Alumni Profile: Dr. Phil Stokes

Phil Stokes.

Dr. Phil Stokes at the Worlds Largest Fossil Dig at Penn Dixie, August 2018.

Phil Stokes at Blue Hereon Music festival in Herman NY.


How did you become interested in geology?

Geology is so broad that it is difficult to recall when I first appreciated the field as a whole. I’ve always been interested in Earth’s history of life and catastrophic death which is often referenced -- sometimes inaccurately -- in books and media. Ironically, my fascination came full circle. I recall one childhood experience from the early 1990s -- around the same time as the Buffalo Bills Super Bowl run. Acting on a tip from a coworker, my dad took me to an abandoned quarry south of Buffalo -- the former Penn Dixie Cement quarry. We were told by the coworker to look for fossils from animals called trilobites and brachiopods. “Brachiopods -- what the hell are those?” we asked ourselves as we looked through piles of crumbly shale. We were inexperienced, but enthusiastic. Armed with a card featuring common marine fossils and a shovel, the adventure began.

What is your current job and how does your geology background influence it?

My current job is to oversee a small nonprofit, the Hamburg Natural History Society, and supervise day-to-day operations of the Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve in Hamburg. I think it would be hard to do my job without a basic understanding of the scientific process and general geology concepts. Our business includes a challenging combination of science education, hospitality, and traditional nonprofit roles like advocacy and community relations. Our programming is wrapped in philosophical questions that are central to geology but often overlooked in an age where no one seems to understand the origins of drinking water and other natural resources.

What academic degrees do you have, and from what institutions?

I received B.S. (2004) and M.S. (2007) degrees in Geological Sciences from SUNY Buffalo and a PhD (2016) in Geosciences with a minor in Teaching, Learning, and Sociocultural Studies from the University of Arizona.

How did your education at UB influence your career, and what was the most memorable aspect of your time at UB?

Working with expect UB Geology faculty always felt like a privilege. How fortunate was I to hike around Utah while learning the finer points of punctuated equilibrium from Chuck Mitchell? Back at camp, I looked forward to campfire chats with Tracy Gregg: Planetary Geologist Extraordinaire -- and polka wizard. Or, coaxing Marcus Bursik -- volcanology phenom -- to sing along to Jailbird Rock on the ukulele. I wondered: what were other people doing with their summers? Could it be this cool? And, how did this gem of a program stay so well hidden?

What advice do you have for people considering a degree and career in geology?

Consider the fragile, temporary nature of life and seek a path that will keep you interested and engaged through highs and lows. Success and happiness are not guaranteed. But, you can make life a little easier by choosing a major or career that speaks to your passions and drives you to work hard towards your goals every day.


Phil Stokes, Chuck Mitchell, Travis Nelson, in Dinosaur Park NM.

Dr. Phil Stokes, Dr. Chuck Mitchell, Travis Nelson, at Dinosaur Park, New Mexico (Field Camp 2018).