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Early Career Geoscience Faculty: Teaching, Research, and Managing Your Career
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Career Profile: Elizabeth Catlos

Dr. Elizabeth Catlos
Elizabeth Catlos. Photo by Erika Fumi Guidry

Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin

The University of Texas is a public research university.
Elizabeth Catlos is one of the leaders of the 2013 "Early Career Geoscience Faculty" 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 Elizabeth's answer to an individual question, or scroll down to read the entire profile: Educational background and career path * Early teaching challenges * Research transition * Institutional fit * Balancing responsibilities * Advice for new faculty


Briefly describe your educational background and career path.

I have a B.Sc. from UCSD in Chemistry w/ Spec. Earth Science and a Ph.D. from UCLA. I briefly did some postdoctoral work with the Smithsonian Institution and began my first job as an Assistant Professor in the School of Geology at Oklahoma State University in 2001. In 2007, I received a visiting faculty fellowship from UT Austin and was employed in the Jackson School of Geosciences. In 2008, I lived in Ankara, Turkey as a Fulbright Senior Lecturer in the Dept. of Geological Engineering at Middle East Technical University. When I returned to the US, I began work as an Associate Professor in the Dept. of Geological Sciences in the Jackson School.


What were some of the challenges you faced in your early years of full-time teaching? Could you briefly describe how you overcame one of those challenges?

One of the main challenges was new course preparation. I was lucky in that OSU assigned courses that were of my expertise and I had mentors to rely on for advice on how best to organize the courses. Through advice from those I knew who were also teaching similar courses elsewhere, and sometimes by trial-and-error with new teaching techniques, I have been able to see what works and what doesn't.


How did you make the transition from your Ph.D. research to your current research program?

I remained working on some of the problems related to my PhD for a couple of years until I was able to network and find others who could assist me with working on other interests. I think it is important to establish contacts and network with others on how best to approach new ideas. I would have been bored working on research related to my PhD; the methods I still apply, but I like learning about new problems and new regions. I am comfortable and even excited about starting new topics.


An essential component of achieving tenure is finding or making an alignment of your teaching/research goals with the goals of your institution.... How do your goals fit with those of your institution? Did you adjust your goals to achieve that fit? If so, how?

It can be difficult to even understand what the goals of my institution are, let alone follow them. They are an ever-changing target with the common theme of "excellence". I try to find out what the priorities could be; sometimes these arise via discussions in the hallways or during topics brought up in faculty meetings. I do my best and hope it is enough.


Many of the new faculty members in these workshops are interested in maintaining a modicum of balance while getting their careers off to a strong start. Please share a strategy or strategies that have helped you to balance teaching, research, and your other work responsibilities, OR balance work responsibilities with finding time for your personal life.

There is no balance until tenure. I only found balance when I went to Turkey and the department locked its doors on the weekends and I was forced to find other things to do. Now I value my weekends. I do not take breaks during the day and try to get the most out of my time at work so that I have time for those outside the field in the evenings or on the weekends.


What advice do you have for faculty beginning academic careers in geoscience? What do you know now that you wish you had known as you started your career in academia?

Don't be discouraged. If it doesn't work out (rejections), try again. Work in service of others, not only for yourself. Never say no to a review request. Trust that you have the strength to land on your feet no matter what happens. Enjoy your successes. Stick to your commitments. Answer emails promptly (I don't always do this). Strive for balance and stability in your life. Trust in a higher plan. Don't be crazy in the field. Listen before you offer your opinion and don't borrow trouble. Think about the consequences of your actions. Maintain your integrity.


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