Geography: An Integrative Science and Springboard to a Fantastic Career

Hello everyone! I am pleased to share with you the impact that coming to OSU and joining the Atmospheric Sciences Program in the Department of Geography has had on my career and my personal life. I joined OSU as a masters student in the Atmospheric Science Program (ASP) in 1973. I had just made my first big career decision which was to relinquish a fellowship in the Department of Physics at Miami University (Oxford, OH) because I realized that I lacked the passion or what is often call “the fire in the belly” required to spend 5-years on a PhD. I then spent two years working in the IT section of a medical bookkeeping firm in Columbus and considering my options. Eventually I accepted a fellowship at OSU in ASP which, at that time, was housed in the Department of Electrical Engineering. Soon thereafter, ASP was transferred to the Department of Geography under the direction of Dr. John Rayner. This provided an excellent situation for me and was also a very formative event for ASP. The move to a department that values diverse forms of scholarship and encourages collaboration across multiple areas of inquiry provided a much broader canvas on which I was able to develop my career.  Three other very important occurrences during my first year were the choice of Dr. John Rayner as my academic advisor,  my new affiliation with the Institute of Polar Studies, forerunner of the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center (BPCRC), and meeting two of my closest friends and colleagues, Claire Parkinson and Keith Mountain, also ASP students, with whom Lonnie and I have maintained 45+year friendships.

My B.S. from Marshall University (Huntington WV) was in physics and math and I never had the opportunity to take a class in climatology or meteorology and I was never required to write a research paper. Fortunately, once I was ensconced in geography I had the opportunity to take a course on Geographic Thought taught by Edward (Ned) Taaffe. In addition, my advisors John Rayner and John Arnfield were excellent professors and skilled writers and from them I developed a deep interest in climate science and gained very strong writing skills. Over the years, my students have commented regarding how much “red ink” I have placed on their theses and research papers; however, they were unaware of the volume of “red ink” my advisors had placed on mine.

As a student affiliate in the Institute of Polar Studies (IPS) I was quickly immersed in the excitement of all things “polar”, and my interest in Antarctica grew. Simultaneously, I joined Lonnie Thompson, my spouse and fellow graduate student (Earth Sciences), in the development of our research program focused on ice core paleoclimatology, a relatively new area of scientific inquiry.

Job # 120504
Ellen Mosley-Thompson and Lonnie Thompson
Scott Lab
Photo by Jo McCulty
The Ohio State University

Again I was fortunate that Drs. Rayner and Arnfield were very supportive as I developed an “individualized’ multidisciplinary graduate program to include classes in paleoclimatology, glacial geology, geochemistry, isotope geochemistry, and scanning electron microscopy taught by Professors Goldthwait, White, and Faure (Earth Sciences). This was a busy and exciting time as Lonnie and I continued developing the ice core paleoclimate research program, writing proposals to support our research, and publishing our first papers. The most important event occurred in 1976 when we welcomed our daughter, Regina.

By 1980, we had completed our PhD studies (Lonnie in 1976 and me in 1979), obtained research positions in the IPS, and developed a growing research program attracting national and international interest. Regina was now 6 years old, so I decided it was time to take the plunge and engage in my first Antarctic field season. An opportunity arose to join a team of Swiss and American scientists and ice core drillers at South Pole Station (SPS) in 1982 to collect a 300-m long ice core for paleoclimate studies. Scientifically this experience was magnificent, but it was an eye opener when I realized how few women were engaged in Antarctic research . There were only two women at SPS that year, and the other was a construction contractor. I soon realized that most of the U.S. ice core drilling projects were being conducted at or near established bases. At that time the U.S. only had three stations located in areas of the ice sheet where cores could be drilled and this limited our opportunities to examine the “spatial” aspects of our ice core-derived climate histories. At the same time I was very engaged in the NSF’s Polar Programs’ Advisory Committee which positioned me to address two systemic issues. These were securing greater support for scientists who wanted to conduct research at remote locations where no previous ice cores had been drilled and promoting greater opportunities for women to not only participate in field programs, but to serve as team leaders at remote field camps.

Fortunately, in 1985 I was funded to lead a drilling project at Siple Station, Antarctica and thus, my second goal was achieved. The photo (left) includes two OSU alums. On the far left is Keith Mountain (PhD, ASP, Geography) and immediately left of me is John Paskievitch (B.S. Earth Sciences). The following year, 1986, my first goal was achieved when I lead a field team of six to drill two 200-meter deep cores at our ”Plateau Remote” camp, a site in East Antarctica located near the “Pole of Inaccessibility” which means the location that is furthest inland from the coast in all directions .

