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Career Profile: Elizabeth Canuel

Elizabeth Canuel. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Canuel.

Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William & Mary

The VIMS School of Marine Science is the professional graduate school in marine science for the College of William & Mary. VIMS is a small public research university.

Elizabeth Canuel
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 Elizabeth Canuel'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.

After completing a B.S. in Chemistry, I worked as a technician for four years at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. I then completed a Ph.D. in Marine Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Following my Ph.D., I was an NRC Postdoc with the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, CA. I joined the faculty at VIMS/College of William & Mary in 1994. I received promotion to Associate Professor with tenure in 2000 and was promoted to Full Professor in 2006.

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

I try to balance my time between research (50%), education (35%) and administrative/governance (15%). I'm not sure there is a "typical week." I spend a lot of time reading and reviewing papers, proposals, theses/dissertations, etc. I also serve as Associate Editor for two journals. Other tasks that fill my time include: (1) proposal writing, (2) teaching and interacting with my students, (3) chairing the Academic Council at my institution and (4) fieldwork.

What do you like best about your work?

I enjoy teaching and working with students. I try to develop relationships with all of my students and guide them in ways that utilize their talents best and meet their long-term career goals.

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

I have two major challenges at present: (1) keeping my research program funded. In the current competitive climate, I typically write 5-10 research proposals each year. This requires considerable time and it can be disheartening when proposals are not funded even when recommended for funding. (2) I have recently signed a contract with Princeton University Press to write a book. Finding time to accomplish this with my already over-committed schedule is challenging.

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

My work experience both as a technician and as grad student and postdoc provided me with a realistic perspective of what is required to be a successful faculty member. I basically set up laboratories for my work as both a student and postdoc so I knew how to do it as a faculty member. I tried to compensate for lack of teaching experience by including course syllabi for courses I might teach as a faculty member. I also included abstracts for future proposal submissions.

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 part of a dual-career couple. Both my husband and I have been extremely fortunate. We have tenured, Full Professor positions at the same institution. We also have a nearly 10-year old son.

Early on, we decided that we would look for jobs that would be best for "us" rather than best for one or the other. While our institution is not perfect for either of us, we have both been able to do good work, access great students and generally have the facilities, colleagues and infrastructure needed for our work.


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?

I would encourage them to develop good writing habits. Try to develop a discipline of writing a bit each day or set aside a day per week with little/no distractions for writing.

Keep your eyes on the long-term goal. Choose projects carefully and accept governance or service assignments that support your long-term goals. Learn to say "no."


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