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Career Profile: Ron Metzger

Science Department, Southwestern Oregon Community College

Southwestern Oregon Community College is a 2-year college.
Ron Metzger is one of the leaders of the 2010 "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 Ron'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 attended St. Lawrence University as an undergraduate, earning a BS with Honors in Geology. The small classes and attentive faculty provided an excellent foundation in geology. Working on an undergraduate thesis also provided research background to build on in graduate school. After hearing about the enigmatic conodont in a Micropaleontology class at St. Lawrence, I applied to several graduate programs and chose The University of Iowa. At Iowa I earned an MS and Ph.D. (Paleontology/Micropaleontology/Biostratigraphy) working on Devonian Conodonts. I was fortunate to have a series of excellent teachers, advisors and mentors at each stage of my academic career, including the late Dr. James S. Street and Dr. J. Mark Erickson at St. Lawrence and Dr. Gilbert Klapper at Iowa.

I had the opportunity to teach college classes at Kirkwood Community College while in graduate school. Finishing a Ph.D. in paleontology in the early 1990's, there were very few academic positions open, so I continued to teach part-time at Kirkwood and cobble together other teaching and research opportunities. Four and a half years after finishing my Ph.D., I interviewed at Southwestern Oregon Community College and have been teaching in Coos Bay, Oregon since 1996.

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?

Most of the early career challenges that I faced are the same we all encounter: what courses to teach, development of curriculum, balancing work and home, adjusting to a new geographic location, etc. For me personally, one of the major hurdles that I encountered was the field trip class. I inherited an active regional geology field course program when I arrived at Southwestern that included 3 to 4 field classes each quarter for a total of 15 to 18 days in the field each academic year. Arriving from Iowa as a Paleozoic Micropaleontologist, it was interesting to be dropped in a new geographic setting that consisted mostly of Cenozoic rocks and several trips to volcanic regions. Somehow in that first year, I figured out where to take students, where buses and vans could fit, and got out and back with everyone in one piece. During the first year or two teaching in Oregon, I probably spent more time in the field than I did in all of my undergraduate and graduate classes combined. One of the continuing challenges that I have is what to do in the field with introductory students. As a result, I attempt to focus on broader scale processes rather than measuring sections, essentially in the hope that students gain a greater understanding of their surroundings and the geologic processes they will encounter over their lifetimes.

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

As an educator at a two-year institution, research is not an integral component of my employment. I have had the opportunity to publish several papers and also a number of abstracts. Looking at abstracts, I have undertaken an obvious evolution from geologic research towards geoscience education.

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?

Working at a community college, the focus is on undergraduate education. So the main component of achieving tenure is classroom based. From my perspective, one of the most positive aspects of teaching at a community college is the potential to make a significant impact on how students approach and understand science, education and life. Since this is a tenet of community college education, I didn't have to be concerned with altering my goals and interests to mesh with my institution's in order to achieve tenure.

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.

Finding a balance between work and personal life is difficult. I know that plans revolve around my schedule. I am fortunate to have a wife who is supportive of dealing with my schedule from the academic year to the number of field trip classes that consume weekend days and all the other academic commitments. One of the important contributions she made was getting me involved in community organizations. This is also a time commitment, but it frequently involves both of us. An observation that I arrived at is that time spent with community organizations and hosting speakers in the geology lecture series at the college is essentially a trade-off with a research program. In essence, my "research program" is trying to contribute to improving the health and vitality of my community.

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?

My advice to those starting their careers would dovetail with what I tell my advisees—you need to follow your interests and passions. Having applied for numerous paleontology positions in the late 80's and early 90's when there tended to only be one or two openings a year, I imagine that a number of people ended up at institutions that weren't a good fit. I feel fortunate to have landed at the edge of the known world, in the center of the universe. At the end of the day, I know that I have made a positive impact on the academic careers of my students and helped to enrich my community, which is what I would hope for everyone participating in this workshop.

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