Math and Science
Bachelor of Science in Geology
Tom Taylor earned a Bachelor of Science in Geology from Winona State University in 1977, and he followed that up with a Master of Science and a Doctorate in Geology from Michigan State University. After Taylor graduated, he worked as a researcher for Shell, and he said the job gave him the opportunity to travel around the world. It was grueling, but well worth it, Taylor said. He retired after 29 years with Shell and he now works as a consultant.
Why did you choose your major?
I grew up in a farm near a town of 450 people, not far from Minneapolis. It was kind of a Huckleberry Finn thing, running outside and all that stuff. I started out as an undergraduate going into a business degree, and I found it kind of boring and I wanted to do something outdoors. I took a class from a professor who studied the Mississippi River; it was a conservation course and in it, he told our class about the work he did. It sounded interesting, so I took some geology classes and I found it really neat that you could be outside and you could think about the natural process of how those things formed and the enormity of geological time. That kind of got me hooked, and after I graduated, I pursued my master’s degree.
What did you like about the experience?
Thinking as a younger person back then, you’re sort of out there learning your own abilities. The professors encouraged us if we were getting good grades. They were engaging us a lot. The ability to go in the office hours and see the professor and have that personal link was really instrumental. The combination of what I told you before and having mentors that encouraged you made it a good experience.
What did you dislike about it?
It’s a tough industry. I had a great career at Shell, but it wasn’t always great. We went through the tough economic times in the late 1980s and 1990s. It’s a double-edged sword because when things are good, they treat you well and when they aren’t, you’re treated as a commodity and you’re shown the door in a heartless way. I don’t have any complaints about geology itself. I’m still very interested and fascinated by it. As a career, you sometimes feel undervalued and slapped around in the corporate world.
How has it impacted your career?
It has impacted it a lot, actually. I think one thing is it opens your eyes to how natural resources and all these things are so involved in many issues in society. It influenced the career I’m having, but it gave me a different perspective as well. I’m still on the board of directors for the Winona State Foundation, where we raise money for scholarships, and I’m involved with Michigan State.
What skills from your degree do you still use?
Quite a few of them, actually. But I know it’s not the case for a lot of people. I think in graduate and undergraduate, the idea that you needed to push yourself and be organized, to be on top of things instead of catching up all the time, and I think that’s served me well in the industry. Being organized and learning to prioritize things, like what matters in what you’re doing and just the idea that a good scientific method is how to make logical decisions, whether they’re scientific or business related. I think my college training really helped me with that. Specifically, I do still do a lot of microscopy. The data that we get from there to make computer models — those are the things I still use today.
What advice would you give prospective students?
I would say with the world population increasing and the natural resources, whether they’re oil and gas, climate issues, or natural issues, earth scientists will make a big difference in these things. You don’t have to be stuck to one industry or another. When I was an undergraduate, we had this a lot — that because there was such a big boom in the oil industry, there were people who were gravitating toward [geology] because it offered a big paycheck. But you have to find something that really inspires you, or else you’ll be miserable in the long run. If you’re doing it because you think it’s all going to be all gold and breadfruit, [it's going to be tougher to deal with] your ups and downs. But if it’s what you’re passionate about, it’s a good thing to go after.