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Career Profile: Kyle Fredrick

Kyle Fredrick. Photo courtesy of Kyle Fredrick.

California University of Pennsylvania

A public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate.

Kyle Fredrick
is one of the leaders of the 2014 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 Kyle Fredrick'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 my BS in Geology with a minor in Hydrogeology from the University of Wisconsin - River Falls in May 2000. After graduation, I completed an internship with the Environmental Management division of Dakota County in Minnesota. I followed that with contract work with an environmental firm in St. Paul, MN.

In July 2001, I began a PhD program at the University at Buffalo, in the Department of Geology. My dissertation focused on novel approaches to calibration of large-scale groundwater flow models.

My teaching career began in Fall 2004, teaching one upper-level Hydrology course at University at Buffalo and one Introductory Geology course at Erie Community College. In Spring 2005, I continued teaching Introductory Geology at ECC and accepted a full-time temporary position teaching Geology courses at Buffalo State College. I contracted for an additional full-time position at Buffalo State for the 2005-06 academic year. In Fall 2006, I was hired as a full-time temporary Geology faculty at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Soon after accepting the HWS position, I was offered a full-time, tenure-track position at California University of Pennsylvania. I completed one year at HWS and joined the Earth Science faculty at CalU in Fall 2007. I was hired ABD and completed my dissertation defense in May of 2008. I am currently in my seventh year at CalU, having achieved tenure and promotion to Associate Professor along the way.

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

As one of only two geology faculty, my responsibilities are varied and combine significant administrative duties with teaching, research, and service.

Our union contract requires 24-contact hours per 9-month term. This equates to 3-4 classes per semester, depending upon lab hours. I typically teach about 11-14 hours per week. I am required to hold at least 5 office hours each week. In addition to these requirements, my "open-door policy" probably adds between 4 and 15 hours of student advising to each week, fielding various issues. The higher values are generally during our early registration period for the following semester.

In an average week, I expect to have 1-3 hours of meetings for service-related commitments. I try to include 1-2 hours of professional development. Administrative obligations (course and curriculum development, facilities issues, lab maintenance, etc.) add a range of hours to any given week.

Finally, undergraduate research rounds out my time commitments. I have several undergraduates working on projects at different stages of completion. I try to meet with each one, or work with them in pairs or small groups, at least one hour per week.

What do you like best about your work?

The best part of my job is the diversity of work. I enjoy teaching immensely, but without the research and professional development, I don't think I could "just" teach. The research, especially, allows me to work one-on-one with high-level students. Their curiosity and enthusiasm keeps me excited about science and keeps me interested in the unique and changing environmental conditions of our region.

The one thing that is specific to my position, that I especially like, is that I get to teach courses outside of my expertise. As one of only two geology faculty, I am expected to teach a wide variety of courses, from my specialty in Hydrology to classes in sedimentology and geomorphology.

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

The most challenging aspect of my work is time management. With a heavy teaching load, a good working relationship with my students, and a demanding research program, there is barely a free moment. I end up pushing up against deadlines and making constant priority decisions. When there are things that I don't enjoy, I find myself having to do those things at inopportune times (grading at home, for example). I am continuously trying to improve in dealing with demands on my time. I have been more successful by using scheduling tools, responding to emails quickly, and creating daily to-do list reminders.

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

My flexibility and willingness to teach a large variety of classes was probably the most significant qualification that helped me to get those early temporary faculty positions. The ability to teach multiple courses most definitely made the difference in getting my tenure-track job. They needed someone that liked to teach many disciplines, but could also take a broad view of a whole program to address a range of student interests and job opportunities in our region. When I was hired I was the ONLY geologist. I was hired to reinvigorate a waning program. To do that, I needed to think about all of Geology, not just my own select interests and preconceptions.

The other characteristic that my hiring committee said won me the job was my enthusiasm. They felt that, compared to the other candidates, I showed the most emotion and excitement during my interviews and my teaching demonstration. The student evaluators singled that out as the most significant factor in their scores.

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 began my PhD married, with a spouse that had an established, if not lucrative, career. She was supportive and agreeable at every step of the process. This is no small feat when considering the amount of travel that was required for my research and going to conferences and teaching field courses. Late in my PhD, we had our first child, which added a layer of stress and gobbled up much of my time. But it actually helped to give me some direction as I worked to finish my dissertation.

The first couple of years were very difficult, adjusting to a new city and a new job. It is especially difficult to say "No" to opportunities that arise on campus, as you might be saying it to someone on your Tenure committee! I took on a lot of additional roles and responsibilities, some out of necessity, others out of desire, and still others out of a sometimes irrational feeling of responsibility to my students.

In my third year, we had our second child. It was at that point that I began to take back my schedule a bit more. I started reeling in my weekend research with students and events with our Geology Club, leaving more responsibilities to the students. I get to work very early in the morning to guarantee myself some quiet time, and I don't apologize for leaving campus at or even before 4pm.

My wife has always been understanding and flexible about the demands of my job. We communicate our schedules in great detail, which has been immensely helpful both in time management, but also in mutual empathy. It feels like we are working as a team, rather than me being off at work while she is doing her own thing.

Finally, one thing that seems small, but has paid huge dividends in the past few years is picking up a hobby. It may sound simple, but I've taken to running, after never really doing it before. I joined a running club and make time to run at least four times a week. It has been a major stress reliever and has actually IMPROVED my ability to manage my time. I make it a priority in my schedule, but I don't let it compromise my obligations. I wish I would have discovered it sooner. I suspect any hobby that allows one to step away from their obligations would fit the bill, but many of us fail to force these "unnecessary" items into our weekly calendar. I've found that I'm more efficient and focused by making it necessary.

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?

The best piece of advice I can give is to be honest, with your students, your superiors, your family, but more importantly, with yourself. A faculty job can become all-encompassing, and it seems to happen before you know it. Good teachers develop a deep devotion to their students, and that can lead to skewed priorities. It is important to give your students all of what you can, but to also maintain your own professional goals. Personally, it is helpful to incorporate your family into your university community. If your students know you have a family, and maybe even have seen them or met them at campus functions, they are far more understanding. They are respectful of your time and also appreciative when you sacrifice evening and weekends to help them.

Lastly, you should expect, if not demand, to be addressed as "Dr." You earned that degree and the respect that comes with it.

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