Career Profile: Jennifer Wenner

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

A public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Jennifer Wenner
is one of the leaders of the 2015 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 Jennifer Wenner'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.

My educational path was somewhat winding and twisted. I attended Carleton College and started out as a French major. In my sophomore year, I spent 6 months in France and while there, decided that I really loved geology - while in the Pyrenees as I pointed out all the awesome geology, a fellow student asked me why I wasn't a geology major, and I admitted I didn't know. When I returned from France, I dove into the Geology Major and earned my BA in 1992. From 1992-1995, I wandered a bit more, working as an outdoor educator and in retail. In 1995, I returned to geology at Boston University where I earned my PhD in 2001. My dissertation dealt with the generation of continental crust in continental arcs.

I started my position at UW Oshkosh in 2000. It was the first job I applied for - I remember walking into my advisors office with the posting and asking what I needed to do to get it. I have been at Oshkosh ever since. My primary research focus has shifted a bit - I now focus on primitive basalts in arcs (in the southernmost Cascades) and on geoscience education research. I was granted tenure in 2006 and was promoted to full professor in 2013.

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

I teach 9-12 credits per semester (our dean buys us out of 3 credits for active research), so typically I teach one or two lectures and a bunch of labs each week. Generally, the chair of our department tries to schedule at least one day without classes; so, most semesters I teach 4 days a week (for at least one hour). Part of my responsibilities also include academic advising for 5-10 students each semester.

I have two active research programs and have one hour weekly meetings with my co-PIs on these projects. I also advise anywhere from 1-5 research students (this is not part of my teaching load) and we have weekly meetings. Sometimes this consists of one weekly meeting but more often it ends up being more than that.

I serve on at least one college/university committee each semester (last year I was on the Promotion Committee) and am often involved in some aspect of UWO's Scholarship of Teaching and Learning - either research or professional development. I also participate in departmental faculty meetings and attend our semi-weekly seminar (Geology Club).

I also do a lot of service to the community (both local and professionally). I generally serve on one panel for NSF each year, do ad hoc reviews for a variety of journals, do presentations in local schools, volunteer for Science Outreach, etc.

What do you like best about your work?

I love the aspect of figuring out new and better ways to convey information to students in my classes. The teaching aspect of my job is my favorite. I also like to interact with undergraduates who are interested in research - they always have something to teach me.

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

Sometimes balancing my teaching responsibilities and research can be challenging, particularly when I am teaching a lot of hours in the week. I try to set aside time when I don't have teaching or advising responsibilities to spend time working on my research. Weekly calls with collaborators help too - they make me do something (even if it is only in the hour before the phone call!). I also set boundaries with students - I tell them: Although I am here most of the time, and my door is always open, I reserve the right to ask you to make an appointment if you stop by when it is not my office hours. They seem to respect that.

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

The fact that I taught a lot while in graduate school and was well versed in teaching techniques when I did my interview, helped a lot. But that is mostly because I wanted to teach at a primarily undergraduate institution. My later years in graduate school were much like what I do now - I taught, I did research, I served on committees - and that really prepared me for what I had to do when I got to UWO.

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 it takes a long time after graduate school to find balance between work and everything else. I don't have a family or spouse to balance but it still took me years to feel like I could have the weekend to myself. Now, I feel like I have a good balance - I love my work (and it rarely feels like work) but I also have a rich life outside of work. My experience is that taking time for oneself is always worth it and I tend to be more productive when I make time for the things I like to do.

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?

Figure out what you love to do. What is it about your position/work now that you really enjoy? Make sure that the thing you enjoy most about what you do now is a major part of the jobs you apply for.

I wish I had known more about how to deal with colleagues who behave unprofessionally or work hard to undermine their colleagues - particularly those who will make a decision about tenure and/or promotion. I eventually figured it out but I did not have very good mentors and didn't know where to go to get advice.