In the fall of his junior year, Robert Welch ’20 attended a weekly “geo-lunch” meeting hosted by the Geosciences Department. The speaker, who was discussing the value of attending graduate school, imparted the following advice to the students sitting around the lunch table: “You must have the urge to ask the question ‘why?’”
Welch certainly has that urge. In the fall he will begin a Ph.D. program at Harvard University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the Earth and Planetary Studies Department. His focus will be on structural geology as a part of the structure and earth resources group, which has previously researched earthquake hazard assessment, regional tectonics, and other projects with applications to energy systems.
“The Ph.D. path will allow me to continue to answer these questions along with the opportunity to develop a new set of research-oriented skills,” he said. “This degree would also open up a path for me to be able to teach those who want to answer future questions in the geosciences.”
At Hamilton, Welch gained valuable experience through classes, research, and internships — all of which prepared him for work at the graduate level. In particular, he highlighted his senior thesis project, which investigated a set of N-S ridges in the Western Desert of Egypt along with a network of previously unmapped synclines, or specific types of folds in rock layers.
Hometown: Newburyport, Mass.
High School: The Thacher School
Major: Geoscience; Minor: Mathematics
“My senior thesis gave me the opportunity to learn how to undertake a large research project while allowing me to see if I enjoyed the subject material enough to want to pursue a Ph.D.,” Welch explained. “It exposed me to social issues that impact the geosciences, such as power abuse, institutional racism, and other important topics.”
In the summer before his senior year, Welch conducted research with professors of geoscience Barbara Tewksbury and Dave Bailey, respectively, which was made possible thanks to the Roger Dickinson Fund. Not only did that work expand his knowledge of the field and feed into his senior thesis, it gave him the confidence to authoritatively discuss his research when he was invited to participate at the Geological Society of America conference.
“The Geosciences Department prepares students to be successful in communicating to the general public or to other geoscientists,” Welch said. “The professors encourage creativity and to pursue what you enjoy. It is this encouragement that gives students the confidence in interviews, conversations, and to move on from the Hamilton campus.”
Welch has accrued other impressive research positions and internships, including the AACSE (Alaskan Accretionary Community Seismic Experiment) project funded by a National Science Foundation grant and research in Oregon’s Cascade Range with Hamilton’s Senior Laboratory Technician Rick Conrey. “What is so interesting about both projects is that they involve being in the field,” Welch explained. “If you told me four years ago that I could be a part of research that involved me camping and hiking I would not have believed that was possible.”
There also were non-academic lessons that Welch learned throughout his time at Hamilton. “Besides teaching me the fundamentals of geology, Hamilton has taught me the importance of a good advisor and being around people excited about the subject material,” he said. “A Ph.D. can take upwards of six years, and the programs are investing in you. To see someone who is enthusiastic about what they do and can get through the lows of research is a bonus which will help boost your application. In graduate school, everybody loves a nerd.”