Career Profile: Jon Lewis

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Indiana University of Pennsylvania is a state system PhD-granting University; ours is an undergraduate only department

Jon Lewis
is one of the leaders of the 2009 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 Jon Lewis'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.

B.S. Vermont ('83); M.S. Tennessee ('88); 6 years as environmental professional; Ph.D. Connecticut ('98) with Tim Byrne; NSF Earth Science Postdoctoral Fellowship UC Davis ('98 - '01, hosted by Rob Twiss); Adjunct Assistant Professor UMass ('01 - '04); started on tenure track at IUP Fall 2004.

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

I typically teach about 11 or 12 contact hours per semester. For example, each week during Fall '08 I taught two 24 seat sections of non-majors geology lab; one 2 hour majors lecture (research methods); two 1 hour majors lectures (structural geology); and one 3 hour majors lab (structural geology). I currently teach back-to-back 75 minute, 130 seat non majors geology lectures twice per week; two 1 hour majors lectures (environmental geology); and one 3 hour majors lab (environmental geology). During 2008 I published one manuscript and presented IODP Expedition 315 research results at the Fall AGU meeting. This semester I will go to Japan for one week for the post-Expedition 314/5/6 research meeting. I'm also actively working on an NSF-funded project in Taiwan. My primary service activities include chairing the college technology committee, serving as president of the IUP chapter of Sigma Xi, co-chairing our departmental speaker committee and reviewing proposals for NSF and manuscripts (BSSA, AGU, Nature, GSA).

What do you like best about your work?

I love being able to conduct research (albeit slowly) and use this to create a research-rich environment within which to energize both our majors and our gen-ed students. IUP is situated in the coal fields of PA and many of our pupils are first generation college students. We also serve students from underserved neighborhoods in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. I enjoy having the opportunity to engage such a diverse community in critical thinking. I also love working with my colleagues in a truly collegial department.

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

Mentoring undergraduate majors in curriculum-required research projects is challenging. It requires flexibility on my part. Strategies for tackling challenges: I have used my own research as fodder for student projects. I typically build my research budgets with funds to pay students. I also find it very helpful to talk to our majors during their early years to gauge their interest in my research direction. This allows me to "cherry pick" strong students to do research with me.

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

Teaching a one (academic) quarter structural geology class at UCD was very helpful in establishing teaching credentials. I was able to negotiate with NSF to put my postdoc "on hold" during this quarter. Continuing to publish in peer-reviewed journals and staying active in the community via NSF-sponsored workshops (Margins, IODP, Cutting-Edge) was also critical.

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.

This will take more space than I have. I am one half [possibly less :) ] of a dual academic couple. My wife and I started in tenure stream positions at the same time, mine at IUP, hers at Pitt Medical School. Finding a pair of proximal opportunities required great flexibility on our part. During our postdoc days we stayed together for all but two years when my wife was in OK and I in CT. After that we moved to CA then to MA. It requires sustained focus, passion and maintaining a positive attitude as you work hard to grow your connections within your communities. I believe that the geoscience community is unique in how supportive and giving it is. I cannot overstate how important it is to be fully engaged in this community.

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?

Regardless of your academic target, teaching experience will help establish your credentials. However, once you have some experience, I would argue that you should probably STOP grabbing teaching opportunities IF these cut into your research productivity. I would also suggest that you treat the interview process like courting - the goal is a happy long-term union.