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Career Profile: Sara Rathburn

Sara Rathburn. Photo courtesy of Sara Rathburn.

Colorado State University

Colorado State University is a university with graduate programs, including doctoral programs.

Sara Rathburn
is one of the leaders of the 2013 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 Sara Rathburn'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.

BS, MS and PhD in geology, with MS and PhD concentrations in fluvial geomorphology. I completed both my BS and PhD at Colorado State University, and my MS at University of Arizona.

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

I am an Associate Professor in the Geosciences Department at Colorado State University. My distribution of effort is 50% research, 40% teaching, and 10% service. I teach 2-3 courses a semester, including some combination of Introductory Geology, Historical Geology, Geology of the Rocky Mountain Region, Supervised College Teaching (a seminar for teaching assistants), and usually one graduate-level seminar per year (co-taught). My days are filled with preparing for lectures, teaching classes, holding office hours, meeting with TAs, meeting with graduate students, serving on various committees, and doing research.

What do you like best about your work?

I delight in being around young, curious minds every day, and seeing students (undergraduate and graduate alike) develop intellectually. I thoroughly enjoy conducting research with students and colleagues, and appreciate the variety of tasks that comprise my day.

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

The most challenging aspect is doing all the various tasks required of my job well. I endeavor to excel in teaching, research, and service, and be a great colleague, mother, and spouse. My most successful strategy so far has been to prioritize daily on what is most important, which may mean ensuring students understand a difficult concept in class, or working on an important proposal, or attending my children's music concerts. This way, I devote the most energy to what is needed at that time.

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

I was competitive in my job search because of previous, adjunct teaching experience at another university, and my affiliation with CSU.

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.

For me, my spouse has been pivotal to my success as a faculty member. He also has a PhD so understands my desire to balance professional satisfaction and raising children. When our children were young, I made a conscious choice to limit my involvement in extra university commitments. Also, I intentionally kept my field research local, studying rivers that were within a single day drive so I could stay close to home during field seasons.

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?

My home life relationships have substantial influence on my work life success, so I have surrounded myself with people who truly share my desire to raise healthy, happy children and succeed as a professor. A spouse/partner that has established professional goals and similar family goals has been key. I wish I had foreseen the breadth of support that is required from home to be successful in the dual commitment of family and career.

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