Pasadena City College
Pasadena City College is a 2-year college.
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.
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Elizabeth Nagy'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 PhD in Geology from Caltech in 1997. I held two post-doctoral positions in isotope geochemistry labs in Paris (1997-1999) and Syracuse University (2000-2001) and then taught high school Earth Science in upstate New York for two years (2001-2003). I was an assistant professor in Geology at California State University Northridge (2003-2007) and have spent the last two years as a fulltime faculty member in the Geology Department of Pasadena City College (2007-present).
Briefly describe your current job responsibilities, perhaps by describing a typical day, week, or semester.
I teach four courses per semester with two months off in summer and two months off in winter. I can do additional teaching during those inter-sessions if I choose. Three of my courses each semester are usually some combination of introductory physical geology plus lab, earth science plus lab for pre-service teachers, and oceanography lecture. I also teach one field course per semester that involves four days of field trips. I spend my work days teaching, preparing class materials, and grading. Additionally I do quite a bit of volunteer work: I am currently the Chair of the GSA Geoscience Education Division, a member-at-large on the GSA Education Committee, the coordinator similar to a chair position for our geology department, a regular contributor to our campus Middle School Girls' Science Day, and involved in many other smaller projects.
What do you like best about your work?
I truly enjoy interacting with students. Although there are certainly the bad apples who really aren't ready and/or prepared to commit to a college education, most students are willing, able, and even eager to learn something new about the world. My campus is in the County of Los Angeles where there is an enormous diversity of people. Students tell me semester after semester that they always feared or hated science until they took my class. Hearing that from students is by far the best part of my work.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work? What strategies have you developed for tackling that challenge?
Time is by far the most challenging aspect of my work. There is just simply never enough of it. I need more time for grading, more time for updating lectures and class material, more time to develop new classroom tools or create new course materials, and more time to peruse current events to keep my lectures up-to-date. The solutions I have found are to get into work early and work on the weekends when possible. Each semester some of these concerns lessen as lectures and labs become more polished; however, grading never goes away nor does adjusting class material to fit the needs of the students.
What qualifications do you think made you competitive in your job search(es)?
My doctorate degree in Geology from Caltech, publication record, and clearly stated teaching and research goals certainly helped for all job applications. I did not get a tenure-track position right out of graduate school but instead chose to shift my research direction to encompass some new techniques and skills. This provided breadth to my research skills and some time to mature professionally. Additionally I have taught at many different levels -- high school, community college, undergraduate and graduate university courses, as well as professional development workshops for in-service elementary school teachers -- thus have developed a broad range of teaching experience.
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 work full time, I have four young children (ages 12, 6, and 3-year-old twins), I commute 45 miles each way to work, and I have an unemployed husband whose painting company collapsed with the economy during the past year. Talk about stress! One of the reasons I switched jobs from CSUN to PCC a few years ago was because of the significantly higher salary -- 40% higher -- and also the opportunity to have a more free time with the family. Community colleges do not expect you to write grants, mentor graduate students, do research, or publish. Although I was groomed for such activities and do miss them I have made the choice to concentrate on excellent teaching. I know there are always new opportunities down the road if I feel the need to do something new.
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?
One thing that I did not know when I graduated with my doctorate was how to interview successfully. My thesis mentors did not offer any advice in that department nor did my graduate career (very research based) teach me how to be a good teacher. I would advise new geoscience applicants to educate themselves on interview techniques and to get as much teaching experience as they can. My other piece of advice would be to apply, apply, apply for as many jobs as you can. You may not want the tenure-track job at the University of Middle of Nowhere but the interview experience will be invaluable and you never know -- it may just be a stepping stone to a job elsewhere.