Moving Your Research Forward into New Settings

The advice below was compiled by Rachel Beane, Bowdoin College and Steven Wojtal, Oberlin College, for the 2004 Preparing for an Academic Career in the Geosciences Workshop.

Jump down to General advice * Successful strategies * Potential pitfalls * Funding and facilities

General advice

  • Schedule regular times without interruptions for journal reading, experiments or analysis, and writing.
  • Strive to complete projects from graduate school or post-doctoral experiences.
  • Start planning new projects before you have completed existing projects.
  • As we advise our students, focus as narrowly as possible in planning new projects.
  • Strive to devise projects that will lead to publishable results regardless of the outcome of the planned experiments, the character of the data collected, etc.

Some successful strategies for moving research into new settings

  • Apply familiar approaches or techniques to a new geographic area or different geologic setting.
  • Use a new analytical technique, statistical approach, data collection strategy or the like to address a process on which you have worked or to shed new light on a geologic setting with which you are familiar.
  • Examine the products of a familiar geologic process in a different geologic setting.
  • Examine the products of a different geologic process in a familiar geologic setting.
  • Collaborate with your new colleagues, both within and outside your department:
    • Use your expertise to bring new insights to their work or their field area.
    • Use their expertise to bring new insights to your work or your field area.
  • Collaborate with colleagues at other institutions (including local surveys, industries, and other non-academic settings):
    • This is an effective way to learn and utilize new analytical techniques, mathematical tools, or modeling approaches without the requisite run up time in equipping a laboratory, debugging software, building hardware, etc.
    • This is an effective way to be introduced to new field areas, different geological processes, etc.
  • Follow student interest to new areas of interest and new techniques:
    • Students often will lead you to interesting work in the questions they ask or as a result of their curiosity about areas about which you know little.
    • Undergraduate students have less at stake when a new analytical technique or data collection approach fails.

Some potential pitfalls in moving your research into new settings

  • It is very difficult to maintain simultaneously broad research interests, sufficient expertise to address research problems effectively, developing or perfecting courses, advising students, etc. Strive for a mix that best matches your personality to the corporate culture at your institution.
  • Try to avoid having your entire research program dependent upon one piece of equipment, one computer program, access to one field area, etc.
  • Limit the number of new techniques or the number of new technologies you try to master at any time.

Funding and facilities

  • Ask about 'start-up' funds during interviews; be prepared to ask for and justify equipment purchases and laboratory supplies, funds for travel, funds for library resources, and funding for student assistants.
  • If you are acquiring new instrumentation, inquire about who will cover maintenance costs, technical support, training for student users, etc. In some cases, you can negotiate release time from teaching to take on some of these tasks.
  • Inquire about other 'in-house' sources of funding. Many institutions have internal competitions for small to moderate amounts of money to support research. For these, you will need to be able to explain the relevance of your work to academics outside of geology. Know that they are unlikely to understand the need for field work, understand the specific analytical techniques we use, etc.
  • Talk to program directors at NSF, PRF, and other agencies. They often have small amounts of money available that they are willing to use to help early career scientists undertake reconnaissance studies to test whether a particular approach will yield results in a new area, to undertake pilot projects to test the viability of a specific technique, etc.
  • Talk to program directors at NSF, PRF, and other agencies regarding what they see as existing problems or 'hot' topics for research.