Earth Science Teacher to Geoscience Researcher

Daniel Dickerson, East Carolina University

My career path began when family members gave me cool looking rocks when I was a child and my parents allowed me to play in the small ditch behind my house where I would occasionally find a frog or weird looking bug. Those informal science learning experiences helped develop an interest that resulted in part in me taking elective science classes in high school and attending the North Carolina Governor's School in the area of science. I enjoyed learning about science and made very good grades in high school. I received a small scholarship from the Colorado School of Mines, however, as a first generation college student I did not have money for the remaining tuition. I was fortunate enough though to receive a North Carolina Teaching Fellows Scholarship, which provided a full support at UNC-Chapel Hill. Due to my interest in science I majored in science education with a minor in Geology. The program was changing at that time and so, in addition to my science education degree requirements, I took all the coursework for an undergraduate geology degree with the exception of an elective and field camp. I worked full time, took classes, and got married during my four years and managed to graduate (i.e. low GPS). During that time I concluded I had small holes in many of my mental models across all scientific disciplines, which I felt uneasy about, but I had a degree. That degree was leveraged into an earth science high school teaching job where I taught earth science and created new courses in geology. That lasted two years. By that time I realized they were not small holes, but giant chasms. Strangely, however, the chasms in my scientific knowledge were not as disturbing to me as the equally large chasms I had in my understanding of the teaching and learning process, particularly related to certain content like groundwater. I was accepted into a science education graduate program at North Carolina State University where half of my coursework was in geoscience and half in education. During this time, I worked on a 3-year, NSF-funded earth science education project that paid for my MS and PhD. The education coursework and NSF research experience was invaluable. I learned a lot about reformed-based educational theory, diverse geoscience content, teacher professional development, and education research methods. Since then, I've received tenure, won some awards, taught a bunch of courses and students, published a bit, been PI, Co-PI, Evaluator, or Senior Personnel on multiple federal, state, and foundation funded efforts, and have a healthy consulting business. One of the most important things I've experienced over that time is that collaborative efforts almost always result in a superior product. I've long since stopped defining my role as the "educator" or as the "content expert" and instead have been engaged in building teams to tackle specific tasks or achieve specific goals. I try to work with genuinely nice people who are truly interested in partnerships being two-way streets. I try to be a career-builder for my colleagues but have increasingly been more particularly in focusing my efforts on those who are willing to do the same for others. Based on what I have experienced to this point, I would want my younger self to spend a greater percentage of my resources on those who deeply believe in the win-win concept. And probably most importantly, don't stress so much. I would tell myself that it's possible to achieve some measure of professional success regardless of where you start financially, what your undergraduate GPA is, or whether or not this or that grant gets funded. If I work to surround myself with genuinely nice colleagues and treat them as well as I possibly can personally and professionally, then I'll achieve professional joy.