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Career Profile: Pranoti M. Asher

American Geophysical Union

Pranoti Asher is the Manager of Education and Public Outreach programs for the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

Click on a topic below, or scroll down to read the entire profile: Current Job Description * Educational Background and Career Path * Key Decision Points in Career Path * Favorite Part of Job * Challenges in Job * Myths and Misconceptions * Advice * Future of Career Field

Briefly describe your current job responsibilities, perhaps by describing a typical day, week, month, or quarter.

AGU's education and public outreach (EPO) programs capitalize on the intrinsic allure of the Earth and space sciences, and their fundamental relevance to daily life. Through education- and career-focused events at annual AGU meetings, professional development workshops for teachers, special programs for pre-college and post-secondary students, awards for science educators, and printed and electronic resources, AGU offers an array of opportunities that expose students, teachers, and life-long learners to the freshest, most accurate scientific knowledge and the excitement of discovery.

The majority of the EPO work that is done plays a significant role in developing and nurturing the next generation of Earth and space scientists. Each project and program under the EPO umbrella ultimately will help AGU meet its goal related to workforce or "talent pool" development. Particular emphasis is being placed on building partnerships and collaborations that will increase the effectiveness of AGU's outreach efforts related to education.

As a Manager, I oversee the entire EPO portfolio for the organization. This includes not only creating and organizing programming for AGU's Fall Meeting held in December each year but also taking the lead on other initiatives and events that take place the rest of the year. A typical day or week is generally filled with meetings, blocks of time to write, and working on projects with colleagues and collaborators.

Briefly describe your educational background and career path.

As a fourth grader, I was influenced by my geography teacher and her love for field trips and collecting samples. Consequently, I always knew that I wanted to be a geologist. I grew up in Mumbai, India surrounded by the Deccan Traps and spent many years collecting zeolites and going to quarries and dreaming about being a geologist even before I took my first geology course in college! I received my B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees from India and then came to the US to pursue my doctorate at the University of Connecticut. During my doctoral studies, I discovered that I had a passion for teaching and decided that I wanted to be a faculty at a small college. My first couple of teaching positions were at small liberal arts colleges and from there I went on to be the one-person geology department at a community college. After that I moved to Georgia Southern University for a tenure-track position in a geology and geography department. My path was fairly traditional until my spouse (also a soft money supported planetary geoscientist with some part-time teaching duties in the department) finally got a hard-monied full-time position at a federal agency in Washington DC. After spending two years apart (while I searched and interviewed for a full-time position in the DC area unsuccessfully), I resigned my faculty position and moved to the DC area in early 2010 without a position in hand. After being unemployed for a few months I taught as an adjunct at two nearby institutions in the DC metro area during the fall of 2010, while I was still searching for a more permanent position. No sooner did I sign a contract with the two institutions, I landed my current position at AGU. In addition to completing my semester at the two institutions I also worked on a part-time basis at AGU for the last three months of 2010. Starting in 2011, I have worked at AGU on a full-time basis. I can't say that I miss grading student work, but sometimes I do miss teaching in the classroom.

What were key decision points or factors that were important in deciding your career path? Were there any specific challenges or difficult moments that arose while making your decision?

As a faculty member I was fortunate to have a very good mentor in my department chair. He encouraged me to get involved in leadership and other opportunities outside my own department. I was chosen as a faculty fellow at the University's Center for Excellence in teaching for a year, was awarded the College and University teaching awards, and was named the chair of the SE regional GSA meeting in Savannah, GA in 2007. Following that I was also the Associate Dean for Faculty and Research Programs in the College of Science of Technology at Georgia Southern. All these opportunities helped me hone my problem solving, project management, program management, and leadership skills which help me in my current position.

My spouse getting a hard-monied position was the real reason for the move. The most difficult moments came as I began my job search (and suddenly becoming a single parent to our young child) and continuing my faculty position. It required a lot of juggling of my time and commitments. I applied for many positions in the federal government as well as local universities and colleges in the DC area. I got many phone interviews and in-person interviews so I felt like I was competitive. Unfortunately, many of those positions got cancelled or went to someone on the inside. Still, as frustrating as it was it felt good to learn that the content of my CV and cover letter were competitive and getting me interviews. More importantly, I was grateful to my colleagues at Georgia Southern who wrote countless letters of reference on my behalf and spoke on the phone with a potential employer. The most difficult decision came when I decided that it was time to resign my faculty position and move to the DC area without a job in hand. But it was time to be back with my spouse for everyone's sake. I had had a great career as a faculty and it was now time for my spouse to build his career. I have no regrets as I spent six months of quality time being with my child and discovering DC.

What do you like best about your work?

I get to work with a very diverse group of folks with such varying backgrounds – some in the geosciences, some in journalism, some in the policy world, some in management, and everything else under the sun. It's all about being a big team to solve an issue or complete a project (in our case sometimes the project is AGU's Fall Meeting!)

What is the most challenging aspect of your work? What strategies have you developed for tackling that challenge?

In my position I find myself juggling and multi-tasking even more so than I did as a faculty. I find that challenging but at the same time it's a lot of fun to be thinking about sundry details of one project for a morning and then jumping to conversations at the strategic level about another. I find that my organization skills and the ability to have a synoptic view of things helps tremendously – no different that working on a geologic research problem. As geologists, we are used to thinking about big problems and them breaking them up into smaller chunks and what types of data we have to collect or what technique should be used to analyze samples etc. This has served me well in this position.

Are there any myths about your job that you would like to help dispel?

None, really!If you want to find out more, please get in touch with me.

What advice do you have for graduate students or post-docs preparing for careers in geoscience? What do you know now that you wish you had known as you started your career?

I have three pieces of advice for students or post-docs 1) If you have a passion for something, go for it. 2) Keep an open mind and look for opportunities to volunteer. Eventually they pay off! 3) It's true – you have to be able to communicate and work with others.

What do you see as the future of this career field?

AGU and its members are committed to the practice of relevant and timely scientific research and the communication of those results to the public—particularly as it relates to protecting America's national security, economic competitiveness, and public health and safety. Education and outreach play a significant role in AGU's mission. One of its major strategic goals is developing and nurturing the next generation of Earth and space scientists. Particular emphasis is being placed on exploring ways to strengthen the numbers and diversity of the Earth and space science workforce and helping to strengthen Earth and space science departments and undergraduate teaching at the college and university levels. This translates into working on projects not only at the K-12 level but also in the higher education arena with a variety of stakeholders (k-12 teachers, the public, department chairs, administrators, and policy makers). Other organizations and learned societies are also interested in many of these same issues. I see a very bright future for individuals who are interested in working in this arena in the near future.We have so much work to do!

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