Live Event: February 15, 2018 at 1:00pm Eastern (US)
Stefan Burns is an Applications Geophysicist & TV Co-Host. For his job, both as a Geophysicist and Co-Host of Science Channel’s “Secrets of the Underground”, Stefan uses geophysical equipment to find oil, gas, and mineral deposits, record earthquakes, find underground treasures and explain unusual underground phenomenon. We asked him a few questions about himself and his STEM career to get to know him and his work a bit better before his live event.
Name Stefan Burns
Title Applications Geophysicist & TV Co-Host
Layman’s Title Geologist
Geometrics & Science Channel with “Secrets of the Underground”
Years in this organization/position?
I’ve been a geophysicist for three years now, and I just started my new job with Geometrics in January of 2018! I filmed as the Co-Host of Secrets of the Underground from summer to fall of 2016 for season 2.
What does your organization do?
Geometrics is a geophysical equipment manufacturer. They also research and develop new geophysical techniques, processes, and equipment. Geophysical equipment can be used to find oil and gas deposits, mineral deposits, record earthquakes, find underground caves, buried objects, map the seafloor, map earthquake faults underground, and so much more!
Secrets of the Underground is a show on the Science Channel which can be described as a mix between science and Indiana Jones. With the show, Rob Nelson and I traveled around the world in a quest to solve long answered subsurface mysteries.
What is your role in the organization?
With Geometrics I work closely with our customers to determine the best way to solve any problem they might have. I do this by selling geophysical equipment, providing training, on site assistance for important jobs, and more.
With Secrets of the Underground, I worked with Rob to uncover these underground mysteries, and I specifically was the geophysical “tech” guru. I ran and operated all the different geophysical equipment we used to try to find these underground treasures or explain unusual underground phenomenon.
What type of science, technology, engineering or math do you use in your career? And how often do you use them?
For my job at Geometrics a strong understanding of all of those fields is very important, and they are applied on the job nearly every day. A strong education and technical background is a must have for this field. After STEM is sufficiently mastered, social skills are a critical piece of the puzzle for my job (i.e. customer interactions), and I think that is often under-appreciated in the STEM fields as a whole.
As the tech Co-Host of Secrets of the Underground, a strong understanding of the STEM fields was critical in being able to quickly plan and execute geophysical surveys, all while filming! Knowing civil engineering concepts is very important when working in urban environments, and I used a lot of math when planning out my surveys.
How is the work you do important to society?
The work I do with Geometrics is important for society because it helps to drive the entire oil & gas industry, mining industry, and other research based applications such as ocean floor geologic mapping, earthquake monitoring, and more. By increasing our understanding of the Earth through geophysical exploration we can learn how to better protect our planet!
With Secrets of the Underground, I think it was really important that we portrayed the science and geophysics we were actually doing accurately. That combined with a fun and fast paced format created a show which I think did a great job at getting people excited about science and geophysics. I know when I was a kid I loved those types of shows and it really inspired my science career path.
What accomplishments are you most proud of in your current role?
I’ve only been with Geometrics for a month now, so I don’t have much to report back on yet, but with my career in the geosciences overall I’m really proud of the assistance I’ve been able to provide the environmental community throughout the SF Bay Area. I’m also really proud of how I helped increase the safety of a lot of construction sites through my geophysical site testing. Safety is very important and everyone wants to go home at the end of a work shift, and my job helped with that.
With Secrets of the Underground, I’m most proud of the positive impact Rob and I have had on the science community. I’m also very proud of everyone the show might have inspired to learn more about science and geophysics in particular!
What projects or goals are you currently pursuing?
I have quite a few personal projects I’m currently pursuing, and the main is the children’s book i’m set to release this March titled One Good Turtle. One Good Turtle is an inspiring story about a shy turtle and a fearsome alligator where the complex issue of bullying is addressed in an easy to understand manner, for kids and adults alike.
I’m also always active on my Instagram account @stef.burns, which I use as a platform to engage with the scientific community on Instagram and to teach others about geology and geophysics.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?
The biggest challenge I faced with Secrets of the Underground was learning how to be comfortable in front of the camera, and to figure out how to plan an execute a complex geophysical survey, all while filming and under a time crunch!
What is the most exciting, most amazing, or scariest thing that has happened to you during your work?
Some of the most exciting moments were when we visited the volcanoes of Italy: Mt. Vesuvius, Mt. Etna, and The Campi Flegrei supervolcano. Knowing such immense geologic power lies underneath your feet and could explode at any moment is quite the thought experiment.
Highest degree attained/ Schools attended?
B.S. Geology from the University of California – Davis
What educational accomplishments are you most proud of?
Taking my GPA in college from sub 2.0 (and academic probation) to a 3.94 GPA my senior year. Once I started taking Geology courses I increased my GPA for five straight quarters and became one of the top of the class for the geology major. All it took was a mindset shift and I studied hard!
