Career Profile: Paul Markowski

Department of Meteorology, Pennsylvania State University

Pennsylvania State University is a public research university.
Paul Markowski 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 Paul'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 received B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in meteorology. I study tornadoes, a phenomenon in which I've keenly been interested since a tornado outbreak I experienced during childhood.

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 challenge was dealing with the incredible range of student interests and ability level. In an undergraduate meteorology classroom, the audience often comprises students who are taking more math and physics than required because they hope to go on for a Ph.D. someday, as well as students who struggle with basic calculus and just hope to survive so that they can pursue a career in broadcasting, where communications skills are much more important than mathematical skills. I have not yet figured out what the best compromise is after 8 years of teaching. I've gone back and forth on this and would be happy to share more thoughts on this offline.

How did you make the transition from your Ph.D. research to your current research program?
What helped me most is that another professor was hired in my department at the same time I was, and in roughly the same area. We began collaborating immediately, and this collaboration has been extremely fruitful and has ignited research in new areas, although not completely unrelated from the area of my Ph.D. research. I think it's crucial to have an "intellectual buddy" in one's department.

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?
To be honest, getting tenure never influenced my day-to-day decisions or activities. With all due respect to my institution's administrators, I'm much more interested in being respected in my field by my peers--they are the ones who know me best and read my articles. My approach has always been to keep doing what I was doing before I was hired. I believe this ought to be good enough for tenure. It doesn't make much sense to me for a department to hire someone who it feels is performing below expectations with the hope that the person would somehow "step it up" after being hired so that s/he could be granted tenure. This seems like a risky, if not downright poor investment by a department.

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.
That's a tough one. I'm not sure I have found a great balance yet. I still work long hours and occasional weekends. But there is unsurpassed flexibility as well. This is the tradeoff. If there's a day I want to stay home in the morning a little later with my young son, I can do that. If his school is closed, I can stay home with him. Ditto if he's sick. Most working parents do not have this sort of flexibility. I'm grateful for it and am willing to work crazy hours at other times in exchange for it.

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've never gotten used to always having unfinished work. I wish someone would have told me this would be the case! I also wish I had read Stuart Rojstaczer's "Gone for Good: Tales of University Life after the Golden Age". It is a must-read!