Career Profile: Joan Ramage
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lehigh University
Lehigh University is a private research university.
Click on a topic to read Joan'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 went to a small liberal arts college (Carleton College) as an undergraduate and earned a BA there. I then got an MS in Geosciences (Penn State University) and a PhD in Geological Sciences (Cornell University). My first position was as a visiting assistant professor for two years at Union College. Then I moved to Creighton University where I had a Clare Booth Luce Professorship for women in science, after which I moved to my current position at Lehigh University. I always wanted to teach, and have emphasized research or teaching at different times. I always prioritize student learning and doing what is best for students while also trying to do successful research and living a meaningful life.
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 had a serious medical problem and had two kids before getting tenure, and took the professional risk of the pregnancies because I knew that if I waited I might risk not being able to have any children. Luckily I had a pretty supportive department for both the medical and parental intervals. Challenges associated with the medical issue involved several periods where I had to have a very strict diet and could not take my much-needed daily medicine. Working full time, having to do a lot of stairs (due to a fourth floor office and unreliable elevator), and attending professional meetings were huge challenges. At o nemeeting I took taxis and cut corners when necessary. It also gave me new insight into the challenges, seen or unseen, that others might have in a personal or professional setting. I was fairly open with my colleagues, at least those that needed to know, about what was going on and I don't think that it became a professional liability.
How did you make the transition from your Ph.D. research to your current research program?
I developed new collaborations and revitalized some early ones as I had opportunities, and got advice from a lot of different people. I think there are more opportunities for early career faculty now, or at least they are more open. I still feel like I am learning new ways to do things even though I have a lot of experience.
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 don't think that I have changed my goals, but I definitely have adjusted what things I say yes or no to based on my institution's reward structure. Sometimes I do things that I know won't be rewarded, and I tell myself that it is important to me so I will do it anyway. As I got more experience and seniority I have tried to stay more true to my own interests and priorities.
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.
Carve out time for research when you think you will be inspired or productive, and ideally make it regular. Early in my career I worked almost all the time – including on weekends and holidays. I would take breaks for fun things but not as much as would have been healthy. Ideally, get a teaching rotation that you will repeat so that you don't have to reinvent things. I taught 11 different preps before tenure – something I do not recommend. To avoid something like that, it helps to have a senior colleague who can advocate for you. Once I had a partner/family I took more time for my family and tried to be efficient so I could spend time with them. I found having young children was actually easier than elementary-aged children because daycare hours are longer than school hours. It's also extremely helpful if your partner shares a lot of the responsibility for the home and children.
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?
Pursue research and teaching areas that you find stimulating and important. Find friends and colleagues beyond your department. Find a mentor or mentors – it's so helpful to have people you can bounce ideas off and be relaxed around. In my case, I joined a group of women faculty from across the whole university and it helped me to meet a lot of people and get a peer group different from my day-to-day colleagues. I think that this is especially important if you are in one or more under-represented groups. The cohort you start your position with can also be a good sources of support because you are approximately going through the same milestones. I have had tremendous support from a group of friends from college – we are still friends and vacations or conferences together always give me new energy. Consider getting a career coach or going to workshops that help with professional development. I have not had a career coach, but I went to a therapist with my partner when our work-life-kid balance was completely out of whack. It really helped me to think about how to get back to "normal" (sleep more!). Overall, believe in yourself and act like you believe in yourself.