Integration and Collaboration are Keys to a Productive and Joyful GER Career

Kristen Ellen Kudless St. John, James Madison University

I was not formally trained in GER. I broadened my geoscience research to include GER while I was early tenure track and was tasked with being the liaison with the college of education at my former institution. The reason for this assignment was that the senior colleague who had this responsibility was going to retire I was the lowest rank person in the department and no one else wanted to do it. Teacher education was not valued by my department colleagues at that former institution (at least at that time), but was something that needed to be done so I was tasked to take it on. I ended up really valuing the contacts I made outside of my department because of this new role. While I did not enjoy the bureaucracy and accreditation-feared motivation for most of the work in that role, I really liked the opportunity to think about question like: what is good teaching, and how do we know? I also liked applying this to my own teaching, as well as experimenting with different strategies for leading professional development workshops for K-12 teachers.

Fast forward 15 years, and I am at a different geoscience program at a different university. I moved to a department that had a value system that better matched my own, where I was supported to do both geoscience and geoscience education research. Rather than K-12, I shifted my focus on undergraduate curriculum development and undergraduate faculty professional development. These areas replaced my initial K-12 teacher focus because it was increasingly important to me to integrate GER directly with my own situation – my students, my department, and even my geoscience field of study (paleoclimatology). The ability to have an integrated career that included GER became both the motivation and the glue for how I could be happy and productive in my career. It felt efficient and satisfying to consider how GER fit with the others aspects of my career. And it certainly helped with P&T because I could demonstrate the value and relevance and connect to my now integrated career goals. I think using Integration as a central theme in a GER career can help others as well (see Figure 3 St. John, 2015, Editorial: Is There a Better Model for Promotion and Tenure Preparation and Evaluation of Geoscience Education Researchers in Geoscience Departments?, Journal of Geoscience Education: Vol. 63, No. 4, pp. 265-267. doi:

Collaborations also heavily contributed to my having a productive and joyful career in GER. Some of my collaborators were faculty like me who had a grounding in paleoclimatology and where excited to also study GER. Others were people I didn't already know well, but were acquaintances from meetings who I was interested in learning from and working with. At this stage in my career, it is the collaborations that I value the most - Getting the right group of people together can make a huge different is what can get done and how good it can feel along the way.

So advice for my younger self: Clue in sooner to a negative work environment, do things to change it and/or change your location. Be proactive to educate your colleagues on the importance of what you do and why you do it, without talking down to them or making them feel like that are bad teachers if they take a more traditional approach to teaching than you. Be respectful and open to their questions and feedback. Keep the concept of integration central to your career goals and plan. Remember that good collaboration is the lifeblood of a project. Maintain the collaborations that are productive and joyful, and ease away from those are that not. And be open to new opportunities to collaborate within your program, in different programs across your university, and especially with colleagues at other institutions - that is how good ideas spread and are tested more broadly and greater national impact can be achieved.