Fast forward 21 years during which I led multiple projects to drill ice cores at other remote sites in Antarctica and Greenland and you will see the progress that we have been able to achieve. The photo to the left is from our remote drill site at Crawford Point, Greenland (2007). Shown is my field team that includes two female OSU alums, Lijia Wei (PhD, Geography, ASP; second from the right) and Natalie Kehrwald (PhD, Earth Sciences; far right). Although there have been a number of accomplishments in my 48 years at OSU, I am so proud to have opened the door to enable more women scientists to lead remote field projects in both Polar Regions. I also served from 2009 to 2018 as the first (and still only) female Director of the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center (BPCRC).

But this story is incomplete. During the 11 years after my graduation, John Rayner and others including Larry Brown encouraged me to teach classes in Geography on an as needed basis. This kept me engaged with the faculty and students in Geography until 1990 when I joined the department as an Associate Professor and began developing courses focused on paleoclimatology, Earth system science, climate science, and climate and environmental change. I am so indebted to my advisors, Drs. Rayner and Arnfield, and my past and present colleagues in both the Department of Geography and the BPCRC  who continue to broaden and deepen my interest, understanding, and appreciation of the rich and complex relationships among Earth’s climate system, its environment, and its inhabitants, both human and otherwise. If I had not taken the risk of leaving basic physics and eventually pursuing climatology and atmospheric science, especially through the broad lens provided by geography, I certainly would not have had so many diverse experiences and worked with so many talented and interesting people both national and international and from within and outside academia. Moreover, I would not have been able to enjoy such beauty during a stroll home from work or engage in signing O-H-I-O from the “remote” Bruce Plateau drill site in the Antarctic Peninsula (see photos).

Ellen Mosley Thompson

Professor, Department of Geography

The Ohio State University

But Can She Type

I arrived at Ohio State in September, 1970 from the University of Wisconsin Whitewater unsure about my specialization and future career goals. My uncle Stan drove me to Columbus from my family home in Kenosha. I checked into Jones Tower, the graduate dorm, dropped off my uncle at the airport, and introduced myself to Ned Taaffe, the departmental chair. I was mightily impressed with the prospect of taking classes from Larry Brown, Reginald Golledge, Kevin Cox, George Demko, Howard Gauthier, and S. Earl Brown.

I was the only woman in my Year 1 class. It was pretty much the same at Whitewater so I just did my best to fit in by golfing with the guys at the Jack Nicholas course and TGIF events at the High Street taverns. I did quite a bit of baby sitting in the early years and got an inside look at how faculty members lived and balanced (or not) work and family life.

Second year graduate students were assigned offices in an old house on West 11th Street. It was a messy, decrepit place where the living room was a basketball court, and spatial analysis occurred on the upper floors. West 11th was exclusively male.

Golda Meir Poster

When I requested a transfer to West 11th to stay with my cohort, I was told that the men did not want women there. I was assigned a desk in the old map library in Hagerty Hall with Ph.D. students Vicky Rivizzgno, and Karen Walby. That was 1971 when the woman’s movement awakened our expectations and opportunities. I found the poster of Golda Meir in one of the local shops and hung it on our office door as a note of grievance and solidarity. I carried this poster with me and displayed it in my offices for the next 40 years. It was always the first thing people noticed when they came to see me, and they always wanted to talk about it.

Over the years, George Demko and Larry Brown nominated me for various leadership positions in the Association of American Geographers. When I served as President of the AAG (American Association of Geographers) in 1997-1998, I was sandwiched between Larry Brown as my predecessor and Reg Golledge as successor. I felt part of the OSU team in a way that maybe eluded me earlier. Just as Golda Meir was able to transcend the stereotype of women’s place in politics and society, I was inspired to find my full potential in the geographic profession with the help of my OSU mentors and colleagues.

Patricia Gober 11/1/2021

Patricia Gober, Research Professor

Arizona State University

Research to Action: Why are climate solutions diffusing so slowly?

45 years ago, OSU Geography gave me all the tools needed for a successful research career and life of public service.

When I was getting my PhD with three powerhouse geographers (Larry Brown, Reg Golledge, and Kevin Cox), I designed a large NSF (National Science Foundation)-funded survey to analyze the diffusion of innovations. We studied four Appalachian counties in Eastern Ohio that were struggling with their coal economies. We tried to explain the slow uptake of superior and greener technologies. Some of the these were energy-efficient, some were regenerative, and others were financial. We spent a whole summer completing a few hundred mail surveys of farmers ­and interviewing a few dozen equipment dealers, bankers, and policymakers. We were testing Larry’s view that communications (the focus of Torsten Hagerstrand, Larry’s advisor) are just one of many triggers. There are also key incumbent firms, disruptive newcomers, change agents, and key infrastructures with non-ubiquitous footprints.

