Career Profile: David Steer

University of Akron

The University of Akron is a public research university.

David Steer
is one of the leaders of the 2007 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 David Steer'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 graduated from West Point with a B.S. in engineering and a minor in physics. While on active duty I earned an M.Eng. in applied physics and taught calculus-based physics at West Point as an instructor. I left active duty after 10 years and obtained a Ph.D. in geophysics at Cornell. I remained there as a post-doc for 3 years before accepting my present position in Akron, OH.

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

I typically teach 2 MWF courses per semester. One course is always a 160 person non-majors Earth Science course, the other is usually a senior- or graduate-level course in my specialty. I generally have 1-2 Masters-level graduate students working for me on geophysics research projects. I also interact extensively with colleagues in various departments and the College of Education doing science-education research. I probably average one service meeting a week and attend one or two national meetings per year.

What do you like best about your work?

The flexibility of an academic position is unmatched in my opinion. I completely set my own agenda and hours other than scheduled classes, office hours and a few meetings. I am generally completely free to pursue my research interests on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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

For many, the challenges associated with earning tenure present the most significant challenge. In my case, I chose my institution because it had clearly defined expectations that I was confident I could meet. I organized my time appropriately, always kept my eye on the goal and exceeded all the requirements rapidly enough to get early promotion and tenure.

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

I was hired to fill a geophysics position and because of my potential to develop an externally funded research program. My instructor-level teaching experience was a plus, but not the deciding factor.

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.

My wife and I balance a dual-career household that includes two grade-school age children, a dog and four other critters. My wife is a physician in an academic, level-one trauma center. She holds so many other administrative and advisory positions that I have lost count. Because of my flexibility, I handle most of the domestic issues associated with keeping chaos at a manageable level in our daily lives. I would not trade our hectic lives for anything. I think we successfully balance our careers and lives because, over the years, we have both controlled our careers rather than letting our careers control us.

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?

I can honestly say I have had no unpleasant surprises in my career so far. I am fortunate that I work in a department where most of us get along very well so the atmosphere is very good.