Career Profile: Scott Giorgis
Department of Geological Sciences, SUNY Geneseo
SUNY Geneseo is a Public liberal arts college.
Click on a topic to read Scott'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 did my undergraduate in geology at the College of William and Mary, then a Masters at the University of Tennessee, and a PhD at the University of Wisconsin. After wrapping up at Wisconsin, I started my current position at SUNY Geneseo.
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?
One challenge I had early on was to teach an Applied Geophysics class for undergraduates. I knew this was part of the job when I applied and interviewed, but I did not feel well prepared to take it on. My PhD research used some geophysics (paleomagnetism and gravity) and I'd taken one undergrad class in geophysics a long time ago, but that was it. I am a structural geologist. I've taken five advanced structure classes in graduate school and TA'ed the class twice for different professors. For Structure, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I lacked that clear vision for an Applied Geophysics class. I ended up using the SERC "Designing Innovative and Effective Courses" tutorial. I didn't do an in person workshop, I just worked through it online. The top down approach of starting with the end learning outcomes for the course and then working backwards towards the labs, problem sets, and projects needed to reach those outcomes was very effective for me. It fundamentally changed how I build new courses.
How did you make the transition from your Ph.D. research to your current research program?
I began by continuing to work on unresolved questions from my PhD research in Idaho. This allowed me to do field work in an area that I was already familiar with the logistics and the literature. While I was doing that I started applying for grants to work in a new area, Trinidad, with the plan of applying many of the same tools I had used for my PhD research, but to address new questions in a new location.
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 work at an undergraduate only, liberal arts institution. Coming from an R1 PhD program, I had to adjust my focus away from research and more towards teaching. I had a very positive experience as a student at William and Mary, so I had a good model for undergraduate focused research and teaching. I try to embed research into my teaching by having students collect pilot data sets in class that have to potential grow into a full research project. I also go in the other direction by embedding teaching into my research. I work on geoscience education research projects that improve my skills as a teacher, but also stretch my abilities as a researcher.
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.
Be strategic in what you choose to update and improve in your courses from semester to semester. After you have taught a class the first time you will likely have a million very good ideas for what you should change to do better next time. Choose just a few changes to make, the ones that you are most passionate about. Make those changes and nothing more. I find it to be very tempting to try to perfect my classes, but working in that direction takes away from other aspects of the job (like research) or I end up sacrificing more and more of my personal time. It is important to keep in mind that you are in this for the long haul. You will teach these classes many, many times. Let them slowly evolve towards a better class.
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?
You do not need to take on every field trip, research project, or service opportunity that arrives in your inbox. That exact field trip to an exotic location or amazing research plan may not come again, but other different but equally exciting opportunities will arise. Saying "no" early in your career does not close doors to you forever going forward.