Career Profile: Rosemary C. Capo

University of Pittsburgh-Main Campus

A university with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Rosemary C. Capo
is one of the leaders of the 2014 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 Rosemary C. Capo'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.

Mine was a long and winding road, from an associate degree from University of Maryland's Munich, Germany campus, to the University of Texas at Austin, where I received my B.S and Master's degree in geology, then UCLA for my doctorate with a stint at UC Berkeley, followed by postdoctoral work at Caltech and JPL. My research projects included petrography of igneous dikes (undergraduate), weathering and formation of a Cambrian paleosol (M.S.), paleoceanography (Ph.D.), and geochemical cycling and effects of eolian input and climate on soil formation (postdoc). Since moving to Pennsylvania for a tenure track job at the University of Pittsburgh, my research has expanded into environmental geochemistry, including AMD, coal flyash, unconventional shale gas development, geothermal energy and geologic carbon sequestration. I helped to develop an environmental studies program there.

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

My job involves research and teaching, which also includes supervising undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral researchers. I teach an introductory course in environmental geology, an upper division undergraduate course in environmental geochemistry and a range of graduate courses. I co-manage several labs, including an isotope geochemistry instrument facility and clean lab.

What do you like best about your work?

I enjoy being able to integrate my research with fieldwork and teaching. It's rewarding to be part of the development of the next generation of geologists, and help my students move on to careers all over the country, in academia, industry and government.

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

Supporting a research group that involves fieldwork and major instrumentation requires a lot of coordination and creativity, including in obtaining the funding to keep everything going. I've been able to share a lot of this by co-managing it, which eases the load considerably. And it's been invaluable to have a hard-working group that includes undergraduate assistants and grad students and postdocs that help with fieldwork, mentoring and running the labs.

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

I think that it helped that I'd worked on a wide range of research projects with a wide range of approaches, and that this was also reflected in teaching experience in courses from oceanography to petrology to paleontology. Since my research area involves isotope geochemistry, having experience with method development and instrument and lab maintenance also helped. I also used my time as a posdoc to expand into new research areas. Having published research was also important.

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 husband is also a geologist, and our first child was born when we were both postdocs. We applied independently for tenure track positions, and managed to swing two positions in the same department. We shared building our labs, and since our research areas were different, we were able to obtain funding from a wide range of sources. We've always lived close to campus, and rented a small place while we were building the labs and developing research projects, which helped immeasurably in terms of juggling family responsibilities. We now have two children; both have spent a lot of time in the field with us, because neither of us wanted to be away from them.

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 think it helps to think about where you want to be in life five or ten years after getting the job, and what it will take to get there and have a fulfilled life. Spending four years as a postdoc gave both my husband and me a lot of time to test our commitment to a life together in academia. Having kids helped me tremendously in terms of setting priorities, learning patience, and giving me perspective. I've also learned that failure is part of life and part of challenging oneself, and I try to learn from my mistakes and keep going. It's an ongoing process, but I'm never bored!