There is not a singular way to work as a geologist, and Cate Larsen is proof of this.
Cate is a geologist living in upstate New York who primarily works on social media as a science communicator, educating the public about geology.
Geologists study the earth, the materials of which it is made, the structure of those materials and the processes acting upon them.
People may assume that a geologist is always outside collecting rocks or digging in the ground, but this is not the case for all geologists. This field of study can open up many different job opportunities, just like the job Cate has online.
Cate did not discover that geology was even in the cards for her until she took a planetary geology class in college in 2016. Initially, she was interested in astronomy, and after taking planetary geology with a passionate geology professor, she was inspired to switch her major.
During her senior year, Cate was sent home from college due to the COVID-19 lockdown along with many other college students. She downloaded TikTok and started making videos unrelated to geology, until she posted one geology video that blew up and people begged her to make more.
She realized that she could start educating people online, and she began hosting weekly livestream lessons about geology. Her TikTok account has grown to over 369,000 followers over the past two years, and she recently celebrated the two-year anniversary of the first lesson she hosted on TikTok.
Cate also posts content on her Instagram, which has grown to more than 117,000 followers. Her social media presence allows her to have an income as an online science communicator.
Cate graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Geology in 2020 and has been working as a geology communicator ever since. She plans to go to graduate school to do more fieldwork research and eventually become a professor.
“I really want to be that person who is so outwardly passionate about my subject that you walk into my classroom and that excitement and passion is contagious,” Cate says. “I want to be able to inspire students to switch into the major or to pursue different [geology] careers, just like my professors did for me.”
There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes with being a content creator online, including research and planning. A typical day for her includes editing videos, putting together posts, scheduling, writing and gathering information she needs to teach people about specific subjects.
She puts 100% of her energy into her content because she wants to make sure everything is exciting to watch, read and listen to.
Cate’s work has extended beyond social media and into the classroom as well. She recently booked a virtual speaking event for an elementary school where she will be giving a presentation to fourth-grade students about forest geology.
“When I was in fourth grade, that’s the age I was when I discovered that I wanted to be a scientist,” she says. “Going into these classrooms, I really hope that I can be a representation to these kids who don’t know that being a geologist is a thing that they can do.”
Cate’s online presence has also given her opportunities to speak and teach in person. She has given personal geology hiking tours and public tours, including one in Central Park in New York City, where she taught about the geologic history there.
One of Cate’s biggest accomplishments is the TEDx talk she gave in California at the University of California, Riverside. She spoke to an audience about the importance of social media as a tool to educate people about science and also the need for a new generation of geologists.
Unfortunately, there were technical difficulties with the video of her talk, and it is not published online. Nevertheless, it was a huge accomplishment for Cate.
Cate has also expanded her content to the podcasting world. She started her podcast called “The Schist of It” (schist is a type of rock) last November. Her goal with this podcast is to make science more accessible to the average listener as well as to science students.
A lot of the scientific research found online costs money to access, so Cate gives listeners a chance to learn about this research for free. In each episode of the podcast, she chooses a geology-related scientific paper and discusses it, teaching people how to analyze and understand it.
Cate also brings researchers who have written the papers she speaks about onto her show as podcast guests. This gives them a chance to present and explain their work and the research process.
She hopes to keep this podcast going for as long as she can.
For Cate, the most rewarding part of her geology communication work is the feedback she receives from her followers online.
“Being able to be an inspiration for people, especially young women and girls, and even older people who say, ‘You made me really like geology, I’m going back to school’ [is special],” Cate says. “I love seeing that because it’s so validating that what I’m doing is more than just posting silly rock videos, more than just being a face on social media.”
Over time, Cate has noticed that many people do not know that being a geologist is an option for them. She not only wants to teach people about geology, but she also wants to inspire others to study geology, too.
Because Cate works from home, it can be difficult to find a balance between working and resting. To help her avoid feeling cooped up at home, she likes to work outdoors.
Being able to make a stable income through social media and her communication work can also be a challenge for Cate. Most of the time, Cate does not charge people at her speaking engagements; instead, she speaks as a public service to educate people.
“I work for myself,” she says. “I work for the public. What I do is a public service and I just want people to appreciate that I do so much of this important work without any pay. I want people to be more accepting of this kind of work because it really is valuable to not just society, but to other geologists.”
Though Cate is proud of the work she does, she often feels like she is not taken as seriously by people and even other scientists because it is not a typical job for geologists.
“It’s important to do this kind of work and it is work — it is a geologist job,” Cate says. “It’s just not one that people usually think about, so they kind of look down on me for my work and it makes me feel like I’m not going to be taken seriously.”
The support from her friends and family helps to keep her going through these obstacles. She has also met many people online who do similar work and has made lasting connections with them.
“Everything on earth, if it’s not grown, it’s mined out of the earth,” Cate says. “Geology is really important because you need to know where those things are, how to get them, what they’re made of, what you can do with them and understanding the impact of our actions on the earth. It’s very important to study geology, not just because it’s super cool, but [because] it’s important to our daily lives.”
Her advice to other women who are passionate about a specific subject is, “Don’t be afraid to be really excited about something. Talk about it. Consider using a platform to talk about it and teach other people about it too.”