Career Profile: Laura Rademacher
Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of the Pacific
University of the Pacific is a public comprehensive university.
Click on a topic to read Laura'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 a B.S. in Geology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and earned a Ph.D. in Geology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. I worked as a postdoc at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign before landing my first tenure track job at California State University, Los Angeles. After two years of crazy commutes in opposite directions, my spouse and I were lucky to find a solution to the two-body problem when we landed positions in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at the University of the Pacific.
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?
I think the biggest challenge I faced was associated with the many curricular changes the program in my department underwent during my first few years. As a result, I had at least one new course prep almost every semester before going through the tenure process. These new preps required a tremendous amount of time and energy, which felt pretty overwhelming. I overcame this challenge by building a network of colleagues with similar teaching goals so that we could share resources and ideas with each other. Through this approach, no one person had to reinvent the wheel! I also tried to keep a scientific perspective – each class was a chance to test whether a particular approach worked for my students.
How did you make the transition from your Ph.D. research to your current research program?
I left my Ph.D. and postdoc research experiences with a broad range of tools and approaches that I could apply to a variety of diverse questions. Rather than identifying myself as a researcher who works on a particular question, I instead like to apply my toolkit to a wide range of questions. I've worked with everyone from structural geologists and petrologists to oceanographers to microbiologists. This strategy has helped me tremendously to attract students to research at the University of the Pacific (which is a department of four full time faculty members in a primarily liberal arts college), as well as to remain open to new ideas. In addition, maintaining an active network of collaborators off campus has enabled me to take greater risks.
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?
Although I knew the University of the Pacific was a primarily undergraduate institution when I accepted the job, I'm not sure that my experiences at research universities prepared me for the realities of that role. The biggest adjustment I had to make was finding the right mix of teaching and research. When I began at Pacific, there were only a handful of geology majors and very few of them participated in undergraduate research. To fulfill my research need, I shifted a great deal of my preliminary research into my classes and established long-term research sites, which was a win-win for both the students and me. I also relied heavily on external collaborators who did have graduate programs to help provide some continuity that was initially challenging in my environment.
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'm reluctant to use the word "balance" to describe academic life, as I don't know that it is possible to achieve. There will always be times when one part of your life demands more attention from you, and you may find yourself dictating notes into your phone while walking the dog at 5am. But, I think if you can align your passion with your priorities then you can find success. For example, my university service obligations align with my passion for sustainability and have led to many research and teaching opportunities that then align with my other priorities.
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 think the most important advice I have to give is to build strong networks and be sure to include peers. Your network doesn't have include only the people down the hall from you, although there is value in having a part of your network close enough for a late night strategy session or celebratory toast. My networks are invaluable to me, both in times when I really need advice or support, but also when it's time to celebrate our accomplishments.