Career Profile: Hendratta Ali

Department of Geosciences, Fort Hays State University

Fort Hays State University is a public university.

Hendratta is one of the leaders of the 2020 and 2021 "Early Career Geoscience Faculty" 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 Hendratta's answer to an individual question, or scroll down to read the entire profile: Educational background and career path * Early teaching challenges * Research transition * Institutional fit * Balancing responsibilities * Advice for new faculty

Briefly describe your educational background and career path.

I obtained my undergraduate degree in Earth Sciences, and my graduate degrees in Soil Science and Environmental sciences (Licence, maîtrise and Diplôme d'Étude Approfondie) at the University of Yaoundé I, in Yaounde. I earned my doctorate in Geology with emphasis in aqueous isotope geochemistry from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater OK. Prior to my doctorate, I worked as a pedologist / environmental geologist for a 660-miles baseline survey of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline project and freelanced as a technical translator. At FHSU, my primary duties are teaching and scholarship in exploration geology.

What were some of the challenges you faced in your early years of full-time teaching? Could you briefly describe how you overcame one of those challenges?

In the classroom, I struggled with increasing students' attention, keeping students motivated and participating during activities. In other aspects, I struggled with challenges associated with feelings of isolation and instances of bullying, microaggressions and bias. It is a continuous effort to overcome some challenges. I have learned to and developed different strategies of self-care and support systems to help me navigate and manage different challenging situations. A useful strategy is to understand that and how these challenges present themselves and be able to recognize them when they happen. For classroom challenges, I was fortunate to reach out to experienced and peer-mentors, attend workshops, identify and use campus and SERC resources for teaching. I have been inspired to create and implement my own learning activities and to explore different active learning styles.

How did you make the transition from your Ph.D. research to your current research program?

The transition was quick. I moved directly from graduate school to a full time position, and my duties as a new hire were in a different emphasis area from my primary Ph.D. research area. For these reasons I temporarily suspended work in my primary research area to focus on designing and teaching classes in the new area that was in line with my primary responsibilities. I leveraged the opportunities and resources that came through professional organizations, and was fortunate to have some institutional support to attend short courses, workshops, and trainings, including this NAGT-SERC workshop. I also interacted with and received support from the local industry. Being at a teaching institution with a load of at least 4 classes a semester, for scholarship and research activities, my strategy has been to incorporate research projects in course work and to seek external collaboration.

An essential component of achieving tenure is finding or making an alignment of your teaching/research goals with the goals of your institution.... How do your goals fit with those of your institution? Did you adjust your goals to achieve that fit? If so, how?

One very practical and useful aspect of the tenure process at my institution is a yearly evaluations of tenure files. This allowed me to get timely input, and to identify areas where I needed to make adjustments to meet different tenure committee expectations. The early feedback was an opportunity to make adjustments with sufficient time to demonstrate how these changes align with the expectations of my institution.

Many of the new faculty members in these workshops are interested in maintaining a modicum of balance while getting their careers off to a strong start. Please share a strategy or strategies that have helped you to balance teaching, research, and your other work responsibilities, OR balance work responsibilities with finding time for your personal life.

It seems challenging to maintain any equitable balance between work and other life needs, especially if the strategy is not broadly supported and /or promoted by the structures in place. Without support, I think that the degree of balance achieved will depend on the amount of privilege that the faculty member has to implement their strategies. For me, balancing work and other life needs is work in progress, sometimes are better than others. As I settled into my duties, some progressive changes that I started to implement were for example, to strive to often leave my office at the end of regular business hours, get enough sleep and exercise, resist the urge to check emails at night and on weekends and create an exciting end of workday routine to help me transition my day. My goal is to find a balance that allows me manage both work and other life needs in a way that works best for me. Given the nature of the activities and tasks that we do as academics this balance will have a sliding scale for different faculty.

What advice do you have for faculty beginning academic careers in geoscience? What do you know now that you wish you had known as you started your career in academia?

To take advantage of resources that already exist and identify those that work for you and your students. Celebrate your milestones, successes, and accomplishments as often as you can. Have a support network of allies, peers and mentors outside your institution that include a diverse group of people both in and out of academia.