Undergrad research at MHC sparked a career in climate science

Yarrow Axford '97 working with a student. Photocredit: E. Molony.

Yarrow Axford ’97 working with a student. Photo credit: Eilleen Molony.

Yarrow Axford ’97

Associate professor, Northwestern University

Academic focus: geology major, environmental studies minor

Advanced degrees: M.S. in geology, Utah State University; Ph.D. in geological sciences, University of Colorado

I was thrilled, as a rising senior at Mount Holyoke, to have a chance to join Al Werner, professor of geology, for summer field research in the wilds of Alaska. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — and it led me to my career path.

For my senior thesis, I used a sediment core from our fieldwork to reconstruct past climate change. I loved the research so much that after Mount Holyoke, I pursued a master’s and eventually a Ph.D. in paleoclimate. Today I'm a professor at Northwestern University, where I teach courses on climate and paleoclimate and lead a research group that focuses on reconstructing past climate change in the Arctic using lake sediments.

If someone had told me while I was at Mount Holyoke that this would be my career path, I wouldn't have believed them. I tried other geology-related jobs, worked as a technical writer for a bit, and almost applied to law schools before pursuing a Ph.D. But the joys of researching and teaching climate and earth science kept pulling me back.

I credit Mount Holyoke’s wonderful geology faculty with opening my eyes to the excitement of earth science, and Professor Werner’s generous mentorship for getting me started in a field of research that would become my passion.

Read also: Unlocking an arctic mystery