Career Profile: Ann Bykerk-Kauffman

Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences, California State University, Chico

California State University, Chico is a public comprehensive university.
Ann Bykerk-Kauffman is one of the leaders of the 2008 "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 Ann'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.
B.S. (1980): Grand Valley State University in Michigan. As an undergraduate, I spent one summer working as a naturalist at a state park along Lake Michigan and one summer as part of a team doing field research on neoglacial moraines in Alaska.

M.S. (1983) and Ph.D. (1990): University of Arizona, structural geology and tectonics. I spent one summer doing field mapping for a mining company in Nevada, one summer as an intern with a petroleum company in San Francisco, and one summer becoming a mom.

1990 to present: Faculty member at California State University, Chico. For the first 14 years at CSU Chico, my research efforts focused almost exclusively on science education. For the past four years, I've also been doing some structural geology research, especially field mapping.

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?
About a year after I started full-time teaching, my university was hit with a series of deep budget cuts; enrollment declined, some faculty were laid off, and salaries stagnated. I coped by focusing on doing my job, keeping my eyes wide open (a colleague who was an officer in the union helped keep updated on the budget situation), and applying for occasional interesting-looking positions elsewhere. I can't say that my efforts overcame the challenge; times changed, the economy improved and the threat passed. For those facing this challenge now, I just urge you to remember that, eventually, times will change.

Here's a challenge I was able to overcome by my efforts: When I first started teaching, I was surprised by the large numbers of students asking for information on their standing in the course. In general education courses, such requests often far surpassed requests for help with the course material. Responding to such requests was a huge time sink. So I added a statement to the syllabus, telling students that I would not respond to such requests. Instead, I began posting students' scores on the Blackboard web page for the course. This worked well, but it had a side effect. Students began finding bookkeeping mistakes and, understandably, requested that I correct them. This is good quality control, but some particularly grade-conscious students expected corrections and new scores to appear instantly on the course web site. Some have, at times, bombarded me with multiple e-mails complaining that I haven't updated their grades. So my current policy is to periodically post the grades for a fixed period of time, inviting students to check them; but I inform them that corrections and additions will not appear until after that time period has expired. I then take down the grades and wait to re-post them until several significant scores have been added.

How did you make the transition from your Ph.D. research to your current research program?
I spent the summer after my first year of teaching doing local field work with an undergraduate student. However, with our large teaching load (12 classroom "hours" a week, with each lab hour counting for only 40 minutes), I found no time to process the data or analyze the rocks we had collected. Simultaneously, as I struggled to help my students learn, my fascination with the learning process grew. Fed by excellent on-campus teaching workshops and wonderful professional development staff, I began experimenting with innovative teaching strategies. When a new dean appeared who valued science education and nurtured my interest in it with invitations to participate in efforts to reform K-12 science education, my fate was sealed. I abandoned my efforts to conduct basic scientific research and began doing professional development for teachers and science education research instead. This worked very well for me because, at that time, science education was actively emerging as a viable field; I became somewhat of a pioneer.

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?
I specifically chose CSU Chico because my goal of devoting most of my time to teaching was in line with the #1 goal of the institution. But the priorities of my institution changed dramatically during my tenure-track years. For the first time in decades, California universities experienced major budget cuts. Suddenly, because of its potential to supplement state funding, grant activity became an institutional priority. In one of my annual reviews, the dean specifically "encouraged" me to pursue external funding. So I figured out a way to obtain grant funding to support my interest in science education. I applied for and received a CCLI grant from NSF to redesign a course for pre-service teachers.

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.
I've written extensively on this topic. So here I'll just share a couple of additional insights: (1) For me, time is much more precious than money. So whenever I receive funding for service or research activities, I always try to apply it toward a buyout of teaching time rather than a salary supplement. This is difficult to do because I love teaching and hate to give up courses that I enjoy. But my students are not well served by a harried stressed-out professor. (2) An excellent book that has helped me immensely is Making Time, Making Change: Avoiding Overload in College Teaching, by Douglas R. Robertson: New Forums Press, Inc. (2003).

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?
Do things you enjoy and enjoy what you're doing. Work with other people throughout the university who share your interests. Do good work and make sure it's visible. Institutions love to look good; help your institution use your successes to make itself look good.

On a more sober note, take the time to discern exactly how your institution evaluates faculty alignment with its goals. For example, at CSU Chico, good teaching is the #1 goal. But what matters for individual faculty members is the quality of their teaching, not so much the quantity. So faculty members who teach a full load may find their service and research efforts deemed wanting in comparison to those who have secured funding to buy out some of their teaching time. But those who buy out teaching time are generally not penalized for doing so when their teaching efforts are evaluated.