What kinds of challenges did you overcome during your education?
The biggest challenge I faced during my schooling was an inflexible school system. The school system is designed around tests and memorization instead of real world problem solving, creativity, and getting hands on. Additionally, the school system isn’t designed to adapt well for gifted students, and as a result a lack of motivation and drive is commonly seen in kids that in other situations are extremely gifted intellectually. My talents weren’t brought out to the best of my abilities in school as a result of the aforementioned issues, and as a result I lost motivation to try hard in school. It was only till my geology coursework in college that I felt I have the right education environment to flourish.
Previous employers and positions that have lead to your current role?
Subtronic Corp – Geophysicist
Other positions not necessarily related to your current career
• Busser/Server at a hotel restaurant
• Worked at my Dad’s bakery for 10 years from the age of 6 to 16.
What were you like as a kid?
As a kid I’m same way as I am now! Curious, inquisitive, confident with what I know well and quiet yet learning with what I don’t. I was also full of energy, always running around and exploring/learning about my environment.
Favorite classes/coursework in elementary school, middle school, high school, college?
The sciences of course! I specifically really enjoyed my biology and chemistry classes, as well as the Earth Science classes. In college I think all the geology classes were fantastic, but the history of life/paleontology classes were especially interesting.
What were your favorite books/shows/movies when you were a kid?
Books: Lord of the Rings, Ender’s Game, Earthsea, basically all science-fiction and fantasy books.
Shows: Discovery Channel, Science Channel, History Channel. Nature Documentaries like Planet Earth.
Movies; Star Wars, Lord of the Rings
What did you think you were going to be when you grew up at age 12? At age 15? At age 18?
To be honest I had no idea! What I wanted to be when I grew up was always changing, and it still is! Wherever I best see opportunity in a field that i’m passionate about is a direction I might go with my career/life.
When did you know you wanted to pursue your current career, and what drove you towards it?
I knew I wanted to pursue the geosciences when I took a geology class and lab at my local junior college. Getting hands on with the different rocks and minerals in the lab was so much fun, and our field trip was a blast. I switched majors from history to geology once I was at Davis because of that class.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what other career(s) might you have pursued?
Oh man, so many things! I’m not a fan of just geophysics, but of all science! When I was a kid I at one point wanted to:
• Be a sea turtle biologist and help protect sea turtle populations
• Be an engineer because I loved LEGOS
• Work in the wine industry as an oenologist (wine maker)
• Work as a anthropologist, studying our ancient past
Later into college I also developed a strong passion for exercise science and nutrition, and I definitely could have pursued a job where I can help people live healthier, happier lives.
What are your favorite hobbies or activities you do for fun?
I love to go hiking and exploring. California is a huge state with such a diverse range of environments so I love exploring the different less traveled sections of California.
Do you play any musical instruments or play any sports?
I played trumpet all through High School and into college, and I also started to learn the piano while in college.
I played water polo in High School and also did swim team, but didn’t play any sports in college. In college I started to participate in the sport of powerlifting, and I’ve stayed active in that community and sport ever since.
What is your favorite non-science book, magazine, or blog?
• Non Science Book: The Wheel of Time Series
• Non Science Magazine: Reason
• Non Science Blog: Any travel blog
What’s the most frequently played song?
It’s always changing, but I love classical music, jazz, rock, metal, electronic, and more!
Who do you look up to and admire?
I look up to and admire those who make it their mission to make the planet a better place to live. Educators, Scientists, Social workers, etc. As for individuals, I admire individuals such as David Attenborough, a world renowned conservationist, and Elon Musk a science first paradigm shifting entrepreneur.
What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your career?
Learn to do your homework and seek out help if you need it! I was stubborn about both of those things until college and I would be much farther ahead if I had learned that lesson earlier! It actually makes everything easier believe it or not! Beyond that, I think learned how to network is critical to a successful career, and the key to that is to develop unique skill sets others might not have which put you into a desirable position. Networking never worked for me when I was just trying to talk and communicate with other professionals I met until I developed unique skills (like public speaking skills) which they found desirable.
What advice would you give students in general?
Get 8-9 hours of sleep every night as it’s hugely important for brain development, do your homework, and if school isn’t stimulating (as it was for me) then find an extracurricular activity which really engages your passion (or teach yourself)!
What are some interesting places you’ve traveled?
Interesting places I’ve traveled include:
• in the center of oil refineries, surrounded by tons of crazy machinery
• Jamaica, which has a very very different culture than the USA and was quite the experience
• The giant redwoods of northern California, which are sooo tall it blows your mind
• The rural countryside of Poland, which I found interesting because I’m half Polish
@stef.burns on Instagram