Career Profile: Tim Bralower
Pennsylvania State University
Penn State is a public research university
is one of the leaders of the 2006 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 Tim Bralower'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.
I received a BA from Oxford University in Earth Science in 1980. I then came over to the US and went to Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD. My first year was pretty much a disaster and I failed my oral exam. I ended up doing a consolation MS degree and this really got me going. I received my PhD in Earth Science from SIO in 1986. I went straight to Florida International University as an Assistant Professor in 1987 and then went on to UNC-Chapel Hill in 1990 also as an Assistant Professor. I received tenure and promotion to Associate Professor in 1993 and became Department Chair and Full Professor at the same time in 1998. I came to Penn State in 2002 as Head and Professor.
Briefly describe your current job responsibilities, perhaps by describing a typical day, week, or semester.
I am continually multi-tasking. I try to teach every semester and have two or three research projects going as well as two or three graduate students. As Head of a large program I have a lot of administration with oversight of faculty and staff evaluation, which takes up much of my spring. I devote my summer to research and try to block everything else out. I cut travel down to one trip per month. During the semester my days are pretty much half full with meetings, classes, and other obligations, but once again I always try to block off time for research and class preparation.
What do you like best about your work?
Teaching and contact with great students, both undergraduate and graduate. Flexibility and being able to decide what to work on and when to work. Wonderful colleagues at Penn State and elsewhere.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work? What strategies have you developed for tackling that challenge?
Constant bombardment via e-mail. I like to be responsive but it can be consuming. If I have to do something like write a letter, proposal, or manuscript, I turn e-mail off.
What qualifications do you think made you competitive in your job search(es)?
A couple of papers that came from my MS project were instrumental. Also my fellow students and I held intense mock interview job talks with some pretty brutal questions and criticism. Otherwise I have to say I was pretty young and naive a lot more so than my current students.
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.
First of all if you are not happy personally it will be very hard to be productive professionally. Do not even think about working 7 days a week 365 days a year. You absolutely have to take enough vacations every year that you can get away from work and spend quality time with your friends and family. My wife is a writer and artist and we have a 5-year old son. I feel fortunate that we do not have to deal with the two career faculty issue because it places a lot of burdens on a relationship and it can be really hard for both spouses to find a happy job situation at the same institution. My advice is not to expect two tenure track positions on Day 1 -- very few schools have that type of money -- but to find a position for the "trailing" (I'm sorry about using that term) spouse that will allow him or her to find a niche. If your wish is both to end up in tenure track positions, then both of you should make yourselves invaluable at that institution and be patient.
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?
Get publications out as soon as you can. These are absolutely critical in the selection of the interview short list. Really think about what type of school will make you happiest for the long term. You should expect to have to be good at everything at every type of institution. Liberal arts universities are going to expect great research just as most public research institutions are going to expect great teaching. The balance at the two types of universities will be different, however. When you interview, really find out whether faculty and students are happy at that institution and whether you would want them as your colleagues. For your first job try not to stress too much about location. If you are productive then there are always opportunities to move. More important are the fit, your colleagues, and the opportunities at the institution.