Career Profile: Francisca E. Oboh-Ikuenobe

Missouri University of Science and Technology (formerly the University of Missouri-Rolla)

Missouri University of Science and Technology is a public research university.

Francisca E. Oboh-Ikuenobe
is one of the leaders of the 2010 and the 2011 Preparing for an Academic Career in the Geosciences 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 Francisca E. Oboh-Ikuenobe's answer to an individual question, or scroll down to read the entire profile: Educational background and career path * Current job responsibilities * Best part of the job * Challenges and strategies * Qualifications * Balancing work and life * Advice

Briefly describe your educational background and career path.

I graduated from the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria with a B.Sc. in Geology in 1983. I worked for Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria in Lagos as a Production Geologist for one year under the government's National Youth Service Corps, a compulsory program for all graduates of Nigerian origin. Prior to returning to graduate school at Ife I worked briefly as a Palynologist with Shell at their Geological Laboratory in Warri Delta State. I completed my a M.Sc. in Applied Geology, Petroleum Geology option, in 1986 (awarded in January 1987) and worked for one year as an Assistant Lecturer at Ife and for six months as a part-time Geologist/Palynologist at GEOTREX, an oil service company in Lagos. From 1987 to 1990 I was a Commonwealth Scholar and studied for a Ph.D. degree at Cambridge University at New Hall, now Murray Edwards College and the Department of Earth Sciences. I have been a faculty member at Missouri ST since January 1991.

Briefly describe your current job responsibilities, perhaps by describing a typical day, week, or semester.

As program head for geology and geophysics (my department has two other programs, geological engineering and petroleum engineering) administrative duties consume roughly 25% of my time. I work closely with the department chair on issues related to my program. The remaining 75% is taken up by research, teaching, and service. I typically teach two courses per semester, including graduate courses that I teach every two years. Some of these courses involve field trips. I have a very active research group and it currently includes four Ph.D. students, one M.S. student, and four undergraduates conducting research in my lab. In addition to interacting with these students almost on a daily basis, we meet as a group every 1 or 2 weeks. There is also time spent advising undergraduate students excluding those in my research group, writing and reviewing proposals and manuscripts, communicating with research collaborators, attending proposal review panels, committee meetings on campus, outreach activities, etc. Between running the geology and geophysics program and my duties as a faculty member I have a very busy job.

What do you like best about your work?

The freedom to dictate my research focus and the flexibility to work from home especially when I have to take care of a sick child sent home from school. Working in academia can be 24/7 because I work at any time but I have cut back on working during weekends to devote more time to family activities. The fact that I can impart knowledge about geology to students is also an exciting part of my job.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work? What strategies have you developed for tackling that challenge?

Managing my time efficiently in order to achieve the right balance between family and career. I have reduced my service commitments on campus and set personal time aside to work on research and family matters. There are certain times when I close my office door just to spend some personal time. Competing for funding resources is increasingly getting more difficult and I have now developed research collaborations in order to attract funding. Some students can be challenging and I have had to send some to counseling.

What qualifications do you think made you competitive in your job search(es)?

I was hired in part because of my research background in sedimentology and palynology, strong communication skills, and the challenge to take on a new culture especially in small town America. The other reason I was hired (I found out later) was that I was relaxed and comfortable throughout the interview process.

Many of the graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in these workshops are interested in balancing a family and career, in dual career couple issues, and in how other personal choices affect the search for a fulfilling career. Please share information about your situation, your ideas and experiences.

My husband is an independent consultant and owns his electrical engineering/telecommunications company. He travels to clients' locations for work and is away from home almost weekly but is very engaged with our children's activities, working remotely with them on homework. I also travel several times every year, sometimes traveling abroad for field work, workshops and meetings. We have survived raising a family and balancing our careers by paying other people - students, their spouses - to help us with babysitting and transporting them to after-school and other activities.

What advice do you have for graduate students or post-docs preparing for academic careers in geoscience? What do you know now that you wish you had known as you started your career?

These are some of the things that I wished I knew before starting an academic career:
  • Seek out a mentor. He/she does not have to be at the same institution or even in the same discipline.
  • Set some time aside every week for yourself. Close your door and don't answer when someone knocks.
  • Collaborate. Go outside your comfort zone occasionally and choose your collaborators carefully. Your chances of obtaining competitive research grants are higher and your research and publication productivity will increase, too.
  • Be collegial but firm in your dealings with colleagues. Do not make assumptions about people. It's better to find out what they're thinking.