Career Profile: Katryn Wiese

City College of San Francisco

The City College of San Francisco is a two-year college.

Katryn Wiese
is one of the leaders of the 2011 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 Katryn Wiese'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. Caltech, Geology (including three summers doing research in 1) astrophysics, 2) geochemistry in Australia, 3) geochemistry in Hawaii).
  • M.S. Oregon State University, Geology (volcano research in Iceland + 2 ocean research cruises on mid-ocean ridge basalts)
  • 2-years U.S.G.S. Geologist (Oil & Gas)
  • 1-year Ph.D. work at Stanford University (during which I decided teaching interested me more than research)
  • 2-years High School Teacher—Physics, Calculus, Stats, Algebra, Trig—while teaching Geology one evening a week at City College of San Francisco (high school sucked me dry -- City College restored me)
  • 3-years Programmer/Writer/Instructor—Software Development Company
  • 16 years Instructor Oceanography & Geology at City College of San Francisco
  • 2.5 years Department Chair Earth Sciences at City College of San Francisco
  • For more information, you can review my professional web page

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

When I am not Department Chair, my primary responsibility is to teach 15-18 hours/week (in-class time). I end up putting in about 40 hours/week total with prep, grading, and evaluation. I am also required to attend mandatory college and department meetings -- usually about 1-2 hours/month.

Extra hours go into the following tasks, many of which are not required by the administration, but part of what I consider my job:

  • Manage curriculum development.
  • Promote growth and future of our oceanography and geology programs.
  • Develop and manage department programs, including mentoring/tutoring programs, lab materials/storeroom/supplies/equipment, department website, etc.
  • Coordinate and assist with the part-timer needs and efforts.
I probably spend between 10-20 hours a week on these other duties.

As Department Chair, I work about 65-80 hrs a week (depending on week) -- divided between various department tasks and teaching 3-4 classes a semester (9-12+ hours/week in-class time). Our department has 3 full-time faculty and 8 part-time faculty and over 900 students per semester.

What do you like best about your work?

Flexibility of my time (although I must put in a certain number of hours in the classroom, most my remaining work hours I can schedule when and where I want—and much of that work I can perform at home).

Autonomy (in the classroom, decisions are mine on how best to do my job; in my specific position, most of the decisions on program development are also mine to make; many of the department programs are ones in which I'm in charge).

Time off (summer and winter/spring breaks) to travel and work on other projects.

Learning -- I've never had a job where I learn so much, so continually. Part of the learning comes from my self-imposed desire to try to become expert in all the topics I teach, which at the introductory level means a LOT of material (oceanography AND geology). That in itself is a life-long journey. The other reason I learn so much is because of my students -- who at the 2-year college level come from so many different walks of life. They represent every age, background, religion, race, etc. And through their questions and shared experiences, I am constantly learning about new topics, new cultures and ideas.

Probably one of the best things about my work is the day-to-day contact with the students, who are constantly giving me feedback on how important the work I do is for them. It's incredibly rewarding to see how much my efforts impact their lives. And they impact mine as well -- teaching me about different ways of life and introducing me to new ideas.

Freedom to manage my own growth and go after what interests me, instead of what interests others.

I have experience at various levels of academia, and I feel fortunate to have found the right level and institution for me.

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

Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by having too much to do, but that's usually my own fault. At the 2-year college level, teaching is my primary focus, and it's okay to pull back from other self-imposed obligations to refocus on the primary task.

Often I get impatient and tired with "problem" students. I have solved that problem so far by taking many, frequent vacations, which conveniently is possible during the frequent breaks we get in the school schedule.

Often I feel disillusioned -- that I'm making little progress with my students. I tackle that challenge with perspective -- and a realization that what I teach/give goes well beyond course content, which is often left by the wayside within a few months of the end of the class. This challenge, however, is also what spurs me on to always think of better ways to teach and better goals to focus me in my work.

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

  • Extensive experience teaching at multiple levels (including graduate TA work as well as high school) and hence dealing with challenging and diverse educational situations.
  • Teaching part-time at the same college where I got my full-time job.
  • Field work and USGS experience (variety).
  • Honest, my degree from Caltech has opened many doors in the job market -- whether justly or not -- I can't deny that.

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 think my job is ideal for balancing with a family or any other kind of full life outside of work because of its flexibility in when and where work can be done as well as the large numbers of vacations and breaks.

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 recommend jumping in and teaching as soon as possible, not only to get experience for the resume, but also to make sure it's something you like to do. The more you teach something (especially at different levels), the more strategies you develop to do your job well and the richer your teaching philosophy becomes.The experience will also let you know if it's the right career for you, give you an idea of which setting is best for you, AND make you look a lot more appealing in your application.