Career Profile: James Farquhar

Department of Geology, University of Maryland

The University of Maryland is a public research university.
James Farquhar 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 am an associate Professor in the Earth Systems Science Interdisciplinary Center and Department of Geology at the University of Maryland, College Park. I obtained graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and the University of Alberta. My research focuses on the evolution of oxygen and sulfur in the Earth's atmosphere and oceans on geologic (billions of years) time scales. My research also includes meteorites and isotopic effects produced by sulfur metabolisms. I have been at the University of Maryland since 2001.

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?
The biggest challenges that I had when I first started (and continue to have) related to time management and to working to develop a teaching style that worked well for me and my students. Equally significant challenges related to advising and mentoring students and researchers in a laboratory environment.

How did you make the transition from your Ph.D. research to your current research program?
The transition from Ph.D. to my current research has involved constantly reminding myself that the end product is the final goal. I have found that it is more important to get things done than to worry about what others are doing in the field and to fall into the very real trap of having my research chase rather than explore science. I also found it very important to ask for help and to focus on manageable blocks of work rather than to try for a single person, define-all approach.

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?
My goals fit reasonably well with those of my institution. I found that I learned a lot from teaching, and that I really enjoy the research part of the work. I also found that it has been exceedingly difficult to find the time for the research during the terms when I am teaching. Realizing that some things may not be possible at some times of the year has been an essential part of maintaining my sanity and health.

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 was asked by a senior colleague to write something during my first year as a tenure track faculty member. Fortunately, I was also given a time limit for the task and a suggestion that it did not need to be perfect, but it did need to cover the main points. This was helpful in setting the tone between administrative duties, teaching, and research. Personal life is another matter and I have found it requires a conscious effort to make and stick to a schedule that works in the long run.

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?
I was advised to start with manageable research and teaching goals and ask for help proofreading grants and observing teaching. I found it extremely beneficial to have senior colleagues who would offer advice, and be there for conversations.