Geological Science and Engineering

Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering
Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering

Alumni Spotlight: Sandra McBride

MSc '72, PhD '77

Starting as a student, completing both her Master's and PhD at Queen's in Geology (the first female to be granted a Ph.D. in Geology at Queen's), Sandra McBride spent the entirety of her career at Queen's. She taught over 4,000 students, passing on her love of Geology and inspiring many to pursue it as a career. Sandra was the recipient of a "Golden Apple" award in 1987 and an "Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching" in 1988. Now retired, it is easy to see the mark she has left on the Department, its faculty, staff and students. (photo to the left: Sandra in Iceland in front of columnar jointing, Summer 2014)

Take us through your Queen’s journey:

I came to Queen's in 1962 as a first year student, married in October and then, after final exams, moved to Rhode Island where my husband was working on his doctorate in physics.  I completed my undergraduate work at Brown University in Rhode Island. Eventually, in 1970, we came back to Kingston, my husband as a professor at RMC and me as a graduate student in Geology.  Miller Hall became a wonderful home to me for the next 45 years. As a student, a Head Teaching Assistant, a Lecturer and then an Adjunct Associate Professor, I have had such a wonderful and rewarding career in the Queen's Geology Department. Ed Farrar and Alan Clark were very supportive supervisors to work with on my Master's and PhD degrees. Al Gorman became a mentor and a true friend as I began my teaching career. Aside from the workday activities there was also the extracurricular – a high point was the many windsurfing trips, right after marking final exams, to the Outer Banks of  North Carolina with other members of the department. 

So many students have enriched my life - the girls who asked me to join the Gneiss Girls (later the Tuff Schists) intramural hockey team, - the students, profs and staff who played with me in the summer softball league on the “Rockhounds” team, where going out for wings and beer afterward was just as much fun as the actual games – and all the many students who attended my lectures, were excited by their new knowledge of the earth and became enthralled with Geology.

What was your most memorable experience as a student at Queen’s University?

My experience as a graduate student in geology was a very positive one and I have very happy memories, so it is hard to choose just one.  Perhaps the most memorable was writing Dr. Roeder's Geochemistry exam and noting on the exam paper the timing of my labour pains. My daughter Catrina was born the next day and that exam paper is on the first page of her baby book.

What do you find most rewarding about teaching?

The most rewarding aspect of teaching is seeing the “light” go on as students first grasp some concept about the earth. Realizing that you have passed on your love of geology to others is very satisfying. Even students who don't go on to major in Geology will sometimes send me a postcard from somewhere across the world and tell me how amazing it was to see this geological feature and to remember learning about it in my class.

What do you plan to do with your time now that you’re retired?

I plan to do a lot of traveling and see some of the geological features I have lectured about for years. I started this past summer with a trip to Iceland – it seemed, on that one trip, I saw so much of what I had been teaching   -  igneous rocks, columnar jointing, divergent plate boundary, glaciers, icebergs, hot springs, geysers, stacks along the shoreline, etc., etc. I was in Jamaica for a week at the beginning of January and there was construction at one end of the hotel. They were jack hammering holes into the bedrock for a foundation and then workmen jumped into the holes to shovel out the loose rocks. I shouted out through the fence “Hey, Mon” to one of the workmen and when he came over I told him that I studied rocks and could he please throw over the fence a few samples of the freshly dug rocks. After he did that, I passed him a few American dollars through the fence and he went back to his work, smiling and chatting with the other workers, probably telling them about the “crazy tourist”! I hope to have many such experiences in the future, starting with a trip to Costa Rica in February.

What advice would you give to younger alumni or current students?

Be prepared for lifelong learning and always be ready for new experiences.  When I started university I had no idea that I would end up teaching geology.

Left and center: Sandra gave her final undergraduate lecture at Queen's on November 27, 2014. Right: Sandra with Earth Ring recipients, 2014.


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