Julia Daly
Associate Professor of Geology

Ph.D., University of Maine
M.S., University of Delaware

“I started as a History major, and then I took a Geology class. We went on a study trip to the Badlands in South Dakota and I loved it. I loved being outside. I loved the fieldwork. That’s when I realized there was no way I was going to spend my days shut inside a library,” said Associate Professor of Geology Julia Daly.

Daly might never have discovered Geology, if not for her own liberal arts education, which enabled her to take courses in many different subjects. “You take a course where you didn’t anticipate making connections, and you find them — that’s when the light bulbs go off!”

And Daly has a message for her students, whether they are Geology majors, aspiring science teachers or still trying to figure out what they are going to do in the future. “Be prepared for a good time. Be prepared to think critically. The best review I ever got from a student evaluation was that my class required too much critical thinking — yes, I thought — because there’s no such thing as too much critical thinking,” Daly said.

Stop, Look and Discover

“One of the best things about Geology is getting outside,” observed Daly. “What we do in the classroom is important, but you learn a ton in the field — because when you can actually see specimens in their natural environment — you understand the context of the problem you’re studying.”

That’s why, even in her introductory classes, Daly will take students on four or five field labs. She considers anywhere within an hour of campus as part of her extended field area, and she often takes students on fossil hunting trips to the nearby Sandy River.

“Ricker Hall, where we have our classes, is built on beach deposits, even though we’re two hours away from the ocean. The land here in Farmington is flat because 8,000 years ago the glacial ice weighed the earth’s crust down. When the ice melted away, the land had been pressed so far down that the ocean was able to flood it briefly, so we have these flat-topped beach deposits along the Sandy River valley,” Daly explained.

During the winter months, Daly and her students take over UMF’s Prescott Field for their research. She and her students dig snow pits, identify the layers of precipitation and compare their findings with weather records using the same techniques as climate researchers do in Greenland.

“I want my students to make the connection between the landscape in which we walk and drive around everyday and how it relates to the geologic story,” Daly said.

Inquisitive, Open and Friendly

Daly said the she loves UMF’s small class sizes — her biggest class has 40 students and her labs have 20 — that really let her get to know her students. “Lab is fun. Lab is the time when you get to know people. It’s much easier to talk with people and establish a dialogue in lab,” Daly said.

“I have great students. UMF students are inquisitive, open and friendly. And those qualities are helpful, because we try to foster collaboration and communication between students and faculty. When students are comfortable participating in class and asking questions that makes the research possible.”

“Here we have developed a research program that can engage students,” Daly said. She and her fellow faculty members believe it’s important to provide undergraduates with hands-on research experiences.

Mountain Lake Research

Every summer, Daly and her student researchers collect data by backpacking to 24 remote lakes atop the mountains of Maine and New Hampshire, including Saddleback, Tumbledown and most recently Baxter State Park. “My students tell me it’s the best summer job, ever. It’s pretty cool. Our longest hike is to Cloud Pond. It’s a long day hike because we carry in all our instruments and equipment, including two inflatable kayaks,” Daly said.

At each lake, Daly and her research assistants recover submerged data loggers, collect water samples and take measurements at various depths. She eventually plans to compare all this information with core samples from the lake bottoms to see how the lakes have changed over time.

“We’re invested in collecting this data because no one has looked at these alpine lakes this way before,” Daly said. “I’m interested in the active processes in the lakes and how they are responding to climate. We’re tracking data to tell whether or not our limited alpine areas in Maine are being forced by climate change.”

Field Study That Goes Places

Daly and her fellow faculty members take their rock show on the road during May Term with a three-week study trip to Newfoundland or the Colorado Plateau, or Ireland and Scotland. Each of these trips takes students to areas of unusual geological features, like the volcanic columns that form the Giant’s Causeway in North Ireland. ”

“Yes, we like to get out and see something different,” Daly said.

Fieldwork gets Messy

“One of the best things about Geology is getting outside,” observed Daly. “What we do in the classroom is important, but you learn a ton in the field — because when you can actually see specimens in their natural environment — you understand the context of the problem you’re studying.”


“One thing that’s important to me in classes is working with real numbers. I encourage students to go out and collect their own data. So we go to the Sandy River and we measure the size of the river channel and how fast the water is moving. Then we calculate how much water is moving down the river at Prescott Field. We take those similar measurements at different points along the river, and compare our calculations to other research records. There are often discrepancies,” Daly said.

Sometimes her students’ data just doesn’t add up, and they have to rethink the problem and check and recheck the figures. It’s all part of Daly’s lesson plan, which highlights the value of hands-on learning.

“It’s easy to look at a textbook problem, but that’s not what my students are going to find in real life. When they’re out working as city planners or environmental consultants, they’re going to have real numbers. Sometimes real numbers are messy and the data doesn’t always work out. I’d rather my students work on solving those problems in class, so they know how to handle the challenges that real life can bring,” Daly explained.

Crunching Numbers

“The biggest hurdle for many students in the sciences is that they are really uncomfortable with numbers. The reason I make students in all my classes work with the data is that if you avoid the math, it simply becomes more intimidating. If you sit down and work with a little chunk of numbers, then eventually you develop a better sense of what the numbers mean and how to handle problems,” Daly said. “When my students start worrying about the math, I tell them that we’ll work through it together and approach it in a lot of different ways.”

Geology & Community Service

Daly, a former president of the Geological Society of Maine, now administers the Society’s educational outreach program for Maine school teachers. “We’re hoping to run workshops for science teachers helping them learn how to read geologic maps. I also want them to have geologic maps of their towns. That way when they can work with the students, they can literally look out the window and make a much closer connection to the local landscape,” Daly said.

Daly also serves the International Appalachian Trail. The mission of this group is to create and maintain a walking trail along the Appalachian mountain chain in Canada and the U.S. as well as in its geological counterparts in Greenland and Europe to promote adventure tourism.

A Geo-Duo

Daly is married to UMF Associate Professor of Geology Doug Reusch, with whom she shared a teaching position for 10 years. “It’s a real bonus for UMF because they are getting two diverse areas of expertise in hiring the two of us. We do different kinds of geology and teach different courses. It’s been great for the students, and it gives us more flexibility and time to do research,” Daly said.