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Career Profile: Julia Sankey

Julia Sankey
Julia Sankey. Photo courtesy of Julia Sankey.

Department of Physics, Physical Sciences, and Geology, California State University, Stanislaus

California State University, Stanislaus is a 4-year state university.
Julia Sankey is one of the leaders of the 2009 "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 Julia'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 am an Associate Professor in the Geology Program at California State University, Stanislaus in Turlock, California, where I have been since 2003. I have a Ph.D. in Geology (Louisiana State University) and a Fulbright post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Alberta and the Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. My research is on the effects of latest Cretaceous climatic change on terrestrial ecosystems. Big Bend National Park, Texas is my main field area for discovering new dinosaurs and other species.

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?

The biggest challenge was (and continues to be) adjusting to the intense teaching load in the California State University system while maintaining an active research and personal life. I hired a life coach for two years to help me survive and flourish in my environment. Then, I bought a horse as my tenure present!

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

My current research involves field work in Big Bend National Park, Texas. It has been fun to include students in the field work and in the lab work once we return. The difficult part is getting funding and time, but luckily my university has campus grants I've been able to get and a six week winter term during which I take students to the field. I've also found it important to collaborate with colleagues, which is fun and stimulating and more productive. I do wish that some time was spent during graduate school or post-doc time in helping people develop long-term research goals, so I recommend working on this.

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's important to find out what the goals are at your university, but to also stay true to yourself. If you have high expectations for your research, then don't give up even if it's not what the goals of your peers are. Probably at all universities there is a range in the expectations; figure out what they are in order to succeed, but also figure out how you can do what is important to you within this context. For me, it has been including students in on research as an important form of teaching.

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.

I bought a horse as my tenure present, and getting back into serious riding (and jumping) has been a huge improvement in giving my life more balance and being deliberate in doing things outside of career that I really love doing. I also work at home two days/week, which gets me away from the hustle-bustle of the university and allows me to concentrate.

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?

Get help from friends and colleagues. Start a support group of new faculty.

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