Career Profile: Oswaldo Garcia

San Francisco State University

SFSU is a university with graduate programs, primarily masters programs.

Oswaldo Garcia
is one of the leaders of the 2010 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 Oswaldo Garcia'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 my BS in Applied Geophysics at Columbia University in New York and my MS and PhD in Atmospheric Sciences at the State University of New York at Albany. After a brief hiatus writing Environmental Impact Statements in Hawaii, I did a post-doc in the Meteorology Department at the University of Hawaii. From there, I went to work for eight years the Climate Research Division at the Environmental Research Labs of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado. Shortly after my arrival in Boulder, I had the opportunity to participate in some of the early field work on the massive 1982-1983 El Niño event, still considered the most intense that has been observed since instrumental records began. In 1989, I joined the Meteorology Program within the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University, where I have served as Professor of Meteorology and Department Chair for the last 6 years.

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

When I first became department chair, I was told, "This is the hardest job in the university." After six years on the job, I have come around to believe that this is true. As department chair, it is my duty to be in constant touch with the administration (not just the dean, but many others - those dealing with fiscal affairs, educational effectiveness, student affairs, etc.) and to communicate with the faculty and students; to hear complaints coming from all quarters; to defuse potentially contentious issues; to pass on information about job and internship prospects to students; to anticipate all manner of problems before they become serious; to set the course schedule for the upcoming semester; to make sure that the workload for the department is shared equitably; to plead, manipulate and cajole so that essential deadlines are met.

What do you like best about your work?

The opportunity to push an agenda forward. As chair of the department, you have the opportunity to be heard, both by faculty and by administrators, and hopefully to be taken seriously (at least at occasionally strategic times - there are times when people are not receptive to your opinions, no matter how diplomatically you phrase them).

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

The realization that you are able to see more aspects of an issue than most of the people that are involved with the issue. The most challenging task is to convey the nuances and diverging opinions to people that see the issue from a limited (and often very personal) perspective.

The best strategy I have found is to try to be as patient and calm as possible in explaining - over and over if necessary - the issues as I see them, and - perhaps most importantly - to make an effort to hear diverging opinions. I have found that it is often the least assertive people that have the most insightful solutions.

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

As department chair, it was my willingness to step into the role of department chair when others had more compelling issues to deal with.

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 don't have any specific advice other than to keep a close watch on how the job stress is affecting your life. As academics it is nearly impossible to leave our work behind when we get home - you are likely to have work issues in the back of your mind as you are dealing with family and other personal issues - your career, after all, is a vital part of your identity. It's when work begins to seriously interfere with other areas of life that you need to take action to re-establish a proper balance.

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?

Get to know the institution that you are joining as well as possible - what is its culture, what are its traditions? Look beyond the department. It will help you navigate through the complexities of the university. There are people you will need to deal with throughout your career - from staff to academic colleagues to administrators; the better you know them the smoother your career track will be.