Career Profile: Richard Yuretich

Dept. of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts

Richard Yuretich is one of the leaders of the 2014 "Early Career Geoscience Faculty" Workshop. This profile is based on an interview conducted by Carol Ormand on May 8, 2006.

Click on a topic below, or scroll down to read the entire profile: Teaching philosophy * Research interests and approach * Service activities * Balancing responsibilities * Advice for new faculty

Richard's teaching philosophy, and where it comes from
Richard's teaching goal is to get students involved in the process of scientific inquiry, using scientific methods. He takes an interactive approach, favoring project-based learning over high-stakes testing. One such project, used in a geochemistry course, involves student teams investigating the environmental and geological characteristics of other planets or satellites. Each student writes about a different aspect of the planet, and the team prepares a poster presentation of their joint findings.

His teaching style is an outgrowth of the realization that teaching methods differ in their effectiveness. As a student, Richard observed teaching styles that did and didn't work. As a professor, he feels fortunate to have the opportunity of learn about cutting edge research on learning, via the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Massachusetts. It was through workshops from this center that he first developed strategies for enlivening large classes and using technology to increase student learning. Being involved with the professional development of K12 teachers has also helped energize his own teaching.

Research interests and approach
Richard's research focuses on the geochemistry of the Earth's environments through time. He mixes field and laboratory analysis of sediments and water to describe environmental changes, using indicators such as changes in clay mineralogy, bulk geochemistry, and stratigraphic fluctuations.

Richard's Ph.D. research involved analyzing the geochemistry of Lake Turkana, in Kenya, to understand the changes in this continental rift valley environment over time. As he finished his dissertation and launched his new research program, Richard continued using sediments and water to analyze changes in semi-modern environments through time. He applied the same techniques he used in his dissertation work to new locations, asking (and answering) similar questions for new places.

Service activities
Currently, Richard is the graduate program director for geoscience at the University of Massachusetts, and an Associate Editor for the Journal of Sedimentary Research, among other duties. His involvement in university governance grew slowly over time. He began by serving on various committees, later became involved in the Faculty Senate, and gradually figured out which campus organizations interested him. Now, as a senior faculty member, he feels comfortable taking on leadership positions.

Strategies for balancing teaching, research, and other responsibilities, or for balancing work and personal life
Richard got an early start balancing work and life, he says—even as a graduate student, he rarely worked on weekends, and continued that practice when he became a faculty member. When asked how he manages this, he explains that he is very efficient when he is at work. He doesn't allow himself to get caught up in idle conversations or other potential distractions. He also makes sure he gets at least one important thing done each day.

When it comes to balancing teaching with research, Richard feels that this is a greater challenge. He tackles this by scheduling time for research. He also acknowledges that scheduled research time doesn't always go as planned, but cautions against becoming frustrated with that. Just keep on scheduling time for it, he says, and you will make progress. It also helps, he points out, when your teaching and research interface in some way. Sometimes Richard finds that preparing to teach a subject in class gives him ideas for research projects. And vice versa, he often brings his research results into the classroom. This cuts down on class preparation time, as you are already intimately familiar with your research.

Advice for early career geoscience faculty
Richard cautions new faculty to remember that being a faculty member is not all about doing research—you can't expect to spend all of your time outside the classroom making progress on your research program. In that way, it is quite a change from graduate school, where research is your primary focus, especially as you finish your dissertation. Be prepared to shift gears, and you will not be caught off guard.