Metamorphosis: Transitioning into GER

Stefany Sit, University of Illinois Chicago

I began my academic career unaware of Geoscience Education Research. In graduate school I trained to be a seismologist, scanning large amounts of data to study subduction zone processes. In my third year, I started to think more about a career focused on teaching or public outreach. I decided to pursue opportunities to volunteer at elementary and middle schools and participate in teaching enhancement programs. While I initially avoided telling my advisor of my non-seismology related interests, he became a strong supporter of my new goals. He was able to include me on some of his own education initiatives. Together, we developed a new online introductory geoscience course and participated in faculty learning communities. It was through this process that I started to learn more about the educational research community and attempt to implement their results.

As I finished my PhD I started to look for positions that were focused on education. I was lucky to be hired at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), in a position specializing in the practice of teaching. While I had no specific training in education or educational research, the department was excited about the contributions I could make in their courses and my interests to pursue GER. I have now been at UIC for 3 years and I have taken opportunities to build a new network of colleagues by attending conferences, applying for workshops, and inviting educational researchers to campus. I have tried hard to listen intently to the needs and directions of the community. I try to share my ideas, ask others for advice, and be open to feedback and suggestions. I'm also fortunate to work at a larger university, where I've been able to reach out to education researchers in other STEM disciplines and within the College of Education. I've had informational meetings with them to learn about their research and methods. Some have even offered to share tips on submitting IRB proposals and to give me a crash course in SPSS. For me, a large part of transitioning and becoming successful in GER, is reaching out and building a group of supportive colleagues.

In my position at UIC, I wanted to develop a portfolio of GER activity. I started by writing a few smaller grant proposals focused on the science of teaching and learning. Through these smaller projects I have been able to learn more about defining interventions, outcomes, and assessments. My interests in GER also led me to partner with others in my department on a larger NSF project to attract and retain more students into the geosciences. Through this project, I hope to become more integrated into the GER community. Additionally, I will be working more closely and learning from an educational researcher who will be helping us measure the outcomes of our project.

While I am working to transition into GER, it seems that my new interests are also serving as an asset to the seismology community. I help advise on education and outreach initiatives at the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS). I will also join colleagues this summer to help teach new graduate students entering seismology. And though I am still learning about GER, I am excited to help foster the relationship and respect for GER by seismologists and geophysicists.