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Career Profile: Jean Bahr

Jean Bahr. Photo courtesy of Jean Bahr.

University of Wisconsin - Madison

UW-Madison is a public research university.

Jean Bahr
is one of the leaders of the 2007 Preparing for an Academic Career in the Geosciences Workshop. Prior to the workshop, we asked each of the leaders to describe their careers, for the benefit of workshop participants, by answering the questions below.

Click on a topic to read Jean Bahr's answer to an individual question, or scroll down to read the entire profile: Educational background and career path * Current job responsibilities * Best part of the job * Challenges and strategies * Qualifications * Balancing work and life * Advice

Briefly describe your educational background and career path.

  • B.A. Geology Yale University 1976
  • 4 years of geotechnical/hydrogeologic consulting prior to entering graduate school, including 2 years based in Mali, West Africa
  • M.S. 1985 and Ph.D. 1987 Applied Earth Sciences (Hydrogeology), Stanford University
  • 1987 to present faculty member at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, currently Professor and Chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics

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

As a department chair, I find myself juggling even more responsibilities than I did as a regular faculty member. There is really no typical day or week. Over the course of the semester I spend varying amounts of time dealing with department issues of faculty and staff recruiting and retention, budgets, graduate student issues, fundraising with alumni and our foundation, and administrative duties required by my college and university. All of this involves many formal and informal meetings, email traffic and written reports. I also teach one class per semester, this year shared with a colleague, so I have lecture and exam preparation, grading, and interactions with students. I am supervising 4 graduate students and spend varying amounts of time with them discussing their research, reviewing drafts of thesis chapters, and occasionally (the most fun) doing a bit of field work. I'm also involved in two other programs on campus: a geological engineering program and a graduate program in Water Resources Management and attend faculty meetings and serve on committees such as undergraduate curriculum and graduate admissions for those programs. Finally, I have been involved for a number of years, and formerly was faculty director, of a residential program for undergraduate women in science and engineering. Last fall I attended a weekly evening dinner/seminar with students in that program and also took them on a weekend camping trip.

What do you like best about your work?

Interacting with students is probably the most satisfying part of my job.

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

Interacting with difficult colleagues and dealing with tight state budgets are the greatest challenges. In the former case, lots of patience and a supportive group of other department chairs with whom I can share stories have been very helpful. Fundraising with alumni to meet our needs outside of the state budget, particularly for field trip support, is one strategy that mitigates some of the budget challenges.

What qualifications do you think made you competitive in your job search(es)?

My first job out of college was with a firm that I had interned with during the summer after my sophomore year in college. That internship was something I found through a lot of pavement pounding. I had two other summer internships during college that were facilitated by faculty.

In the job search that brought me to Madison, I was actively recruited to apply based on my record at Stanford and visibility of some presentations I gave at national meetings. This was also at a time when there were relatively few departments in the US with hydrogeology faculty and the visibility of hydrogeology was on the rise due to increased concerns about groundwater contamination.

Many of the graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in these workshops are interested in balancing a family and career, in dual career couple issues, and in how other personal choices affect the search for a fulfilling career. Please share information about your situation, your ideas and experiences.

I am single and have no children. This is partly by choice, but also a function of the demands of the tenure track (or my perceptions of the demands), which made it difficult for me to find a healthy balance between my career and personal life during the period that I might have been able to have children if I wanted them. My observation is that in the last 2 decades academic institutions have become more accommodating to junior faculty who are part of a dual career couple and to women whose biological clock and tenure clock are ticking at the same time.

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

Any academic job is a juggling act of research, teaching, and administrative/service duties. However, the balance among these and how the various components of the job are valued by your colleagues and your institution vary significantly as a function of the type of institution. It is important to identify the type of balance that is a good fit to your interests and talents.

I wish I had known more about negotiating when I started my career.