the country; the program was aptly titled “Discover Oman.” This exposed me to the varied landscape and the breathtaking landforms throughout the region and even though I didn’t have much of an explanation for any of it, I was always fascinated by it. When I arrived my freshman year at W&M, I enrolled in an intro geo course and found that I enjoyed studying for the exams, which I took to be a pretty good sign of a possible major. I then met my future advisor who coincidentally happened to be interested in studying the Semail ophiolite in Oman. I took this coincidence as a sign that I was headed in the right direction, and have since been exceedingly happy following it.

What skills and knowledge – including educational and technical training – have been of key importance to both securing and successfully doing your work?  What do you still need to work on?

Learning independence as a researcher is hugely important. As a student, you’re often given help when you need it, but in doing research there are more obstacles that you encounter and you often need to figure it out on your own. Being comfortable with working out issues independently makes you less reliant on your advisor because they’re not always going to be present to help you. In terms of technical training, I’ve found competency in GIS and remote sensing have been very useful in geologic work because they are applicable in so many different realms of geology.

I need to work on my networking abilities. As a recent grad it can still be intimidating to walk into a room of career scientists or professionals and think of the right things to say to build a network. Everyone says that it takes practice, so I assume with enough scientific conferences I will be able to build this skill, but as of right now the nerves still get me.

Did you have any mentors – in school or in the professional world – who helped guide your career path and what was some pivotal advice that they imparted to you?

My primary mentor as of now is my advisor, Chuck Bailey. I met him as an awkward freshman geeking out about Oman, have taken classes with him almost every semester since, and have traveled with him to Oman twice for my thesis, so he knows me fairly well as both a student and a person. We have similar communication styles in that we are straightforward, comfortable being honest with each other about frustrations, and forgiving when something goes awry. Being open with each other makes the advisee/advisor relationship easy.

This isn’t specific advice per se, but he is good at building independent thinkers. He won’t give his interpretation of something unless you have devoted enough time and energy into figuring it out yourself and have reached an independent conclusion. Although this was frustrating at first, it quickly gave me the ability to be self-reliant when faced with a roadblock. He’s also sometimes away giving lectures, attending conferences, or out in the field, so there are times when he literally isn’t around and it’s necessary to fix things without his help or advice.

What are some particularly valuable career tips you have learned, both at school and from working with AGU Pathfinder programs?

The geology faculty at W&M encourage us to reach out to alumni when we can. The geo department does an alumni brunch every year for homecoming, so they tell us to meet as many people as we can during those events to get advice about what next steps to take and make connections for possible employment. Some career tips that I have learned from the AGU Pathfinder programs have been primarily from the Careers webinars and the On the Job blog posts. One of the best tips I received came from an On the Job blog post about navigating a new workplace: “Take advantage of any on-boarding opportunities offered by the company.” This was especially helpful at the beginning of my internship at AGU because they offer resources to their employees to learn specific skills. I’ve used multiple of these resources to fill in any gaps in my skill base and will continue to take advantage of them throughout my time here.