Career Profile: Chris Keane

American Geological Institute (AGI)

Chris Keane is the Director of Communications and Technology and Editor of Earth Magazine at AGI. The information for this profile is from an interview on March 29, 2011.

Click on a topic below, or scroll down to read the entire profile: Current Job Description * Educational Background and Career Path * Key Decision Points in Career Path * Favorite Part of Job * Challenges in Job * Balance * Myths and Misconceptions * Advice

Briefly describe your current job responsibilities, perhaps by describing a typical day, week, month, or quarter.
All aspects of my job fall under the category of publishing & communication.

One-third of my job is to be the editor of Earth Magazine. I oversee the budget, advertising, and customer service and the overall tone and direction of the editorial material. I read every bit of the magazine prior to it's publication. I don't copyedit or re-write the content, but I focus on if the science or the tone do not sound quite right for me. Those comments are sent back to the writers to be addressed. Even though I have an outstanding managing editor I work with, I am ultimately responsible for what gets published. There is a lot of off the clock time spent doing this part of my job, as magazine production never ends. I enjoy this part of my job because it helps keep me involved in new geoscience material.

The other two-thirds of my job entails making sure the geoscience and professional community interests are appropriate represented and supported in my other areas of responsibilities, such as communications, workforce, and technology. The actual tasks vary as things come up, the focus on projects tends to shift with external factors. The staff of 14, which I manage, makes all this work possible.

  • I oversee public communications in the form of press releases and presence at conferences. I keep public communication efforts coordinated between our staff and the elected board, the executive committee, and the Executive Director of AGI.
  • I oversee AGI publications, working with my staff on identifying titles, marketing, distributing, and collaborating across AGI to maintain popular AGI publications such as the Glossary of Geology and the Geoscience Handbook. I serve as a bridge between the commercial publishing world and scholarly scientists/current science (through editing the magazine). My involvement in both these sides of publication helps me communicate best practices from the commercial world to the scholarly science world within our member societies.
  • I am involved in overseeing technology as IT operations oversight and so much more. Basically, most work that has a technological/geological profile, ends up in my portfolio. Some recent projects I have been involved in are coordinating peer review work on PCBs in WI, communicating about advances in the oil and mining technology, and working with the Discovery Channel on a series with AGI to be sure geoscience is right.
  • I also oversee the workforce program. The goal of this program is promote a strong geosciences workforce by improving understanding inside and outside of the geosciences about the employment and economic dynamics. The program does extensive data collection, student recruitment, and communication across many different forums, from Congress to the National Academies, to geosciences departments.
Briefly describe your educational background and career path.
I began college at New Mexico Tech. Family issues brought me home to Maryland and I completed my bachelor's degree at the University of Maryland in geology. As I finished this degree, I got a job at the US Bureau of Mines working in industrial mineral economics. I had done a lot of work in computer science and economics in my undergraduate program which fit well with my geological interests. After about a year, this job came to an end (I was laid off for budgetary reasons). The next day, I received an offer from my former college advisor at the University of Maryland to begin working toward my PhD. The project had a large educational focus involving teaching teachers how to incorporate geoscience data into their lessons. My doctorate is in Marine, Estuary, and Environmental science, but I was doing my research on quantitative geomorphology. I enjoyed my time working with teachers and enjoyed communicating geoscience as much as doing the science. I also authored a couple software packages to help teachers use data in the classroom more easily. AGI was one of the publishers of this software, which began my relationship with AGI.

When the PhD was completed, AGI had just received a large grant from the Department of Energy and hired me to begin working for them doing geoscience data preservation and management. I did data repository work to preserve data for public use, got to meet with oil and mining industry people, and used my skills in both geoscience and communication during this job. This job broadened my perspective of what the field of geology entailed and I began to see that geology has many facets from conducting the science to doing the work and being part of society. Over time, I moved into the current role I hold as my desire to communicate geoscience information continually increased.

What were key decision points or factors that were important in deciding your career path? Were there any specific challenges or difficult moments that arose while making your decision?
Most of my decisions were forced by external factors. Family issues that led me to the University of Maryland which led me to finding a relationship with a excellent mentor which led me to AGI. There were no jobs when I completed my undergraduate degree and geology degrees were seen as 'degrees of ill repute'. Getting a job was what was important. When an opportunity arose, I jumped on it. I kept my options open, but I didn't have much of a safety net.
Now, the decisions I make involve staying with AGI. Decisions aren't always a deflection in a career path, sometimes they are to remain in the job you have. Finding work that you are passionate about is important and once you've found it, keep it.

What do you like best about your work?
I like best the diversity of work I do and never doing the same things twice. Also, my staff is outstanding. I love managing the staff, but I still am doing programmatic work also. My staff works as a team and I trust them, so I'm not too concerned about managing each decision they make.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work? What strategies have you developed for tackling that challenge? Diversity of work! It can be challenging setting priorities when I am responsible for so many different tasks. Time management skills are very important.

It can also be difficult to know when I should be involved in doing projects or if the work should be delegated to my staff. When I delegate and manage, I shift to a supporting role instead of doing work for myself. Finding a balance between these two approaches to my work is challenging because I like being actively engaged.

Last, it is always a challenge knowing when to just shut the door to get work done for myself.

Many geoscientists entering the workforce are interested in balancing their personal and professional life. Please share information about your situation, your ideas and experiences about balance in your life and what challenges you have maintaining balance. I have a family and my wife has a career of her own as a teacher. My wife and I have found a good balance with home issues. For example, I don't travel if it's not completely necessary. That said, I clocked over 100,000 miles in the air last year. I never take a trip for just one thing. There have to be 2, 3, or 4 meetings or events to attend to make the trip worth while. My family always knows that when I travel it's completely necessary. At home when I have to work off the clock, it's when everyone else is already asleep.

I have found that the longer you stay in one job, the level of flexibility you attain is high. If I need to take time off during the day to go to little league games, I go and make up the time later on in the evening. My organization trusts that I will complete the work. I also remain flexible and realistic. If something needs to get done at the office, I do it at the office. If something needs to be tended to at home, I go home. This is also an extension of networking and trust. The longer you are with an organization, the stronger this network becomes.

Are there any myths about your job that you would like to help dispel?
I'm not right all the time. I spend a lot of time communicating about geoscience. People expect me to be completely right all the time about a large body of geoscience content. I need a really thick skin to deal with this because sometimes, I do make a mistake. I get criticism about articles in the magazine and in public when communicating about geoscience concepts. I've also learned there is a real difference between accuracy and precision, and many complaints are related to precision, whereby the accuracy for the overall target audience was correct. You can't talk the criticism personally, but rather view the input as just that – something to learn from.

What advice do you have for graduate students or post-docs preparing for careers in geoscience? What do you know now that you wish you had known as you started your career?
Build and use your network to find a job. I didn't believe in networking initially. I always felt it was a straight-line shot (apply, interview, get hired). But the reality is that networking is far more important. Almost everyone I work with is here because of networking. Recognition, recommendations, and familiarity all play an important role in getting a career started. Even if you don't yet have a network, use the networks of those you do know and those with whom you work (mentors, teachers, colleagues). Networking is remarkably important.

People are reasonable. If you need something at work, you need to ask for it. Don't be so afraid to ask for time or help for fear that it will make you look bad. Reasonable people will honor reasonable requests, or at least work with you on it. If not, then its not a good work environment.

Don't be led to a job by its title.

Keep living like a grad student as long as possible! At no point in your life will you live more cheaply, so use your new-found income to build your financial future. Keep in mind also that everyone you're going to be working with was in your place, too.

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