Career Profile: Jake Sewall
Jake Sewall. Photo courtesy of Jake Sewall.
Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
Kutztown University of Pennsylvania is a public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate.
Click on a topic to read Jake Sewall'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
Balancing work and life
Briefly describe your educational background and career path.
I have a B.S. in Geology from Washington and Lee University and received
a Ph.D. in Earth Sciences from the University of California at Santa
Cruz. The combined experience of private and public higher education
and a summer spent teaching in an Upward Bound program solidified a
belief in the importance of public higher education. Following my
Ph.D., I did a postdoc between LANL and UC Santa Cruz and a second
postdoc at Utrecht University in The Netherlands. I moved from the
postdoctoral position in The Netherlands to a faculty position at
Virginia Tech. I spent two years on the faculty at Virginia Tech before
dissatisfaction with dual career options and teaching
responsibilities/attention vs. the attention I believe a public
institution should pay to education saw me move to my current position
at a public, undergraduate, teaching-centered university.
Briefly describe your current job responsibilities, perhaps by describing a typical day, week, or semester.
In a typical semester I teach three laboratory, majors courses. One of
those courses is team taught so that, in the end, my average week is 14
hours in the classroom, 5 office hours, three dedicated meeting hours,
and the rest of the time in grading, course development or prep,
research, and other meetings. That plays out with four days that go
something like this. Classes from 8:00 or 9:00 until 11:00. Meetings
(e.g. Department, College Assessment Committee, Environmental Science
Program, Environmental Action Club) from 11:00 - 12:00. Lunch (a.k.a.
the gym) from 12:00- 1:00. Office hours (often, though not always,
attended) from 1:00 - 2:00. Either lab or student research meetings
from 2:00 - 5:00. One day a week (most of the time) is free for
research, but often ends up getting used for grading, course
preparation, or service catch up.
What do you like best about your work?
By far the most enjoyable aspect of my work is interacting with students.
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 wanting to make changes to
improve student experience and system efficiency and being stonewalled
by bureaucracy. The most effective strategy thus far has been to focus
at a low level, find like-minded peers, and develop strength in and
between our classrooms as well as develop desired learning experiences
outside of normal curricular channels (e.g. combine science and art or
science and media communication in club activities or independent
studies). It is important to keep in mind that change is always slow
and that current structures reflect past practice. Eventually older
faculty will disappear and older structures will be unsupported, if
there is a new structure waiting in the wings, it can then take over.
What qualifications do you think made you competitive in your job search(es)?
The qualifications that helped me most in my job searches were likely a
strong publication record, postdoctoral experience, and LOTS of practice
interviewing (I didn't get a lot of early jobs, but learned a
tremendous amount from the interview experience). I also had the
advantage of coming from a lab group that had recently placed several
excellent graduates and the overall "product" was seen as good in "the
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 part of a dual career couple with two children. We have made
balancing work and life/family a priority and, I think, have benefited
from it. It also took a lot of time, effort, and job moving/negotiating
to achieve balance. I think, as with anything else, you need to
identify your priorities, focus on those, and be prepared to sacrifice
other things to achieve your priorities. e.g. I no longer read the
newspaper or run long – or any– distances recreationally, attend more
than one professional meeting each year, have graduate students, publish
more than one paper a year, play a musical instrument etc. etc. etc. I
do teach a lot, interact with students, work at an institution where my
spouse and I both have tenure-track positions, go home at 5:00, grow
and cook good food, maintain an active, interesting research program,
and sleep 7 hours each night. Success is how you define it, and
achieving your success is likely to be far more satisfying than
achieving someone else's definition. Play to your strengths and
priorities, and try to be zen about letting the rest of it go.
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?
Pick your institution carefully. Try to align your priorities with your
job priorities as much as possible. Don't try to sell yourself as more
or other than you are, but make sure you sell yourself – no one else
will. Prioritize yourself. Try to take something for you out of every
experience (e.g. I always tried to come back from a job interview with a new research idea so that even if I didn't get a job offer, along with the interview experience, I gained something).
Take a (or more) course or attend a workshop on effective teaching.
Graduate school gives you lots of practice and feedback on being a
researcher, it doesn't give you many teaching skills and you are going
to need those. If you aren't a postdoc, do one. It gives you a chance
to hone your research experience out of your advisor's shadow before you
start juggling a full teaching and service load.
Leaving one institution for another is OK. Lots of people do it. Don't
expect to land one, dream job and stay forever. Tenure isn't what it
used to be and your goals and priorities may change.