Julie Bartley, PhD

Julie Bartley, PhD

Professor of Geology and Environmental Studies

What are your areas of research and teaching expertise?

I teach courses that explore how Earth has changed over time. My courses include introductory courses (Geochemistry of the Environment; Our Planet: Introduction to Earth Science) and upper-level courses (Evolution of the Earth; Paleontology; Sedimentary Systems). My research investigates how life on Earth has shaped environments through Earth history. I study the fossil and sedimentary records of microbes and also investigate how we can recognize and interpret microbial records, both on Earth and on other planets.

What is your teaching style?

My teaching engages students with investigating observations and data that tell us how the Earth works and how it changes over time. Classroom and laboratory time is a mix of independent investigation, teamwork, and formal instruction. Students almost always have the opportunity to write and present in my courses, and they almost always have at least one assignment where they can choose the topic or the kind of work they do. Every course I teach has some component of field (outdoor) exploration, ranging in length from afternoon excursions to week-long field experiences.

I love that Gustavus encourages students to dive into their learning. To students, I say: embrace a topic or a discipline you've never tried before. Choose something interesting and challenging to do, even if it feels a little risky. Ask questions of yourself, of your peers, and of your professors, because real learning is a community effort!

Describe your "lightbulb moment."

I started out college as a chemistry major, but I knew I wanted to study how life on Earth evolved. I just didn't know how to get there! I even went to graduate school in Chemistry. My lightbulb moment happened in an interdisciplinary seminar when I heard a talk about how chemistry and biology intersect in the study of life's origins. At that point, I realized that Geology could bring together multiple sciences – Biology, Chemistry, Physics – and apply all that knowledge to understanding our planet. I promptly "changed majors" (as a PhD student) and became a geologist.

What do you enjoy outside the classroom?

I enjoy gardening and spending time outdoors.

Do you have an academic mentor?

My postdoctoral adviser, Andy Knoll, made a tremendous impact on my journey. He introduced me to remote fieldwork, to truly interdisciplinary inquiry, and to the challenges of academic research. He once said to me that he loved reading scientific articles, because they showed him the work that no longer had to be done, and he could focus his attention on adding to the story. That statement framed how I think about my academic journey – how can we add to the story?