Peter Finke (Belgium)
Address:Department of Geology and Soil Science
Krijgslaan 281 9000 Gent
Position:associate professor in Pedology (since 2005)
1. When did you decide to study soil science?
This was halfway my study in Physical Geography at the University of Amsterdam, in 1984, when I entered what would now be called the MSc-phase. At that time, there were 6 majors to choose from, and after combining 3 of these for a semester or so (geomorphology, soil science & land evaluation and weathering & soil formation) I chose the one with the longest title while taking minors from each one of the others. With hindsight I wonder if I made a real choice, but anyway I do not regret it at all. The combination of subjects forced me to always keep an open eye for both the landscape, pedon and more detailed scales, and to not forget the user context.
2. Who has been your most influential teacher?
Johan Bouma from Wageningen University (although I never followed one of his courses). He was supervisor of my PhD-study, and he always emitted the right combination of enthusiasm and realism. All though there was no formal teaching, I learned a lot 'how to's' from him: writing a manuscript, organizing your own work, functioning in a project environment and keeping an open eye for what's hot and what's not (in soil science). As a good teacher should, he showed how it can be done, gave the opportunity to do it, and provided feedback thereafter.
3. What do you find most exciting about soil science?
The fact that the object of study is always near, readily observable but highly complex. A soil scientist needs to be both a generalist to be able to understand complexity and a specialist to be able to make scientific progress. To be a partly a reductionist and a holist certainly gives a positive tension which I find exiting.
4. How would you stimulate teenagers and young graduates to study soil science?
By asking them when they would or why they don't study it, and using their answers to dress up and fill the early parts of the soil science curriculum. The answer I got from teenagers (grew a few myself), as well as young graduates, was: tell us for what 'real world problems' we need it. As many teenagers have their first bit of soil science taught by non-soil scientists, it also very important to stimulate these teachers to tell an interesting story. So the indirect way, e.g. by offering refresher courses to teachers, may be very efficient.
5. How do you see the future of soil science?
On the occasion of the finalization of the soil map of the Netherlands, in 1995, I was asked to comment on the same question. At that time I made the distinction between soil science s.s. and s.l. to sketch likely development pathways. This I would still do today. If we accept that soil science can be cloaked as biogeochemistry, geo-archaeology, quaternary geology, edaphology, physical geography, environmetrics (etcetera), there is a bright future for soil scientists as these disciplines are very much alive. Soil scientists may prosper, but cloaking also reduces visibility, thus appeal for new students, thus the likeliness that above-critical mass groups of soil scientists can be maintained. This is not good for soil science as independent discipline. In the narrow definition, soil science will probably live until the mapping is done, which ending has been postponed thanks to the Commission on Pedometrics but will certainly come. So: it's time for the uncloaking of soil science!