Career Profile: Jenny Furlong

University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania is a private research university.

Jenny Furlong
is one of the leaders of the 2008 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 Jenny Furlong'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 am not a geoscientist, but I work with geoscience graduate students as a university career counselor. I earned my bachelor's degree in Comparative Literary Studies at Northwestern University, and my Ph.D. in Romance Languages from the University of Pennsylvania. After finishing my doctoral work, I chose to stay in Philadelphia for personal reasons. I enjoy working in higher education. There is so much happening at Penn's campus - talks, museum and gallery exhibitions, sporting events and campus festivals - it's a tremendously rich environment in which to work.

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

In my current position, I work with students and postdocs from many disciplines on their job searches, both academic and non-academic. There's a certain element of surprise inherent in my work - I never know who is going to walk into my office, or what questions s/he is going to have. in one day I might speak with a city planning student seeking an internship with a regional planning office, a physical science postdoc applying for a faculty position at a liberal arts college, a life science student interested in a career in intellectual property, and a history student involved in ethnographic research and wanting a career that includes that. It keeps you on your toes. I also enjoying hearing about the wonderful research projects that Penn students and postdocs are working on. A big part of my work is planning workshops and programs not unlike the ones that will take place at the upcoming meeting.

What do you like best about your work?

The best thing about my work is hearing from a student or postdoc who has found a fulfilling position. Another thing I enjoy about my work is the need to know something about a wide range of fields - I subscribe to many different types of email lists and information feeds so that I can get relevant information out to students and postdocs. I like having a sense of what's going on in a range of fields. In doing this, I can also draw on the expertise of the many wonderful colleagues I have in my office.

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

The most challenging aspect of my work is the variety of students and postdocs that I see. I work with doctoral students and postdocs in so many fields, from the Humanities and Social Sciences to Engineering and the Biomedical Sciences, as well as graduate students in professional fields such as City Planning and Architecture. As I mentioned above, I can sometimes be surprised by the questions I'm asked. The nice thing about this is it means I'm always learning.

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

What made me competitive for my current position was my job materials - resume and cover letter. They were tailored to the position, and I know that made me stand out. I always strongly encourage graduate students and postdocs to do this when applying to academic positions. I was also a good personality fit for those in the office - this is an element of job hunting that you can't control, but it goes both ways. When evaluating whether or not to accept a position, you should always think about whether you would work well with a given group of people.

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.

The dual career/balancing family and career question is a really crucial one for graduate students and postdocs. I would suggest talking to people in your field about how they have made it work. You'll get some good ideas, and you'll get a sense of what feels right for you. My colleague, Julie Vick, and I wrote a recent column on this issue:

My fiance works in New York, and I'll be relocating there in the near future. It's hard to decide whose work takes precedence, regardless of your field. It makes sense for us to be close to his work now; in the future, I can imagine that we would make a decision based on my opportunities.

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?

There are many great resources out there for conducting on academic job search. I am proud to be the co-author (with Julie Vick) of one of them, The Academic Job Search Handbook.

I think that it's important to view your job search as an opportunity to connect with others. Now, of course you need to find a job, and of course you'll be anxious about that, but try to see your search in the larger context of your career. Think of a campus visit as a chance to connect with a group that is really interested to learn about you rather than as three days of torture. Even if you don't get a job in a given department, stay in contact with any faculty members you really connected with. Don't be embarrassed to say hello to them at conferences. You may not have gotten the position in their department, but you never know what role they'll play in your career. A recent "First Person" column from The Chronicle sums this up nicely: