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Career Profile: Eric Peterson

Illinois State University

Illinois State University is a public comprehensive university.
Eric Peterson 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 Eric'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 earned a BS in Mathematics and Earth Science from the University of South Dakota (1995), MA in Mathematics from the University of South Dakota (1997), MS in Geology from the University of Arkansas (1998), and Ph.D. from the University of Missouri (2002). I began at Illinois State University in 2002.

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?

Two main challenges I faced as an educator (and still do) are maintaining student interest and motivation in large (250+ students) introductory courses and teaching students in my upper level courses mathematical theory and concepts when they are not proficient in mathematics. To engage students in the large classes, I have students do group work each class. For the class I have the luxury of teaching assistants. The TAs and I roam the classroom, address questions, and engage the groups. I do not cover as much material, but students stay involved and appear to better understand concepts. Overcoming math phobia is a little more difficult. I introduce the concepts through in-class exercises and reinforce the work through homework. The in-class exercises allow me to address questions immediately with the students and relieve their anxiety before they get frustrated and quit.

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

I have continued with my Ph.D. research upon arriving at ISU, but I have also added a new direction. My Ph.D. work focused upon karst hydrogeology; upon arriving at Illinois State University, I began investigating the exchange of fluid between surface water and ground water. The new line of research grew from my interest in shallow aquifers and applied hydrogeologic problems, and from a necessity to work with students not interested in karst.

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?

My institution values both teaching and scholarship equally, which is a reason I accepted the position. I enjoy the challenges and rewards of teaching, which are different from those for associated with research. However, those differences are what make the job exciting and enjoyable.

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.

During my gradaute studies, my wife and I started our family. My daughter was born during my MS work and my son was born at the end of my Ph.D. I mention this because it forced me early on to establish my balance, which I still keep today. After my daughter was born, I went into the office as early as I could (~6:30-7:00) and stayed until ~5:00. I did as much work as I could while in the office. After arriving home, I devoted my time to my family. If I needed to work more, I did so only after they were in bed.

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?

Realize that you will always be behind and never be ahead. We (academics) tend to have great expectations when it comes to what we think we can accomplish (which I see as a positive trait). Subsequently, we will always have a stack of papers or a mound of work that needs to be graded or completed. Choose your battles accordingly and know that certain items may never get finished.


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