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Career Profile: Lawford Anderson

Lawford Anderson. Photo courtesy of Lawford Anderson.

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California is a private research university.

Lawford Anderson
is one of the leaders of the 2006 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 Lawford Anderson'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 received a BA in geology (with minor in History) from Trinity University in 1970 and a MS and Ph.D. in geology (minor in Chemistry) from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1972 and 1975, respectively. In the same year of my Ph.D., I was hired as a tenure-track assistant professor at USC.

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

I have just returned from eight years in the college administration which had a much different work profile, one shifted away from teaching and research. But, I love teaching and research, which I have now returned to in a more balanced level. I am also invested in service, including advisement of students at all levels, including many outside of science.

What do you like best about your work?

Foremost is the opportunity to work with creative young minds but also those who do not recognize their ability and learn that they can achieve. I also enjoy new research but mostly where the opportunity is shared with students. Usually, by the time the students complete their work they are teaching me!! I love the experience.

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

The balance of teaching, research, and service duties can become unequal on a daily basis. Time management is key and a learned quality. Meanwhile, one must set priorities and follow those, which can vary with individual and institution. For me, I place students and classes first but when the research lags, I put in long hours to keep the pace. It is a challenge but I enjoy all of it.

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

Research productivity and enthusiasm for teaching and working with students. Also effective communication skills, which at the time I was still learning.

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.

I have led workshops on this topic. Foremost, one needs a great partner, one who is willing to equally share the home duties and, at times, unequally. Where both partners are in professional careers, their mutual paths are rarely on parallel trajectories and both must be willing compensate when the other's path takes on new demands. It can be exciting, but it needs to be shared and over time, balanced and always with respect and full communication of appreciation of mutual sacrifice. Currently, my wife has moved into the administration and I am enjoying being the scout leader, softball coach, and soccer dad! Life is full and rewarding in many ways!!

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?

All new faculty deserve a mentor who will advise, listen, and, at times, just be there. I had one, but at the time, I did not fully appreciate the intrusion and I did not always listen. I should have. He was wise and I miss him.