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Career Profile: Wayne Powell

Wayne Powell at Mt. Shasta
Wayne Powell. Photo courtesy of Wayne Powell.

Brooklyn College, City University of New York

Brooklyn College is a large urban public university with a graduate program.

Wayne Powell
is one of the leaders of the 2008 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 Wayne Powell'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 BS at the University of Toronto and my MS and PhD at Queen's University at Kingston. I was initially focused on mineral exploration, and worked summers for government surveys and mineral exploration companies. I had an epiphany late in my PhD and realized that I had no desire to "work for the man" or to spend my life in mining towns and exploration camps. Accordingly, I made a major career course correction towards the communication and teaching of earth science. Post-docs at the University of Calgary led to a position as instructor/lab coordinator, in which I was required to develop freshman curriculum, for which grad school provided no preparation. Seeking advice and input for my curriculum development, I began a new MS program in curriculum studies at the University of Calgary. A year later I moved to NYC to join the geology faculty of Brooklyn College.

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

I am chair of my department and have 5 current institutional grants that involve partnerships between departments and institutions/organizations, so not surprisingly my weeks fill with meetings. As chair, one of my most important responsibilities is to provide guidance and oversight to junior faculty in order to prepare them for a successful tenure decision. I choose to teach more than I am required, usually two courses per term because I find the classroom experience to be invigorating, and it provides a form of instant gratification throughout the academic year.

What do you like best about your work?

The students! Geology departments are usually small, and we have many field trips, including overnights. This allows for strong bonds to form, and students become an extended family.

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

Overcommitment. Building an effective team has been my main strategy for coping with this (since drinking does not count as a strategy). I have also learned from experience which tasks I find rewarding, and which ones are truly onerous. I make sure that I am really good at what I like to do so that no one can criticize me for refusing to do more committee work!

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

Without question, it was the additional degree in education. I had had several years without a nibble in academic job searches... the rejection letters were piling up. In the year after I began my education program I applied for two positions, and received offers from both!

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 not enamored with the idea of posting my personal life to the internet. The last 3 years of my 13 year relationship have been cross-continental. Is it ideal? No. Does it work? Yes. The flexibility of an academic prosition allows for creative ways of making long-distance relationships work. I would be happy to discuss my experiences in person.

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?

Be involved directly with grant proposal preparation with your thesis advisor; learn from your mentor some of the skills required to master grantsmanship before you graduate. Take every opportunity provided to improve writing and presentation skills.

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