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Career Profile: Pamela Burnley

Pamela Burnley. Photo courtesy of Pamela Burnley.

University of Nevada - Las Vegas

UNLV is a public research university.

Pamela Burnley
is one of the leaders of the 2009 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 Pamela Burnley'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 at MS and PhD in Geology from UC Davis after obtaining an undergraduate degree in Geology from Brown University. After grad school I worked as a post doc at Cornell, Princeton, and then CU Boulder for a total of 7 years. My first faculty position was at Georgia State University. I earned tenure and was there 9 years. I am now at the University of Nevada Las Vegas in a research faculty position.

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

My current position is focused on research so I only teach one class per year. I spend most of my time doing my research and writing as well as supervising my students. I also have some service responsibilities; I serve on an NSF panel, am an editor for Physics and Chemistry of Minerals, and serve on several departmental committees.

What do you like best about your work?

I like feeling connected to the Earth, working with students, learning new things, and solving problems.

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

Coping with unrelenting expectations for high productivity.

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

I have strong communication and writing skills. I have always aggressively pursued external funding for my research and I made an effort to obtain some teaching experience early in my career.

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.

My husband has a PhD in physics. The two body problem has always been a challenge. The expectations and values you received from your family of origin, those of your professional colleagues, and society at large will probably always be in conflict, especially if you are a woman. The best you can do is figure out what your own values are and try to be true to them.

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?

My advice is to seek ways to compete for and obtain external funding, preferably with yourself as PI. Get some teaching experience but focus on research and publications if you want a university career. Seek to diversify your research skills beyond those obtained for your PhD, but then figure out what you're good at and focus on being productive.

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