Peter Flaig; Featured Alumni
- Hometown/High School?
- Where do you reside now?
- What degree(s)did you obtain from UWM and when?
B.S. Geology University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2002; M.S. Geology (Sedimentology/Stratigraphy) University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2005; Ph.D. Geology (Sedimentology/Stratigraphy) University of Alaska-Fairbanks 2010; Post Doctoral Fellowship (Cretaceous Fluvial-Deltaic Systems) University of Texas at Austin, Jackson School of Geosciences, 2009-2011.
- What was your field of interest in Geology at UWM?
Clastic sedimentology with a focus on fluvial-deltaic and shallow marine systems.
- What brought you to UWM to study Geosciences for your degree?
I was born and raised in Milwaukee. I started at MATC to pursue a degree in photography, but decided that I wanted a science degree. I’ve loved rocks since I was a kid and fortunately found the geology department at UWM. My first class was a planetary geology course.
- What did you enjoy most about the department, UWM, and Milwaukee?
I liked the size of the department. It was small enough to get the personal attention I needed when I wanted it, but still big enough to have a diverse group teachers/researchers working on all types of research. UWM is in a great location; the neighborhoods around campus are walk-able and offer lots of fun choices for students such as coffee shops and entertainment. The houses around campus are beautiful and it is so very close to Lake Michigan. I like Milwaukee because it is a medium-sized city full of unique neighborhoods, and the people are very friendly. There is a lot to do in town on any given day and the community cares about art and architecture.
- What is your current job (or field of study) and how would you describe it to one of our current students (e,g,m what do you do, how rewarding is it)?
I am a Research Associate at the University of Texas at Austin. I work at the Bureau of Economic Geology which is really the State Geological Survey of Texas but is affiliated with UT-Austin. I am in charge of fluvial-deltaic and shallow marine systems at the Quantitative Clastics Laboratory. I also have a background in paleopedology (the study of ancient soils). I find it EXTREMELY rewarding. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
- Why did you choose this career?
I have been interested in geology since I was a kid. I spent many afternoons searching for fossils in limestone and minerals in rocks around my house in Milwaukee. I became a photographer but I found that something was missing in my life. Eventually I gravitated back to geology and found that photography and geology go hand in hand, especially if you are working in remote locations and want to “bring the outcrop home with you”. Being a good geologist and a good photographer both require creativity and imagination. Photographing local peoples, magical places, and other scientists doing what they love also energizes me.
- What's been your best experience in geology (or your career) so far?
Boy that is a tough question. I’ve had many, many great experiences as a geologist. I’ve had the good fortune to work in two of the most beautiful places I can imagine doing “frontier” geology in both, which is my favorite thing to do. I’ve worked on a Permian-Triassic succession in the Transantarctic Mountains of Antarctica twice with Dr. John Isbell (thank you John!) and have spent another 8 field seasons working on Cretaceous dinosaur-bearing coastal-plain and shallow-marine sediments in remote northern Alaska. I think that working on fossil-bearing continental and marine successions fulfills many of my childhood dreams. I enjoy investigating extinct, biologically-rich ecosystems at high latitudes where there is only tundra, ice and snow today. As a sedimentologists who often works with paleontologists, ichnologists, palynologists, and paleobotanists I get to try and identify ancient environments, ancient climates, and reconstruct ancient ecosystems...I love that. I get to see how the earth systematically changes naturally. Recently I’ve been working with LiDAR, scanning outcrops into 3-D space, which is both cool and useful for and capturing, analyzing, and measuring remote outcrops.
- In your career, have you gotten the opportunity to travel or to work with people as part of your job?
Man, have I ever. I was just trying to figure out if I spent more days at home last year or if I was away from my house more days last year. I started the year in Antarctica, came home and traveled to Houston, Calgary, Colorado and Alaska several times. I spent 30 days on the North Slope of Alaska doing fieldwork. I also drove across the continental US from California to Massachusetts, then flew home and drove back to Colorado from Texas. I try to attend several international, national, and regional geologic meetings each year and I meet all kinds of people there. I find that the more that I present my own research the more people I meet. I also work with all different types of professionals at my job including other researchers, students, geologists at the United States Geological Survey, the Alaska Division of Oil and Gas, the state surveys of Alaska and Texas, oil-gas-mining industry personnel, even high school and grade school teachers.
- What trait or thing(s) that you learned while in Geosciences at UWM has allowed you to succeed in your career?
I would say to pick something you are passionate about. This applies to all things in life, not just geology. If you choose to spend your “working” hours doing something that you are passionate about it won’t seem so much like work. It’s like working and doing your favorite hobby at the same time. New ideas flow more easily and life is more fun. Also, you will likely be good at it and someone may pay you well to do it. It takes sacrifice to get where you want to be but if you want it bad enough you can get it.
- Do you have any advice that you would give to our current students about their education or in selecting a career once they graduate?
Find people/personalities you want to work with. Often students and graduates don’t really think they have a choice about what to do or who to work with. That isn’t true at all, in most cases. Find someone you like, respect, and get along with. Interview THEM before you start a project or job with them. Talk with their colleagues and their students. Find out what a job-project-person is like before you commit your time. When you find something that fits you and excites you ask many questions. Allow yourself to be wrong. Allow others to mentor you.
- What is/was the hardest thing that you had to do in your career?
The #1 hardest thing I had to do was to move to Alaska and then to Austin. Even though I knew that I would learn new things, meet new people, and experience weird and exciting things by moving when I finished projects, moving is hard. You leave friends and family behind and miss things you never thought you would. The #2 hardest thing is to get up in front of people and talk about my research. Many people find this challenging, including me. I can tell you though that the more you do it the easier it gets. I give many talks each year about my research or my job. I’m always nervous, but I love what I do. When I finally start talking I find that I am typically so excited about what I’m talking about that I just want other people to know what I’m doing and why it is so important to me and why it should be important to them.