The Joy of Rocks

I have been asked by the University to write a few words about why studying geology is interesting and why you should give it a try. Well I can tell you why I do it:-

I study geology because it is fun.

I do it because I can find rocks and fossils that nobody else has ever seen before. You can experience that thrill too! I never know what I am going to find. We all have an equal chance of finding something really rare - a completely new mineral or a new species of fossil.

We do practical work in the classes looking at specimens in collections and read books so that we can identify the things we find. We study the underlying theories so that we can put our bit of local geology into the world wide picture.

Along the way we learn how to write about our science and communicate with other scientists. We learn how to record our observations in a methodical way so that future generations of scientists can benefit from our research, sometimes long after the quarries we visit are lost to landfill. Most importantly we learn how to do our research safely without damaging sites.

We do not know everything about our planet and its history and amateur scientists can still make significant contributions to the study of geology.

The courses run by the Centre for Lifelong Learning are an easy and friendly way to make a start in the subject and get a taster of studying at University. The classes are full of enthusiastic students who are keen to learn and help beginners. As a student you will have access to the resources of the University such as the Library, on-line learning and research resources, as well as the geological collections.

If you have not attended any classes for a while this is a friendly and safe environment in which to learn. Your tutor will give you appropriate feedback on your progress, whether you are learning for its own sake or wish to gain qualifications to enter full time study. The students are attending for lots of different reasons. You do not need to have studied the subject before. You can even register to do a research project to investigate something that you always wanted to know about using the University's facilities!

The thought of being assessed might be a bit daunting - but you will not be asked to do anything that scientists do not normally do. Recording observations and identifying specimens is what geologists do everyday. Reviewing your understanding is a good way to order your thoughts and test your theories. In the classes alternative forms of assessment are available, so if you don not like writing reports you can produce a poster, give a talk to the class, put on a display of specimens or have an individual discussion with the tutor. Tutors want you to pass, they will not try to trick you into making mistakes!

When I ask students why they wanted to attend the courses frequent answers are - "I do a lot of walking and want to know why the landscape is like it is", "I found this thing on the beach and want to know what it is and how it got there", I studied the subject a bit when I was younger and now have more time to find out more" or "I always wanted to find out more and thought I would give the course a try". You do not have to have an "academic" reason just a good dose of curiosity; I think that is what makes a good scientist.

Past students have taken their interest further. Some have joined local clubs to share their hobby with others. Some have gone on to do research locally and have published in scientific journals. Some students have enrolled on full time degree courses to study Geography at Hull University or other subjects at other Universities. Others have enrolled to study for geology degrees part-time with the Open University and Birkbeck College. Conversely some O U students enroll on these CLL courses so they can get more experience in practical work and fieldwork to help their degree studies. Some students have enrolled on teacher training courses and a couple have done higher degrees in earth science topics.

I teach eleven different courses, spread over a three year cycle. The summer courses are fieldwork based where we visit local sites to look at the rocks and fossils. There are laboratory based courses to learn how to identify the rocks, minerals and fossils. There are courses to look at the rocks and fossils through microscopes (something you are unlikely to experience outside the University environment) and theoretical courses.

The courses are designed so that you can start any time; there is no need to wait for a particular course to come around. Alternatively can pick out the courses that interest you most. If you decide to follow the whole "study route" you will get a good grounding in the subject that will enable you to go on to study for a degree.

Here is a full list -

Rocks and Minerals

Rocks and Minerals through the Microscope

Collecting Rocks, Minerals and Fossils


Fossils through the Microscope

Exploring the Geology around Hull

Dynamic Earth

Understanding Geological Maps

Geological Fieldwork Techniques

Forensic Geology AND Study Skills for Scientists

Rocks and fossils of the Yorkshire Coast (every summer)

Please try to register in advance to ensure that you have a place on the course. There is a risk that the course may get cancelled if students have not pre-registered.

copyright Mike Horne, University of Hull, 2010

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