Career Profile: James Ebert

Earth Sciences Department
State University of New York, College at Oneonta

SUNY Oneonta is a 4-year comprehensive college with some MA programs
James Ebert is one of the leaders of the 2010 "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 James' 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 earned a BS in geology from the SUNY College at Fredonia and Ph.D. from Binghamton University. I have taught at Bucknell University, the University of South Florida, Dickinson College and have been at SUNY Oneonta since 1985.

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?

Some of the challenged that I faced early in my career included: 1) finding a tenure track position (I had 3 sabbatical or other replacement positions before I was offered two tenure track positions), 2) balancing career and the needs of a young family, and 3) trying to find a balance between teaching, committee service, professional service and research. The last conflict was resolved largely by blending my research and teaching through undergraduate research projects.

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

The transition from Ph.D. research to current research was largely dictated by serendipity and chance opportunities. For example, a non-traditional student who had family on Cape Cod knew that I frequently visited the Cape. When a major nor'easter opened a new inlet near the southern end of Nauset Beach at Chatham, we tried to ascertain who was studying this new situation. When it was apparent that no one was, we wrote a proposal to our campus research committee for a joint student/faculty project that enabled us to study the inlet and associated erosion for nearly two years. This resulted in several abstracts and a paper that was included in a volume on multi-inlet systems.

Some challenges that were presented in my early career actually turned out to be opportunities in disguise. With limited time for research owing to a heavy teaching obligation, I struggled to find time and creative energy for research. After a brief few hours in the field one day, I was able to confirm a correlation which I felt was reasonable, but didn't have adequate sections to verify. When I shared this success with one of my classes, I was encouraged by their interest and enthusiasm. This led to several small projects with individual students and eventually to the incorporation of semester-long research projects in my Sedimentary Geology class. By combining teaching and research, both aspects of my professional life benefitted.

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 was fortunate to find a position at a college where teaching is the primary emphasis and this is where my interests lie, so there was very little aligning that needed to take place.

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.

As I mentioned above, incorporating undergraduates into my research projects proved to be a marvelous marriage of teaching and research. This includes supervising individual students, small teams of students and class projects where the entire class participates. This has been the greatest source of satisfaction in my career.

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?

My advice to faculty early in their careers is to follow your passion. If you find that your passions cannot be reconciled with the goals of your university, then it is time to find a different position. I was filling a sick leave opening at a large university where the focus was on research and external grants. This position was offered to me as a tenure-track line. I turned down this offer and accepted a one year sabbatical replacement position at a college which was a better fit. This additional year as an academic gypsy prepared me well for the position that I now hold, which was offered to me 25 years ago.