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Career Profile: Kurt Friehauf

Kurt Friehauf. Photo courtesy of Kurt Friehauf, from his homepage.

Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

Kutztown is an undergraduate-only state university.

Kurt Friehauf
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 Kurt Friehauf'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 earned my B.S. degree at Colorado State University (5+ years) because I grew up in Fort Collins, didn't have a car with which to leave town, and I could just afford tuition by cooking in a nice restaurant nights. I did summer jobs doing mineral exploration and tutored math, chemistry, physics, and geology for a year after I graduated while my wife finished her degree. I earned my Ph.D. at Stanford University (8 years). My research involved 11 months of mapping in a deep underground copper-gold mine in Arizona, a bunch of petrography, some isotope work, and then thermodynamic reaction path modeling of water-rock interactions. I post-doc'd a year at the University of Arizona before teaching at Kutztown.


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

My contract requires 12 contact hours per semester, which includes both lectures and labs (no graduate student T.A.'s), plus 5 office hours. I routinely teach mineralogy, optical mineralogy, igneous/metamorphic petrology, environmental geology, hydrogeology, geology of national parks, intro to geology, physical geology, and senior seminar, and taught structural geology until we hired a structural geologist. Intro and National Parks are both "big box" classes, but the rest are 10-20 students each. I keep an open door policy - perhaps not the wisest thing to do.

I currently fulfill the service component of the contract by serving on the college curriculum committee (chairperson), undergraduate research committee (chairperson), Middle States accreditation committee, strategic planning committee, freshman text committee, department promotion and tenure committee, environmental science committee, and search committees for new physical science faculty. I am the faculty advisor for the geology club and a member of the Student Affairs Council for the Society of Economic Geologists. I also contribute to writing the various geology program reviews that administrators are always requesting. That's a pretty heavy load—a lot of other folks get by on much less.

I fulfill the scholarly development component of my job description by doing research with my students on local hydrogeology projects, local historic iron mines, and REE ores at Bayan Obo (Inner Mongolia, China), as well as work I do in collaboration with people at the University of Arizona on the geology of a copper deposit in West Papua, Indonesia. My university does not have strict grant requirements.

What do you like best about your work?

That's easy! Helping people! I love the interaction of teaching and helping students make something greater of themselves. I also like that I get to exercise my knowledge in many branches of geology by teaching a wide array of classes, even though that comes at the expense of time researching. Although budgets are always tight, university work doesn't go through the severe cycles of industry.

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

Time management is tough—the days are pretty full. I'm strict about making sure I have time for my family (I only work at home in the early morning before they wake up). My research suffers, but is improving now that I'm learning to distinguish between "administrative emergencies" and things that actually need to be done. Not all smoke means fire.

There is also a measure of academic isolation in teaching at a small school. I cannot have advanced discussions about my specific expertise in geology with anyone locally, so I'm left only with email communication and periodic visits to other universities. Just like keeping in good shape physically, intellectual health takes effort.

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

I'd like to say that it was my rakish good looks, but the diversity of my science was probably my strongest suit. Small departments need a lot of bases covered by just a few players. I really like teaching, too—also key in an undergraduate-only program. The applied nature of my research makes it industry-fundable, which turns out to be a two-edged sword, depending very much on the intellectual tastes of the search committees.


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.

(no answer)


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?

Apply to jobs whose advertisements may not appear to be a perfect match—search committees can be open to new ideas and may not have thought about how well you'd fit (and goodness of fit is a big factor in the hiring decision).

Be persistent. Realize that there are a whole lot of variables at play, including shifting budgets, administrative decisions and priorities, and many different personalities. Try to think of rejections as little tests of how much you really want a job in academia.

Write concise and direct statements of research, etc. in your applications—many members of the search committee are busy and have a whole stack of applications they need to read, so the temptation to just scan long essays is great.

Publish your thesis research as soon as possible—it demonstrates your scholarly work is rigorous and that you can complete a project. If you get the job, you'll be busy with a lot of other things, making writing time even more difficult to find.


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