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Career Profile: Robyn Wright Dunbar

Robyn Wright Dunbar. Photo courtesy of Robyn Wright Dunbar and Stanford University.

Stanford University

Stanford is a private research university.

Robyn Wright Dunbar
is one of the conveners of the 2011 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 Robyn Wright Dunbar'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 have a BA in Geology from Trinity University. I knew I wanted to be a university professor before I knew what my major would be. I earned my Masters (marine sedimentology) and PhD (sed/strat)from Rice University.

Directly after the PhD, I became an assistant professor at University of New Mexico (first woman to join that geology faculty). Later moved back to Rice as a Lecturer and Research Scientist. Started doing geoscience outreach while at Rice, including a "sabbatical stint" as a faculty intern at GSA headquarters to learn some of the science education and outreach "ropes." Moved into my current position at Stanford where I hold two positions: Senior Associate Director of our Center for Teaching & Learning; Associate Professor, by courtesy, of Geological and Environmental Sciences.

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

Very diverse and fluid! In a given quarter, wearing my "geology professor hat," I might be teaching Introductory Geology or Geology of National Parks as well as planning this summer career prep institute. At the same time, wearing my "CTL hat," I might teach a class on Science Course Design and/or lead a variety of teaching workshops for graduate students and faculty. I consult 1:1 with a broad range of science and engineering faculty about course design, management, and/or evaluation, and supervise a cohort of experienced graduate consultants who do the same for TAs. As part of a 3-person team, I plan and implement university-wide, quarterly TA orientations and participate in a wide range of TA training events in specific science/engineering departments. The lists goes on, but all has to do with helping those who teach science at Stanford do so effectively, efficiently, and in a personally rewarding way.

What do you like best about your work?

Meeting and working with a wide range of faculty and graduate students in science and engineering, teaching classes/workshops, and contributing to improved science learning through the application of learning research.

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

Time management! I now have to say "no" to things I love, and I hate doing that (I am also not good at it). Another challenging, yet highly rewarding, part of my job is staying current with the research on science learning as applied to so many fields other than my own.

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

Early on: demonstrated promise in my research, very strong communication and "collegial" skills, demonstrated promise in my teaching ability.

Later: very strong communication and "collegial" skills, demonstrated teaching excellence, ability to know my audience and adapt as appropriate.

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.

A long story that I am happy to talk more about at the workshop. Short version: My spouse is also an academic geoscientist, and starting with my assistant professorship at New Mexico, dual career and family choices have been at the root of every decision made. We commuted across states for years and weighed the "who moves?" question at each juncture.

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?

RELAX a bit. (Hard to hear, I know.) I felt driven to find the "right" career match, assuming that, while I could do a lot of things, it was vital to find THE thing for which I was optimally suited. I was uncomfortable making any decision whose impact I could not analyze and whose resultant outcome I could not predict 10 years down the road. LIGHTEN UP. You can hardly ever have that level of comfort and control over a big decision, and things turn out just fine for smart, creative people who stick to their core values/motivations. Example: teaching has always been central to my well-being, and I never made a career decision that took me away from that.

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