Behind the Lectern: Professor Geoffrey W. Cook – Just Call Me Geoff

“when I first started teaching when I was a graduate student it seemed totally natural. There was some apprehension but when you love what you are talking about it is really easy.”

On the first day of SIO 50, Introduction to Earth Sciences, professor Geoffrey W. Cook asked the students to call him Geoff. Geoff is one of the few “teaching professors” at UCSD, meaning his research is in both pedagogy and explosive volcanology, but not at the same time. His position as instructor first rather than “rock-star researcher publishing 10 papers a year” lets him focus on his students.

Geoff has been teaching since graduate school. He seems just as relaxed in his office plastered with photos of his wife and daughter as he is in front a class of eager students.

“I used to have some — not extensive — anxiety, but anxiety [about public speaking],” Geoff said. “But when I first started teaching when I was a graduate student it seemed totally natural. There was some apprehension but when you love what you are talking about it is really easy.”

While working on his master’s degree, Geoff met his wife, Heather, who was an undergraduate studying volcanology. The pair represent two ends of the volcanic spectrum; she likes passive eruptions and he enjoys explosive volcanism.  

“It’s hard to get jobs together if you are in the same area, so if she had finished her Ph.D in volcanology I don’t know what would have happened,” Geoff said. “She really made a sacrifice for us. To be fair she could have been way better at [research] than me, she is unbelievable at school and an phenomenal researcher, but she didn’t love it.”

While his wife worked on her master’s degree in education, Geoff started his Ph.D at Washington State University, where he studied Valles Caldera, a supervolcano in New Mexico. But it took him a while.  

“I spent way more time on my TA work than my research,” Geoff said. “I always had TAs through my masters and Ph.D and I loved it. I felt like I was really good at it so I was more motivated to do that then go in the lab and do research … My advisor always said ‘you are not a bad researcher, you are just slow.’”

Before even finishing his Ph.D, Geoff left to teach at University of Rhode Island. There, he shared a office with his wife and together they taught geology.  While Geoff was looking for permanent positions, UCSD offered a full-time teaching position that focused on students, not on research. He turned to his wife and said, “Heather, that’s me.” He came for an interview at SIO and witnessed a common practice, the graduate students surfing at lunch. When he called his wife back in the 28-degree weather of Rhode Island, she said, “you need to get this job.” Obviously, he did.

By teaching the introductory earth-science course at UCSD, Geoff aims to instill students with a mindfulness for the environment and a healthy respect for hazardous phenomenons like as volcanoes and earthquakes. Geoff tries to live his life in a way that is least impactful on the environment, but he encourages students to try, in any way possible, to be conscious of energy and sustainability issues. [icon name=”stop” class=”” unprefixed_class=””]