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Career Profile: Katryn Wiese

Katryn Wiese. Photo courtesy of Katryn Wiese.

City College of San Francisco

City College is a two-year college.
Katryn Wiese 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 Katryn'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 spent the past 14 years teaching Geology and Oceanography at City College of San Francisco (CCSF). During that time I have also had stints as Department Chair (and take on those duties again starting Fall 2009). When I began at CCSF, I was a part-timer, teaching a night class while also teaching AP Calculus and Physics at a local High School. After two years at the High School, I switched fields and worked in programming/education for an Enterprise Software Company.

I obtained my B.S. from Caltech in Geology and my M.S. from Oregon State University in Marine Geology. Immediately after graduate school, I worked as a geologist for the U.S.G.S. before continuing onward towards a Ph.D. at Stanford. It was there that I decided teaching was my primary interest, and I left after my first year to pursue the path described above. I wasn't sure I would like full-time teaching at CCSF, but now I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. I have what I consider to be the perfect job for me. And I couldn't be happier. Each day I teach; each day I learn. And I get to contribute in an exciting way to the community in which I live.

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?
My biggest challenge was the HUGE amount of time it takes to start a new class (and for me there were four new classes my first semester)! It was difficult balancing my time between curriculum, lectures, activities, classroom management, AND subject mastery.

One thing that helped me to feel more in control were Question Sheets that I developed for each week's worth of class. I used them to guide me during the week -- activities, lectures, and timing all revolved around helping me to get through those questions. The students felt more focused and had guidelines for the exams, and I was more relaxed in each class, because I had a rope to follow. AND it kept me from spending too much time off-topic at the expense of covering material necessary for an intro-level class.

How did you make the transition from your Ph.D. research to your current research program?
Not applicable. I have no research lab at a 2-year college.

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 goals have always fit the institution, which values the quality of teaching above all else. All research and outside projects in which I partake, I do to improve the educational experience of the students in my classes. I value that focus -- it's one of the reasons I've been so happy where I work. Another goal of a community college is to make education accessible to all levels of the community. I find that aspect of what I do incredibly fulfilling. There is no hoop to jump through to get into my classes -- anyone is welcome, and at the end of the day, that makes me feel like a powerful contributor to my community.

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 schedule personal time during the week alongside my classes (morning or lunch-time workouts or soccer games, dinners with friends, or writing times). I treat them like classes (sometimes they are!). Fellow faculty AND students understand that language -- I'm running off to a class. Or I can't meet because I have a class or prior commitment.

My most important strategy for balance, though, is to say "no." There's no better time to do so than your first few years, because people expect you to be overloaded. It gets much harder to say "no" after you've been teaching a few years, so use your supply of "no," when you can! Most opportunities WILL arise again. And I still need to remember this strategy!!!

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?
For the first class you teach, start with an already invented wheel (someone else's materials or suggestions), leaving you free to master the topic and the fire-hydrant experience of having hundreds of students looking to you for guidance, expertise, and education. As you get more experience under your belt, modify the materials to better suit your style. But don't try to do it ALL at once. Be patient. There's no way to make your first class your best class. It will always be the students 5-6 years down the line who get your best class. You'll find yourself feeling sorry for those first ones! Accept this ahead of time and be sure to give those first students your energy, your excitement, and your patience. You'll probably never have more of that than at the start. Make up for your lack of perfection in materials and organization with that energy. And they will forgive you the rest.

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