Marilyn Brown with other Ambassadors of Clean Energy, Education, and Empowerment

We were licensed to use SPSS (spatial statistics tool) to complete OLS (ordinary least squares) regressions and I did some original point pattern calculations to test our largely successful hypotheses. The resulting publications strengthened the science of technological change, helped my tenure review in Geography at nearby University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UI-UC), and resulted in yet another book by Larry.

Marilyn Brown at Georgia Tech, 2018

After 15 years in the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech, I’m now a Regents Professor. Between Illinois and GT, I managed some large research projects at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This included producing U.S. climate change technology and policy scenarios – one I presented at COP6 at the Hague. I worked on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Panels and completed a national review of the U.S. Weatherization Assistance Program.

Marilyn Brown and others at IPCC in 2007. Marilyn Brown contributed to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment reports for which the IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

I also served 2 terms as a Senate-confirmed regulator of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) where I helped bring about the retirement of 18 coal units, the largest single shutdown of coal to date.

Swearing in ceremony for TVA appointment in 2013 (second term)

Along with learning to teach again (!), at Georgia Tech I’ve worked for 3 years as the research lead of the Drawdown Georgia project. And last month, we launched a new survey to explain the laborious uptake of superior and greener technologies in Georgia (sound familiar?), which makes for some interesting flashbacks.


We’ve designed a Qualtrics survey to explore hypotheses about our science-based localized climate solutions. And we’ve infused this research with equity questions. Thanks to an on-line panel design, our survey was digitally completed by 1800 Georgia residents in 3 days, well balanced and including an embedded experiment. The data is being examined using open-source RStudio software and a multi-stage model of “willingness to pay” for climate innovations. Combined with the Drawdown Georgia Business Compact and Emissions Dashboard, the scope of our research is broad, creative, and replicable.

Still, many questions will remain unanswered about why climate change solutions are diffusing so slowly. Clearly, we need more OSU-trained geographers.


Marilyn A. Brown, PhD, Geography, the Ohio State University, 1977

Regents’ Professor, Georgia Tech

Marilyn Brown

Then and Now

When I was invited to blog about “then and now”, I thought about historian David McCullough’s statement: “One might also say that history is not about the past. If you think about it, no one ever lived in the past… They lived in the present.” If then is made in the now as McCullough seems to suggest, now is also a piece of then. It is in this spirit that I see then, my time at OSU in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as a source of inspiration to the making of a protean career, and a piece of now as an economic geographer.

The “boundaried” career is centered on the organization, the university.  The tenure institution focuses academics on the needs and requirements of the university early on in an individual’s career.  In the 1990s, the old social contract gave way to newer forms of social contracts arising from downsizing and the emergence of smaller and innovation-driven firms.  Such instability also occurred in academia with adjunctivization.  The less predictable work organization resulted in greater instability for the employee but the protean career also sneaked up on me.

When I graduated from The Ohio State University (OSU) in the 1990s, I was confronted with such instability. Fewer academic positions were available and quantitative economic geography was on the decline.   Unlike other students of Emilio Casetti’s (my dissertation adviser), many of whom were assuming illustrious careers in major departments, I had graduated from OSU without a publication because I had spent my time in the Economics and Sociology departments expanding my understanding of international trade and Asia. The lure towards interdisciplinarity is a big piece of now. Graduating without a publication was not my biggest challenge.  Speaking the language of the expansion method was.  I decided early on to write my papers differently, focusing on the research question than the methodology. The first paper was a hit and was subsequently selected as a classic for a regional science volume.  I went on to publish more expansion method pieces despite warnings of doom from colleagues. Part of such early adaptability was honed from animated arguments with Edward Taaffe, Nancy Ettlinger and Kevin Cox, and the audacity to pry apart Larry Brown’s hot off the press “Place, Migration and Development in the Third World”. But one of the biggest resources, graduate students in Derby Hall, fomented a training ground that was to last a lifetime. Some rejected objectivism and forced me to reflect on my intellectual biases. Others tempted me with the lure of emerging geospatial technology. Enlarging boundary has allowed me to cross disciplinary and epistemological aisles, publish using a wide range of methodological tools, and enjoy a protean career as an economic geographer.

Then was a time of learning to embrace methodological pluralism, and now is a piece of then as such pluralism has continued to define my scholarly work. This centennial celebration has provided an opportunity for reflections, OSU being the place where I began my journey across boundaries. Congratulations on your centennial anniversary.

Jessie Poon, Professor, University at Buffalo (SUNY),

Co-Editor, Environment & Planning A,

Chair, Regional Studies Association