Eleanora I. (Norrie) Robbins, PhD
Geologist/Microbiologist/Educator
San Diego State University


San Diego, CA

   

Fun. That's the purpose of life. Mom says I popped out of the womb with a big grin, and asking questions. This means I love kids who ask questions. She is my hero: volunteer extraordinary, mom of four girls.

Career path:
My career path was perfect. I went to school, got a degree, went to work, went back to school and got the next degree, went to work, went back to school and got the next degree, and then went to back to work. Then I retired, so I could begin my new career. The details of this path start at home: my dad, Arthur Iberall, was a brilliant physicist and he guided my career; he did it by making me want to find a field that he knew nothing about, far away from physics. Geology was totally outside his expertise, so I got my BS from Ohio State University in geology. The rest of my career follows: geologist in the U.S. Peace Corps with the Geological Survey of Tanzania (East Africa), Peace Corps gave me non-competitive eligibility for a government job so I got a job with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Washington DC and Denver CO as a technician. I eventually realized that I needed another degree, so I took two years off and got an MS in Geosciences (specialty: palynology) at the University of Arizona, along with a Mr. (Brian Robbins, zoologist). Then back to work as a research scientist at the USGS in Reston VA while Brian did a post-doc at the Smithsonian. I eventually realized that I needed another degree, so I left Brian alone in VA to cook and wash the dishes, and took a year off to get my coursework done at Pennsylvania State University. Brian went off to do field work in Sierra Leone and Zaire, an assignment that came with a cook. I wrote my dissertation back at work with the USGS and got my PhD in Geosciences (specialty: paleoecology). Through the years I worked on petroleum, ore deposits, coal, peat in wetlands, and cleaning up acid drainage from coalfields. Over time I came to realize that many supposedly chemical reactions at the earth's surface are because of bacteria, so I went back to school at night and took courses in microbiology.

Next Career:
I retired in 2001 after 34 years with the USGS, and joined as adjunct faculty at San Diego State. Brian had enough of the snow and chose this heavenly place. So now I guide students sometimes, but mostly I teach outdoors science to Native American kids, ages 6-12, living on Indian Reservations in San Diego County. (That's me in the white hat, with Luiseno Indian kids from the La Jolla Reservation). And I don't need any pay to run this activity called Explorer's Club, because my career path provides me with a government pension until death. The children are part of a serious problem I am trying to solve: I am so worried about the Earth, about the chemicals in the water and in the people, and the trash in the rivers and in the oceans. I am focusing this next career on learning Native Science, which is science that comes with values such as caring about the Earth and thinking about what you do so that people seven generations in the future will have happy lives too.

Most exciting:
The most exciting research I ever did was in Santorini, Greece. I was trying to solve a problem related to origin of iron deposits and life. Santorini is considered to be the modern analog. I wanted samples taken every month for a year. So I started an education outreach project with high school students there, and they mailed me samples every month. Two of my sisters, one a teacher and the other a writer, got involved in this research, along with our dad. For this work, the Greek students became famous, there was an article about them in National Geographic, they've been on TV, and they were presented with scientific achievement awards by Astronauts at the 13th Humans in Space Conference there.

Toughest Barrier:
There are barriers everywhere. One mentor taught me: "you gotta have a thick skin, baby." Another taught me: "when you get a wall put in front of you, figure out how to use it to your advantage." My opinion: you need a lot of girlfriends to get you through the icky parts. But remember what I said at the beginning: Fun, that's the purpose of life. Being a scientist is fabulous fun.

 

 

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