Princeton A-Z | Search

Sarah Hougen Poggi '92, Assistant professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Georgetown University Hospital


Why I chose geosciences

I entered Princeton in 1988 thinking I would probably go to medical school, but with no clear plan in terms of a major. I took the usual pre-med courses and freshman requirements, but for something different I signed up for a freshman seminar called ''Mines, Mining, and Mark Twain'' taught by Professor Ken Deffeyes. I pretty much signed up for the Mark Twain part, but I was really impressed by Deffeyes and became interested in the copper barons in Butte, Montana.

Deffeyes offered me a position as a ''gofer'' for a consulting firm he worked with, Biomyne, a gold prospecting outfit based in Dillon, Montana. The Princeton geologists (including Professor Rob Hargraves) would analyze field maps and identify areas more likely to have disseminated gold. Crews would then go into the field to collect samples for analysis. They needed young folk like me to help with chores, driving, and carting specimens. Never even having taken earth science in high school, I was taught some basics in field geology by Deffeyes, Hargraves, and others, and I enjoyed the fellowship of the field season.

In the spring of my sophomore year, I decided to major in the Department of Geological and Geophysical Sciences (now the Department of Geosciences). Many of the prerequisites were the same as the pre-med requirements (chemistry, physics, math), and the biology was really the only additional work I had to do. I really liked the puzzle of it all, figuring out the timing and sequence of events that lead to a certain geological situation. My parents were a little concerned with my decision, but they didn't interfere.

I returned to Biomyne the following summer. After my junior year I worked for Amoco's Gulf Shore Oil Division in New Orleans, which was a great time and exposed me to corporate geology. I assisted Hargraves with an ongoing research project, again in Montana, following my senior year. I had the good fortune to be a coauthor on four papers coming out of my junior projects and senior thesis, on the Mauna Loa volcano and a new meteorite impact structure discovered by Hargraves while searching for gold. Thus he and Deffeyes taught me to be a scientist -- the drudgery and the glory -- which led me to where I am now.

Value to my career

By the summer I worked for Amoco, I had decided a career in geology was not for me. The oil industry was tanking, and no one really did ''hard rock'' geology (like metamorphic petrology) except in hard-to-find, poorly paid academic positions. Plus, I really liked actively working with people. So I returned to my original plan and enrolled at Yale's medical school, where I ended up writing my thesis on breast calcifications. I would trudge up to the geology building and analyze these calcium buildups with the help of Catherine Skinner, a geology buddy of Hargraves. I eventually authored a paper on the topic with Skinner and a breast pathologist.

I then did an OB-GYN rotation on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico (admittedly, I went for the rocks as much as for anything else). I fell in love with the specialty and, after marrying my medical school classmate Matt Poggi (with both Deffeyes and Hargraves in attendance), I went to UCLA for my residency. My blending of the geosciences and medicine continued while practicing OB-GYN -- on one occasion I was even on call during an earthquake. I also continued to go on recreational geology field trips, sometimes meeting up with Princeton students.

After all these terrific experiences, I decided to pursue a career in academic medicine via a fellowship in high-risk obstetrics, which I did at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. I have completed this additional training (three more years past my four-year residency), and am now active in research with a growing practice at Georgetown. I am very happy with how my life has turned out and pleased with my decision to buck tradition a bit and major in geology.

prev | next | top