Claire Bailey

Sector: Industry

Field: Science

Occupation: Sedimentologist

My name is Claire Bailey and I work at the University of Texas at El Paso as a Teaching Assistant. I’m currently a Ph.D. candidate and I focus on salt sediment interaction and stratigraphy. My dissertation focuses on understanding the controls on fluvial deposition and halokinetic sequence development of the Salt Wash Member of the Morrison Formation as a result of interaction with the salt diapir in Gypsum Valley, Colorado.

Currently, I’m looking at opportunities in both the oil industry and also in academia. I’m not sure yet which route I want to take; both seem really interesting and fun to me.  I’m just trying to make connections in both industry and looking at post-docs and faculty positions. I’ve been going to conferences all Fall trying to make connections with professors in different places and also seeing who is hiring and who is looking for postdocs, just strengthening my network.

Tell us about your internships you have taken in the private sector.

My first internship was in between leaving my Master’s program and my Ph.D. program.  That was in Bakersfield, California, with Occidental Petroleum, now called California Resources Company.  I was looking at the Monterrey shales and trying to understand timing of diagenesis versus folding in the San Joaquin Basin.  I had my second internship with Occidental the next summer, 2014, in Houston, working with their rock analysis team looking at some core and doing reservoir characterization.  My next internship was in 2015 with Chevron and that was working with them on mapping some reservoirs using seismic interpretation.

I am definitely interested in sedimentology and stratigraphy and I feel like that’s really applied in industry and I feel like that’s a great opportunity to look at a lot more data and learn more.  It’s just a great opportunity to do the science that I really like, and so that’s why I look at industry.

But I love to teach as well.  I’ve been teaching and mentoring since my undergrad and so academia is also really appealing. I love sedimentology and stratigraphy and I think I could teach that as well.

What inspired you to become a geoscientist?

My interest in geology began in high school. I grew up in San Francisco, California, and I went to a school called Phillip & Sala Burton Academic High School.  There was a program coming out of San Francisco State University called SF-ROCKS (Reaching out to Communities and Kids with Science in San Francisco).  The leaders of that program were Lisa White and Karen Grove and they brought undergrads and master’s students into our high school to teach the geology portion of our freshman science class. They would take us out to the outcrop right next to our school (our school was on a hill), and we’d look at the rocks right next to the school.

Towards the end of my freshman year, my science teacher suggested that I go on one of  SF-ROCKS’ weekend field trips.  So, I went and there were a bunch of S.F. State professors that participated in the field trip. I loved it. I remember they had an old way to measure seismic waves through the ground and the sand, so we buried a seismometer, we would hop up and down and then watch the seismograms.

Basically, that field trip ended up being a recruitment for the program SF-ROCKS.  That summer, because they selected me, I participated in a science project, which we presented at AGU Fall Meeting, and so my science project was on understanding earthquakes that were being caused by hydrothermal activity in Calistoga, California.  It was with Dr. Karen Grove, two other high school students that I’m still friends with, and a graduate student.  Ever since then, I was hooked and I kept participating in things that SF-Rocks hosted. They would have National Parks trips and I went on two or three of them as a high school student.

When I was graduating from high school, Lisa [White] actually helped me apply for college.  I was almost going to go to a community college, and Lisa said, “No, you have to go to a university,” and so she sat with me and helped me fill out my applications.  I was accepted into everywhere I applied to, and she offered me a scholarship if I went to San Francisco State and came in as a geology major in my first year.  So that’s what I did, and I ended up loving it.  My teachers were hilarious, and they made geology really fun and I just kind of stuck with it after that.

Who were some of the mentors you had and what was some of the advice they imparted upon you?

I’ve been really lucky to have a lot of great mentors in many different places.  I think one of the most important ones is Lisa White.  Like I said, the reason why I went to a university is because she encouraged me, but she continued to encourage me throughout my undergraduate studies. She helped me meet my master’s advisor.  She also is the reason why I’m at UTEP because she introduced me to a few of professors who ended up moving here after I had met them and they introduced me to my current advisors.  Because of her, I’ve been able to make the connections to do what I like and to meet the right people to be where I am now.

Also, Karen Grove who was one of my sed/strat professors, and I love sed/strat—that is exactly what I ended up studying.  There are of course more.  Those are some of the people that are the most important because I continue to talk to them about my career and what I want to do, and they still give me advice and are super encouraging.  They’ve always been really encouraging and I think it’s important to have those mentors to seek advice from and to ask about what’s going on.

What skills and knowledge – including technical training and non-technical skills – have been of key importance to both securing and successfully doing your work?  

In every sort of experience that I’ve had, I’ve gained technical skills that help me do what I do now.  When I did an REU, that’s funded by NSF, at the University of Minnesota, Saint Anthony Falls Lab, that’s where I picked up my interest in river and fluvial systems and sedimentology because my project was trying to understand the sediment budget on the Wax Lake Delta in the Mississippi Delta system.  I still use the technical skills I learned in that REU.

In my master’s, I learned so much. I learned a lot about sedimentology and tectonics and sedimentary petrology. I took a fluvial geomorphology class that was super helpful.  Currently, I’m looking at fluvial systems and how they interact with salt diapir so it’s sort of like understanding fluvial systems in tectonic settings, but it’s a different setting—salt tectonics.

All those skills influenced my current project—including my first internship that was about sedimentology and how that’s affected by tectonics—all those experiences have built up the technical skills I need now.

Non-technical skills…I feel like I’ve stumbled my way through non-technical skills. I’ve always been a pretty good people person, but mentoring—learning how to mentor and how to be mentored—are skills that really have helped.  I’ve gotten great bits of advice from mentors throughout

I just took a mentor workshop this past week at GSA, and I feel like it’s one of the things that’s going to totally change how I get mentored and how I mentor other people.

What advice would you give to students or early career professionals that might make it easier for them transition in their careers?

One of the things I always tell people, because this was told to me as an undergrad, “Don’t be afraid to take any opportunity.”  You may think it’s not the perfect opportunity for you, but there’s always something you can get out of that opportunity. Internships, research experiences—any time you have the chance to do it, just do it! No matter what, it brings you into a network that you didn’t have before, it helps you gain new skills, it helps you apply the skills you already have, it’s all around always a good experience and always a good thing to do.

So just put yourself out there. If you just stay at home or at your own university, it could make it harder later.  So just don’t be afraid to take any opportunities.  That’s what I always tell people.  That’s advice that was given to me which I always follow.

As a Ph.D. student, get to know your advisors and make sure that they are going to be supportive in many different ways.  They’re going to be great for your research no matter what so always make sure you have a great relationship with them for your research, but try to find mentors that are outside of your Ph.D. advisor because having a mentor outside of what you are doing is really important.

It’s hard to expect [all of your advice] from one person. Our advisors are great, but they’re also mentoring and advising other students so it’s kind of a lot on their plate to ask them to mentor in a bunch of other ways.  So, having another person you can go to, gives your advisor a bit of relief and you can keep your relationship with your advisor in one sphere and makes things a little bit easier.