Dr. Dexter Perkins

University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND

Most of the information on this page is from an interview conducted by Carol Ormand on April 4, 2006.

Dexter Perkins is a professor in the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at the University of North Dakota, in Grand Forks, ND. As a faculty member there, his primary focus is on education. Because he finds teaching more exhilarating than research, he takes on a heavy teaching load (three or more classes each semester; last term he taught 7 classes, not all of them full-length). Dexter points out that this allows other members of the department to have lighter teaching loads, and to focus more of their time on research. He also organizes the department's "Leading Edge of Earth and Planetary Science" guest lecture series and serves as an advisor to several student groups (the geology student organization, a rock climbing club, an outing club, and an environmental group). He enjoys these activities, he explains, because they offer him the opportunity to interact with a variety of people.

Outside of work, Dexter is an outdoor enthusiast and an environmental activist. He is an avid climber, working out daily to stay in shape. He is involved in several national committees of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. He is working on a ballot initiative to get Grand Forks to buy "green" electricity. And he has a family, although now that the kids are grown up and out on their own, he has more time for other pursuits.

Prioritizing and planning

Dexter has a passion for teaching, and enjoys his work immensely. At the same time, he also has a passion for being outdoors -- it's one of the reasons he became a geologist. So, making time for his extracurricular activities is important to Dexter. With such a busy work schedule, finding time to go climbing, mountain biking, or hiking requires diligence and careful planning. Some of this happens on a day-to-day level, making choices about how to spend his time. He looks at what needs to happen, decides what's most important, and gets those things done. Being efficient prevents work from completely taking over his life. Of course, teaching is Dexter's #1 priority; anything else simply has to wait until his professional responsibilities are fulfilled.

One thing that is important to Dexter is staying in shape. To stay fit, he works out every day. Because that's a priority for him, Dexter blocks it out on his schedule and doesn't do anything else during that time (if he can help it). In general, his students and colleagues understand that he is unavailable at noon each day and are willing to work around that, particularly because he is so accessible most of the time.

Occasionally, Dexter takes advantage of a long weekend during the semester to take a trip out of town. (Of course, it is always subject to cancellation if his work is too pressing.) This, too, requires planning ahead; he builds his syllabi around the idea that he'll be out of town over that three to four day period. This means timing projects, exams, films, or other activities so that he won't be buried in grading at that point in the semester. One thing that facilitates this is that Dexter teaches project-based classes. Rather than lecture three times a week, for an hour each period, his classes meet for longer periods of time, but less often. Although this is primarily for pedagogical reasons, it allows for greater flexibility in planning a rare weekend away.

Advice for new faculty members

Although it's very important to Dexter that he has a life outside of work, he recommends that new faculty members focus strongly on their work, particularly during the academic year. Before you get tenure, he says, you need to invest your energy in making sure that you keep your job. That said, however, he adds that it's absolutely necessary to have some interests outside of work. It's hard to maintain your sanity otherwise, and you run the risk of becoming a very dull person. So, take advantage of the time you do have. You can find some time over the summers, during winter breaks, and on occasional weekends for brief forays into fun, he says, even while you make getting tenure a priority.

On a related note, Dexter cautions new faculty members to be careful about where you pursue your career. Find an institution and a department that are a good fit, he says. Get into an environment that's consistent with your goals.